Public Service Spotlight
Nikki Eleni Georges-Clapp
Assistant Director of Adult Education and Training at the Department of Resident Economic Empowerment and Sustainability (REES) at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).
Tell us about your current public service work. Can you briefly describe your employment organization and position responsibilities, as well as any relevant volunteer or entrepreneurial activities?
I am currently the Assistant Director of Adult Education and Training for the Department of Resident Economic Empowerment and Sustainability (REES) at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). NYCHA's mission is to provide safe, affordable housing to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers and to facilitate access to social and community services. REES was created in 2009 by the Chairman and Board with the primary goal of increasing the income and assets of public housing residents. My role is to design and implement a training and adult education agenda for REES. My primary responsibility is to lead the program strategy, implementation, and management of the NYCHA Resident Training Academy (NRTA), an award-winning training program funded by Robin Hood, which provided vocational skills training and job placement assistance for over 400 public housing residents in the past year. The NRTA has three different training tracks that prepare residents for career track jobs with NYCHA and NYCHA's contractors and private employers.
Please summarize your professional and academic background. What has been a highlight?
Over the past 8 years, I've worked on a variety of projects and initiatives with a focus on helping to improve the quality of life in New York City neighborhoods and urban areas across the country. Prior to joining the REES team in July of 2011, I worked for two years at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) as the Senior Project Manager for Workforce Development. I managed a program called HireNYC, which links the city’s real estate development projects with programs available through the publicly funded workforce system. I oversaw a diverse project portfolio, including managing contracts with the City University of New York (CUNY) for geographically targeted training programs, and participating in the review and evaluation of dozens of land sale transactions.
I started working at NYCEDC directly after graduating from Wagner with an MUP and a concentration in economic and community development in 2009. I was a full-time student at Wagner for two years, but I also worked part-time for the Research Center for Leadership in Action (RCLA) as the Project Coordinator for a seminar series for government practitioners called the Leading Large-Scale Change Executive Briefing Series. I also served as the NYU Student Representative to the American Planning Association (APA) and as the President of the Wagner Volunteer Corps (WVC).
Before entering Wagner in 2007, I spent a year traveling and made it to three continents in eleven months! And finally, from 2004 to 2006, I worked for the Trust for Public Land, a national, land conservation non-profit, as the Senior Research Associate for the Conservation Finance Program. As an undergraduate, I attended Barnard College at Columbia University completing my BA in 2004 with a major in Urban Studies and a concentration in Environmental Science.
What led you to pursue a master’s degree in Urban Planning? Why did you decide to study at Wagner?
I'm passionate about exploring and understanding urban environments. I love cities and everything they have to offer. When I was applying to graduate school, I knew I wanted to focus on urban planning programs, but I didn't want to go to an architecture school. I was less interested in physical planning and design, and felt more committed to studying urban policy and programmatic work. Wagner offered the perfect combination of urban policy and planning, which made it an easy choice among many programs.
In your current position, how do you use the knowledge and skills that you gained at Wagner? Which skills do you use most frequently?
I use my ability to work well in teams (something you do often at Wagner!) all the time in my current position. From Capstone, to group projects, to serving on student boards, I constantly found myself working closely with my peers at Wagner. It's an invaluable skill to be able to work effectively in teams in government. I think that's something that Wagner recognizes and emphasizes from the moment you step foot into the Puck Building.
Reflecting on your academic experience, what Wagner courses, professors, and/or projects had the greatest influence on your professional development? How?
My time working at RCLA had a huge impact on my professional development. I was able to supplement my academic experience with real-world examples of how government can be a source of innovation and city officials can be agents of positive change in people's lives. The seminar series I coordinated brought together commissioners and other leaders in government with staff from every level of their agencies to talk openly and candidly about implementing new programs and recognizing both success and failure as sources of learning.
My Capstone project was also a fantastic learning experience. I was in a small group (there were only 3 of us!) with an extensive scope of work. Our client was the NYC Business Improvement District Association (NYCBA) and our project was to develop the program framework, implementation strategy, and funding options for a public art program within Business Improvement Districts. I had never thought of public art as a source of economic activity prior to this project, but through research and stakeholder interviews, we learned how great of an impact public art can have on a neighborhood.
Reflecting on your time outside of the classroom (social events, orientations, trainings, etc.), can you describe one or two key moments at Wagner that impacted your passion for public service?
As the President of the Wagner Volunteer Corps, I had the opportunity of seeing how Wagner students were willing to not only devote their careers to public service, but their free time as well. From volunteering time in soup kitchens to planting trees, it was amazing to see how Wagner students would happily come together to give their (somewhat limited) time to volunteer activities whenever they could.
Are there any programs, opportunities or other aspects of the Wagner experience that you wish you had leveraged during your time as a student?
In hindsight, I wish I had become involved with Wagner's many programs for social entrepreneurship. Through student organizations and school-sponsored programs, Wagner has a lot of resources available for people interested in working in this space. It's an area of growing interest for me and I think it would have been beneficial to have been more involved while in school when there were lectures, events, and social activities designed for exposing people to the field.
How are you involved with the Wagner community as an alumna (i.e. attending events, mentoring students, maintaining connections with other alumni, recruiting at Wagner, etc.)?
I maintain many connections with Wagner alumni by working in New York City government. One of Wagner's greatest strengths as a school is the incredible alumni network, particularly in the public sector. I often find myself in meetings and working alongside Wagner alumni. It's always nice to be meeting with people from diverse backgrounds who have this similar type of experience. I've also attended a few alumni networking events, which were nice reunions, and hosted a booth for NYCHA this year at Wagner’s Public Service Career Expo.
Prospective students have expressed interest in learning how alumni funded their living expenses and education during their time as a Wagner student. If you feel comfortable, can you please tell us how you made it work?
I made my graduate school experience work through a combination of scholarships, student loans, and part-time work. It's not easy being a student in an expensive city like New York. But, it's well worth it to have exposure to the many amazing resources and opportunities available through an institution like NYU.