As most of you may know, SIPA is a place where you come to do an MIA (Master of International Affairs) or an MPA (Master of Public Administration). When encountering new people at school, the first question you get asked is usually “what’s your concentration?”, or sometimes an even more blunt, “Are you EPD?”.  Walking around our beloved International Affairs building, you can’t help hearing stories about the endless “Conceptual Foundations” course readings, or the “light” assignments for the Politics of Policymaking course, better known as POP.

But although these two programs might encompass the majority of Seeples [SIPA students], there is a third, not so well known category, popularly identified as the “MDPs”.  MDP or MPA-DP is the acronym for the Master in Public Administration in Development Practice program.  MPA-DP is a relatively new program, originally quite small but it is increasingly becoming more popular.  We are the returned Peace-Corps volunteers; the ones who leave NYC for some of the most remote corners of Africa every summer; and the sometimes peculiar crowd that always hangs out together on the 6th floor.

But aside from this subtle uniqueness and its smaller size, are we really that different? As a second year MPA-DP student myself, I wouldn’t say so.  Academically, the main difference in the first semester is that the MPA-DP core course is called “Foundations of Sustainable Development”, and as its name suggests, rather than focusing on international relations, like the MIAs, or policy-making, like the MPAs, we study what is behind sustainable development. Aside from that, we share all the quantitative and economic courses, the core and all the parties.

From then on, MDPs have to take courses on the various disciplines that shape development.  The goal of our program is to train well rounded practitioners who can understand the broad picture, being familiar with key topics in the development world such as public health, food security, nutrition, infrastructure, environmental issues, among others.  This multi-sectoral curriculum is our “concentration”.  This is not to say that you cannot specialize in something if you want to, because we have plenty of electives left to choose all sorts of courses at SIPA and Columbia.  Likewise, a certain number of MPAs and MIAs are also welcome in core MPA-DP classes every semester and if they wish to construct this kind of interdisciplinary knowledge, they also have electives to do so.

So ultimately, aside from your concentration or lack of thereof, I think SIPA is a school that gives you enough space to explore other disciplines and take the subjects you like (disclaimer: in your 2nd year).  All the MIAs, MPAs, MPA-DPs, and even the more mysterious PEPMs, EMPAs and ESPs, share facilities, courses, professors and the privilege of being part of a school that has plenty of amazing people in every program.


Blog post submitted by Mariana Costa Checa. Mariana is a second year student in the MPA in Development Practice program at SIPA.