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Mid-Career at Harvard Kennedy School - Samar Sukkar

Updated: May 19, 2020

Hometown: Amman, Jordan

Masters: Public Administration, Harvard Kennedy School

Field: Diplomacy, Int’l Relations, Public Policy

About Samar Sukkar:

"Samar Sukkar is an experienced public policy advisor with a demonstrable history of working in government relations over the past decade. Samar has worked on issues relating to policy analysis, strategic communications and risk assessment gaining a deep understanding of the geopolitical complexities that governments and corporations face. Working in the United Nations and across government sectors, she was able to engage with the shifting landscape of politics and the interconnectedness of global affairs. She is knowledgable of trends relating to online platforms and harmful content including violent extremism and child safety. Her work in New York, Tokyo and Amman has enabled her to cover an array of issues including political risk, economic challenges, security developments and humanitarian response. Samar has recently completed her Master in Public Administration from Harvard University and was a fellow at the Centre for Public Leadership. She has strong negotiation and communication skills".

Samar, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

From a youngish age I knew what I wanted to do, I had my 10 year plan post college and executed it to a T. I decided to join the Foreign Service and ultimately work in the public sector. That took me on an interesting journey. I lived in a number of cities and moved around every 3-4 years. My portfolios shifted and I covered an array of issues from overseeing economic affairs while in Tokyo to advocating human rights during my tenure at the United Nations in New York. Overtime, I felt called to challenge myself and to invest my time learning new things. My motivation was always to have an impact and how to make a positive difference. I am passionate about women empowerment, breaking gender barriers and protection of children and vulnerable communities. Today, I find great appeal in tech policy and how that platform can be used as a tool for good.

Let’s go back in time a little. When did you first consider applying to the Harvard Kennedy School and why?

After 10 years of working full time I felt it was important to go back to school to revamp my knowledge and enhance my career prospects. I started looking at programs that target professionals with significant work experience. I was told about the program by somebody who was already in the course and once I looked at the requirements I felt it was well aligned. For mid-career professionals there are a few programs throughout the US and some, like the Mason Program, target students coming from developing or newly industrialized countries. Look for the program that caters for you and gives you a competitive advantage.

Reflecting back on your experience, what do you think are the main advantages of studying in the United States and at Harvard?

There is a lot of emphasis placed in the job market on holding a graduate degree. In US political circles, weight is given to particular universities and the degree/s obtained. When I took the decision to apply to universities I was already based in the US. It is important to understand the value of the degree you are pursuing so that investment is worthwhile. In terms of the main advantages, the US provides a different learning environment, with programs offering star lecturers and diverse cohorts.

When did you first start preparing for the application process? How did you prepare for the application process?

My decision to apply was rather last minute, I started seriously considering the application 12 weeks short of the deadline. Apart from identifying the needed documents (personal statement, academic records etc), what was most important was identifying my referees and reaching out to them to make sure they are willing to provide the required statements in time. I needed the statements to be personal as I believed this would significantly support my application. I also needed to juggle my work commitment to make sure I can submit a strong application in time.

How did funding fit in the picture? Tell us more about this process and any advice you may have for others?

The cost of tuition in the US for graduate school is significantly high and I knew that in order to be able to attend, once accepted, I needed to secure a fellowship. Depending on the program there are few options available to apply. For the Harvard Kennedy School the Centre for Public Leaderships offers a number of fellowships depending on your area of interest. For Arabs, there is a dedicated scholarship- the Emirates Leadership Initiative Fellowship targets ambitious future leaders from the Middle East. In terms of advice, these fellowships are highly competitive and I would recommend applying to as many as applicable. Also, keep in mind that if you are unable to secure a fellowship but receive your acceptance letter, you may be able to defer and look for resources for the coming year.

Is there anything that you wish someone had told you to consider when applying to universities abroad?

Generally I would start by allowing more preparation time. If possible, speak to people who have already done the program and can provide insights. There are plenty of programs within the US and although application deadlines are within a similar timeframe, make sure you keep note of important dates.

What do you think students often get “wrong” about the US application process?

It is straightforward, make sure you read the application well before you get started and have all the necessary test scores and documents which may require some time to obtain. Plan ahead as a number of programs will ask for English proficiency as well as GMAT or GRE.

What tips do you have about how to write a compelling recommendation letter?

Make sure it is personal and not generic. Basically if your name is changed in the letter it should not read the same. It may be helpful to provide your referee with a synopsis of the work you did and projects delivered. I am a big proponent of emphasizing the impact of work and not just personal strengths. The admission committee wants to know what makes you stand out from the crowd. Remind your referees of the deadlines and make sure they submit the letter/s on time!

Tell us a little about your experience at the Harvard Kennedy School?

I knew the program will be interesting and that the learning environment will be challenging, it was all that and more. The expression “drinking from a fire hose” stands true. What I found most fascinating are the conversations I had with people on the program as there was so much to learn from other people’s experiences both in terms of successes and failures. Harvard Kennedy School was the place where I was reinspired, so much so, it has now led me to a journey of rediscovering my passions and recalibrate the impact I want to have. It is also the place where I connected with fellow Arab students and dived deeper into the narrative of our region. There are a number of bodies you can get involved in from the Arab Caucus, Middle East Initiative, and Harvard Arab Student Association.

How can a candidate assess whether they are a “strong” candidate?

Look at the program requirements, and profiles highlighted. Again, if you are able to speak to someone who graduated from the program that will provide good feedback. Don’t underestimate yourself, most programs, although competitive, are looking for diversity in their cohorts. Understand your competitive advantage and make sure your personal statement narrates your story and ambitions. Go for it, believing in yourself is the most critical aspect. Prepare well, read and re-read your application. A Lot of the programs have limited numbers of admission, if you are unlucky the first time and still feel you are a good fit, try again!

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