Katherine McGehee, MIA ’15, reflects on ASD 2015

Today, we’re sharing a blog post from our PA, Katherine McGehee, MIA ’15. She was one of our volunteers at this week’s open house, Admitted Students’ Day 2015. She served on the student panel, assisted students with registration, and chatted it up with newly-admitted students at the evening reception. Always on top of things, Katherine wanted to share her personal experiences from ASD, and how they compared to the decision many of our newly-admitted students are making right now. Here’s what she had to say:

Katherine McGehee-2013
Photo courtesy of Katherine McGehee, MIA ’15, during her first day at SIPA in 2013.

Thanks to everyone who came out to Admitted Students Day yesterday on April 7th, 2015! It was such a pleasure meeting the potential class of 2017!

As a student volunteer for SIPA’s open house event, I couldn’t help but think back to April 2013 when I was in your shoes and attending SIPA’s Admitted Students Day. While I was very excited to tour the campus, meet with other admitted students, and learn more about the program, I wasn’t sure about whether or not I would accept the offer.

The day seemed to go by so quickly…presentations on concentrations and specializations, overviews of programs, and panels on student life all felt back to back. The possibilities at SIPA seemed endless, but also felt a little overwhelming. Would I be able to find a focus here? Could I keep up with the quantitative curriculum’s demands? Was this the right place for me?

I found some answers to these questions when I spoke with current students. During informal discussions with them, I was hooked. Even though the conversations were brief, it was clear to me that SIPA was a place of opportunity. The students that I met were all in interesting careers before attending Columbia—some already working in international affairs, while others came to SIPA for a complete career change—but when they talked about life at school and their plans following SIPA, it was apparent that SIPA had been a launching pad and a place that brought each of these students to the next level, both personally and professionally.

I see this among my peers here at SIPA today. In fact, I overheard similar discussions to the ones that I had in April 2013 between current students and admitted students on Tuesday.

Many admitted students are considering multiple schools and I heard this repeat question throughout the evening mingling event: “Why SIPA?” Two very simple words, but it’s probably one of the most important questions to ask as you make your final decision on which school to attend.

Current student responses varied with answers ranging from “We have excellent professors and you’ll have access to leading practitioners” to “You’ll have a unique opportunity to learn both theory and practice in New York City!” No matter the principal reasons, nearly all of the conversations I listened to on Tuesday featured current students explaining that they would not be where they are today without SIPA.

ASD 2015-Joseph Stiglitz

University Professor Joseph Stiglitz speaking at the ASD 2015 lunch.

In my personal experience, I can attest to this being 100 percent true. Through SIPA, I’ve worked on labor rights issues in Latin America (and even completed field travel to the Dominican Republic to conduct this research); helped develop a for-profit social enterprise business model in Kenya through the Dean’s Public Policy Challenge; traveled to Paris as a student representative for a SIPA CGEG conference where Nobel Prize Laureate Joseph Stiglitz was the keynote speaker; sat in on lectures by Stephen Sestanovich, Richard Betts, Michael Doyle, Robert Jervis, Jeffrey Sachs, Rashid Khalidi, Dipali Mukhopadhyay, Jagdish Bhagwati, Alfred Stepan, Yasmine Ergas, Mahmood Mamdaniand Charles Calomiris through my Conceptual Foundations course; gained quantitative and project-management skills; taken courses at other Columbia University graduate schools; and I’ve made incredible friendships. I’ve also secured a job after graduation in public-sector consulting through significant support from SIPA’s alumni network and professional guidance from career services.

I’ve accomplished a lot, and looking back, it would be untrue to say that Admitted Students’ Day gave me solid answers every question I asked of students two years ago.  Would I be able to find a focus here? Could I keep up with the quantitative curriculum’s demands?  I carried these concerns, among others, with me as I stepped into the International Affairs Building for Orientation, and again on my first day of class. However, Admitted Students’ Day really helped me see myself as a student here at SIPA and helped me realize that SIPA is the right place for me! (And my experiences really prove that.)

For those of you that were unable to attend Admitted Students’ Day 2015, I encourage you to look at student perspectives to give you a sense of what student life is like here. For more student experiences, check out SIPA Stories. I’m very happy that I chose to attend SIPA and hope to see you here!


Don’t forget to respond to your enrollment offer by April 15, 2015 (for SIPA scholarship recipients) or May 1, 2015 (for all other students).