The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share another installment of A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series, featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and SIPA faculty.
In this month’s issue, we feature current SIPA students, Yulia Belyakova MPA ’18, and Nadia Ramirez MPA ’18. Here, both discuss why they chose their particular areas of study, internship and capstone experiences, and the importance of fellowship.
Yulia Belyakova, MPA ’18, Economic and Political Development concentration, Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis specialization
What did you do before attending SIPA?
Originally from Moscow, Russia, I studied Economics and French at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. During my undergraduate career, I held internships in the Indian equivalent of the Silicon Valley and a financial advisory firm serving public institutions in the U.S., which piqued my interest in emerging markets and public finance. After graduating from Bryn Mawr, I spent three years in a leading economic consulting firm in Washington, D.C., where I worked on complex commercial litigations issues in intellectual property, trade, and finance, with client engagements ranging from the DOJ and the ITC to Google. As an analyst, I was challenged with finding the most precise ways to deduce the economic value of things that are difficult to value, a perspective that I intended to bring to the international development space.
Why did you choose SIPA?
SIPA has been on my radar since I started looking at policy schools. What really differentiated SIPA for me were the experiences of alumni I spoke with while researching schools: I knew several Bryn Mawr women who graduated or were attending SIPA, including my best friend who is now heading a government-led nutrition fortification program in India. I also engaged with a few alumni in D.C. (and there are many!) who were very accessible and clearly enjoyed reminiscing on their time at SIPA. I also received a generous fellowship offer that was not matched by any other school, which will allow me to consider interesting positions without a debt-imposed salary requirement post-graduation. Finally, I knew I wanted to either come back to D.C. or work internationally after graduation, so spending a couple of years in New York was a bonus.
Why did you choose your particular areas of study?
After a stint in economic consulting which is a fascinating but very U.S.-focused industry, I pivoted into development and international work. The EPD concentration allows me to build credibility as a development professional by complementing the skills I developed during my time in consulting. Additionally, I am interested in evidence-based approaches to development, and I have loaded up on quantitative analysis courses that are part of the APEA concentration.
Tell us about your summer internship experience.
I spent 12 weeks in Uganda this past summer working on a financial inclusion evaluation. During my internship at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), I made a small contribution to the currently limited volume of evidence on the welfare impacts of financial inclusion – specifically, mobile money products that facilitate domestic peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers. I analyzed data from an extensive panel survey in Uganda and Tanzania to better understand the complex financial lives of the poor and determine how access to mobile money changes the way households respond to situations requiring additional financing. The households that experienced negative income shocks benefitted greatly from domestic transfers and were able to bridge the financing gap without cutting back on meals or taking children out of school. In addition to research design and analysis, I learned a lot about project management and the challenges of implementation in the field. I am looking forward to my Capstone experience this spring which, I hope, will take me back to Sub Saharan Africa.
Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?
Taking classes with experienced practitioners has been the highlight of my time at SIPA so far. Last year, I took a class on microfinance, co-taught by two highly accomplished women with years of experience in banking, foundations, and microfinance institutions. Their professional expertise combined with perspectives of other students in the class – fellow development practitioners – was truly eye-opening. I learned a lot and was able to leverage this knowledge in my summer internship search.
What are your plans after SIPA?
I hope to enter the impact evaluation field and assist NGOs and governments in maximizing their impact through implementation of cutting-edge evaluation programs. I am looking at positions in multilateral institutions, impact evaluation consulting firms, and policy research organizations – both in the U.S. and internationally. At present, I am interested in working either in or with West Africa.
Nadia Ramirez, MPA ’18, International Security Policy concentration, Latin America and International Conflict Resolution specializations
What did you do prior to attending SIPA?
I studied international relations as an undergraduate at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida and studied abroad in 2011 in China at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. After graduating in 2013, I spent one year in Colombia (my country of birth) and then two years on a Fulbright in South Korea, teaching English at an all-girls high school in Busan and coordinating Fulbright’s volunteer program for North Korean defectors in the city.
Why did you choose SIPA?
Before starting my Fulbright, I thought about going to law school, but once in South Korea and through my work with North Korean defectors, I realized that what I actually wanted to do was work in diplomacy. I had considered the idea before, but after coming in contact with Foreign Service Officers, I decided to apply to the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship Program, a U.S. State Department program that provides funding for graduate students who want to pursue a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. I ultimately chose SIPA as a Rangel fellow because of the heavy emphasis on quantitative skills and its international focus.
Why did you choose your particular areas of study?
After engaging in SIPA coursework and thinking about my career in the Foreign Service, I decided on the ISP concentration. I really like the ISP courses and think the material is relevant to my future work. My interest in Latin America grew out of my focus on East Asia as an undergraduate and research I conducted on the socioeconomic implications of Asian business in Latin America. I really enjoyed the research and thought specializing in Latin America would complement my East Asian focus. Specializing in Conflict Resolution happened accidentally. While looking at my course matrix, I realized that two classes in which I was interested (Negotiation and International Conflict Resolution) were part of the Conflict Resolution specialization. I’ve grown to really enjoy the area and now appreciate the importance of an institutional “soft power” type of perspective.
What has been your experience at SIPA thus far?
As a Rangel fellow, I am committed to serving a minimum of five years in the Foreign Service after graduating from SIPA. Since I don’t need to stress over internships and my job search, I’ve focused that energy on the SIPA community. I’ve done a lot of extracurricular activities and try very hard to support other SIPA students and their organizations. I was elected as one of SIPASA’s social chairs and find it very important to represent SIPASA at events. During my second semester, I was tapped to be on the SIPA Follies board, and I’m now their Executive Director, something I’m very happy to do since it gives me the opportunity to use my artistic side to the betterment of the SIPA community.
How has SIPA affected you?
SIPA has affected how I relate to people. Knowing that my classmates trust me enough to vote for me as their social chair, attending their events, and simply getting to know each and every one of them has made me a more confident, well-rounded individual. Every single one of my peers has an inspiring story to tell. It’s these people and their appreciation for what I do that has made me realize my potential. In many ways, they’ve helped prepare me for my career as a Foreign Service Officer. My peers and the positive relationships I’ve created as a naturalized American helped me in deciding to choose Public Diplomacy as my State Department career track. It’s where I can serve the U.S. best while doing the most good.
How have your SIPA professors and instructors impacted your SIPA experience?
There are many professors that have made my time at SIPA absolutely amazing. Academically, Richard Nephew has really helped prepare me for my future career. His short courses on Nuclear Concepts and Economic Sanctions are the perfect balance of theory and practicality. Other professors include Mayor Michael Nutter, Sarah Holloway, Chris Sabatini, and of course, the entire Econ/Quant team.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
I never realized how many doors a SIPA education could open until I did my State Department internship in The Netherlands. I met many SIPA alumni in the service as well as in many parts of Dutch society from banking, to government, and even the arts. It definitely allowed me to experience things I would not have gotten the chance to experience otherwise and created an immediate rapport that was immensely valuable on both a professional and personal level. Meeting all of these alumni and seeing the great work they’ve done in their communities demonstrates that Seeples go on to do amazing things.