A look at Orientation Week 2015

SIPA welcomes MIA-MPA Class of 2017!

Overcast skies gave way to sun as the SIPA community welcomed more than 500 new MIA and MPA students on August 31.

The growing roar of excited conversation on the International Affairs Building’s fourth and six floors signified that SIPA’s Orientation Week had begun, as hundreds of new students arrived to pick up registration packets before turning their attention to another key task – meeting their classmates.

As the morning advanced, orientation leaders directed students to Miller Theatre, near the campus gates on Broadway at 116th Street, for a formal welcome by Dean Merit E. Janow and other administrators. Students gradually filled both of the theater’s tiers, eagerly waiting for the presentation to begin.

“It really is an enormous pleasure to see all of you today,” Janow said. “Welcome. Congratulations. We’re delighted you’re here.”

Janow discussed the global nature of the SIPA program and emphasized the importance of problem-solving across disciplines, which she said is part of everyday life at SIPA.

“It is a defining characteristic of the school,” she said.

Explore photos from Orientation Week on Instagram.

The dean said that 29 percent of the incoming students said they plan to study Economic and Political Development—almost as many as the next two concentrations combined, Urban and Social Policy (16 percent) and International Finance and Economic Policy (15 percent). But she noted that students often change courses and underscored that—on the first day of school—no decision is permanent.

Emphasizing that students are now part of a larger community, Janow said that joining the ranks of SIPA alums is a “transformative experience.” She also encouraged students to take advantage of the many events, speakers, and programs they will soon learn more about.

“We are bringing the world to us and we are engaging the world,” she said.

In general, Janow and other speakers said students should aim to take full advantages of the resources at their disposal—at SIPA, at Columbia University, and throughout New York City.

Urbano Garza, the acting dean of student affairs, also encouraged students to be open to the many opportunities they encounter, and said the deans and other staff members of the Office of Student Affairs are standing by.

“We want you to be successful, and we’re here to help any way we can,” he said.

Garza urged students to seize the day, so to speak. “Plan ahead—time will go quickly,” he said. “You’ll see.” he said.

Dan McIntyre, associate dean of academic affairs, echoed this advice, and noted the numerous faculty members and hundreds of classes that students can consider.

He offered some nonacademic advice as well, counseling students from warmer climes to get a good coat, and urging students to experience the great outdoors, whether in nearby Morningside Park or outside the city.

Above all, McIntyre encouraged students to “focus on the learning as much as you can… learn what you do well and what you really love.”

Ajith Das Menon, president of SIPASA (the student government) and the final speaker Monday morning, marveled at how much he had done in his first year at SIPA: “I’ve made good friends, and mentors, and discovered myself, and I’m just halfway through,” he said.

He offered three recommendations in turn, to help incoming students make the most of the two years ahead. “Discover yourself, question yourself, and make mistakes.”

As usual, students came to SIPA from near and far, with varied interests, goals, and motivations.

For Kristopher Mahan MIA ’17 of Denver, Colorado, SIPA’s location was key.

“I had an internship at the UN and absolutely loved it—it made me want to study international affairs,” he said. “Being a great school in New York, where the UN is, makes SIPA a great place for me. And it already feels a lot like the UN because of the people from so many countries.”

Gayathri Vijayaraghavan MPA ’17, who is from India, also said she was attracted by SIPA’s international orientation.

“I want to study international finance and economic policy, and do something that combines finance and tech,” she said. “I’ve already worked for a tech and process company, worked on financial inclusion. I want to see how we can leverage tech even better.”

Anna Schaffer MIA ’16, Krista Jorstad MIA ’16, and Zineb Mouhyi MIA ’16 are each enrolled in the dual-degree program with Sciences Po.

“The lure [of the dual degree] is that you get two different perspectives in one program,” said Schaffer.

The opportunity to take part in a Capstone workshop sets SIPA apart, Mouhyi said.

Jorstad said she was looking forward to meeting her classmates. “Everyone has such diverse backgrounds,” she observed. “It seems like you learn a lot from fellow students.”

Indeed, students have varied experience. Jessica Madris MPA ’17 has lived in New York for several years, and worked for New York City’s Human Resources Administration before enrolling.

Madris, who plans to investigate the concentration in Urban and Social Policy, said Professor Ester Fuchs had encouraged her to apply to SIPA. “I’m looking forward to working with her,” Madris said.

Fadile Yetkin Gokgoz MPA ’17 of Turkey has worked as an undersecretary in her home nation’s treasury department, and said other people in her organization had come to SIPA in previous years. She aspires to work at an international financial corporation, and plans to study investment decisions in emerging countries.

For some, coming to SIPA is not the only new part of the experience. “I’ve never been to New York before,” said Yetkin Gokgoz, “but I’m happy to be here.”