An interview with Omar Suarez
1. What drove you to apply to the National Urban Fellows program?
I found out about the program through a recruiting event. I was drawn to the combination of earning a graduate degree from a prestigious institution like the McCourt School of Public Policy and NUF’s historic track record of success. I knew it would be a great way for me to advance in my career and learn more about the social sector and public leadership.
2. How did the National Urban Fellows program help prepare you to advance in your professional career?
The program helped me grow as a leader and as a professional. I also absorbed new ways of thinking from my NUF cohort — from how to celebrate accomplishments and move past mistakes to how to be an intelligent consumer of research and be a more informed decision maker. I brought all of these lessons to my professional life.
3. How did your Fellow residency deepen your commitment to championing equity and social impact?
As a Policy Fellow at the Surdna Foundation, whose mission is to support just and sustainable communities, I gained a better understanding of the systemic approach to problem solving and the power of narrative around social justice issues. Shifting narratives helps shape our understanding of the world around us and drive impact. I wasn’t exposed to this thinking prior to my NUF experience, and now I see it everywhere — at the national level and in philanthropy, government and academia.
4. How did your McCourt School education help strengthen your interests and challenge your thinking?
Throughout my coursework, I was exposed to students from various backgrounds, including individuals with prior experience in government, military and public policy. Being surrounded by diverse perspectives and learning how to work across differences to solve problems and shift policy broadened my thinking.
5. What is the most important piece of advice you received as a Fellow?
There are so many moments that have stuck with me. A Fellow in my cohort once told me, “don’t operate from fear.” They encouraged me not to approach a task by thinking first about the worst case scenario or by imagining someone’s worst intentions. By falling into that space, one can lose sight of the big picture. This advice is especially valid for People of Color in the policy space, because we tend to come from backgrounds that have lower socioeconomic status and immigration or legal barriers that put pressure on our ability to be a part of society. Operating from fear can hold back progress for people who are already marginalized.
6. In your current role, what steps are you taking to support other early to mid-career professionals from diverse backgrounds?
In my current role at the Campaign Finance Board, a principal agency responsible for running elections for the City of New York, I lead a growing team. I emphasize the importance of individual goal setting and professional development to those who work with me. I often share learnings from my NUF experience with my team and remain plugged in with the NUF family to share and receive advice from peers as well.
7. What would you say to someone who is considering applying to the National Urban Fellows program?
Imagine if you could take five year’s worth of career experience and boil it down to a 14-month period of time… That’s the kind of acceleration that NUF provides.