How Mikki is using her CMU-A degree to gain valuable public policy experience

Posted 18th March 2021

Early graduation celebrations have started at Carnegie Mellon University in Australia, with the first of several international students marking the end of their studies in Adelaide this week.

Merika (Mikki) De La Pena started studying the Masters in Public Policy and Management at CMU-A in early 2020, arriving from the Department of Budget and Management in Manila as part of a partnership with the Australia Awards and Alumni Engagement Program – Philippines.

The program allows Philippine Government employees to learn new skills in areas such as data management and policy analytics as they complete their degree over 18-months before returning to their respective federal departments.

Mikki receiving high-distinction cords from Emil Bolongaita, Head of CMU-A

Mikki completed her degree on March 8 and received her High Distinction cords from CMU-A Head Emil Bolongaita this week.

She described her time at CMU-A as ‘extremely rewarding’ and looks forward to putting her new skills into practice when she returns to her role in the Philippines.

“One thing that really stood out to me was how supportive and helpful the faculty are. They really are masters of what they’re teaching, and they’re teaching us to be masters of our own careers,” Mikki says.

“There has been so much genuine kindness and concern, they really do care about the welfare of their students.”

Mikki arrived in Adelaide just months before the city – and the world – entered lockdowns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The move to online classes actually had some positives in that it gave us more time to study, it took away the time you needed to allow to walk to university, for example,” she said.

“The faculty tried very hard to make sure the classes were still engaging and there were still plenty of opportunities for them to share their insights with us.”

While COVID-19 meant Mikki couldn’t travel as extensively around Australia as she had first hoped, she managed to visit many of South Australia’s biggest attractions, including pristine beaches at Port Lincoln, along the Fleurieu Peninsula and the Outback town of Coober Pedy.

Mikki with her fellow classmates overlooking Tarn Shelf at Mount Fields National Park

“One thing I also really liked was the convenience of Adelaide. People say you can go from one end to the other in 20 minutes, and I’d say that’s true,” she said.

“It’s so pedestrian-friendly, you can walk and ride your bike everywhere.”

Mikki also completed a Capstone project while studying with Carnegie Mellon University in Australia, where she examined financial inclusion in the Philippines and undertook an internship with the South Australian Department of Energy and Mining.

“For me, the Capstone project and internship were a way to put what I was learning in the classroom into practice and to address real-world problems,” Mikki said.