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 issue, we feature current SIPA students, Shanna Crumley MIA ’18 and Mohammed Alaa Ghanem MIA ’19.
Shanna is a second year Master of International Affairs candidate, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy with a specialization in Management.
Shanna is SIPA’s inaugural James Mead Stephenson Memorial Fellow. The James Mead Stephenson Memorial Fellowship was created by family and friends of the late James Stephenson MIA ’07 to support outstanding SIPA students who are returned Peace Corps Volunteers and exemplify James’s commitment to international development and humanitarian aid.
What brought you to SIPA?
As an undergraduate, I focused on developing language skills and gaining international experience through study abroad and internship programs. After graduating, I spent a year interning at the U.S. State Department’s refugee bureau and then at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. In 2013, I moved to Barranquilla, Colombia, to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years, where I focused on education and girls’ empowerment. I ultimately chose SIPA because it has an unparalleled network of world leaders and thinkers and the name carries a legacy of smart, capable, and well-connected alumni.
Can you describe a little about your Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant project?
I feel so honored to be a semi-finalist in the Dean’s Challenge along with my classmate and co-founder, Gemma Torras Vives. We believe that education is key in creating a more equitable world, especially in a world twisted by conflict and displacement. Our enterprise, A4ED, aims to make learning and livelihood accessible for refugees and vulnerable populations regardless of their status or country of origin. We’re using blockchain technology to help learners document their progress and credentials so that they don’t fall behind as a lost generation.
We just returned from two weeks in Jordan, where we conducted stakeholder interviews, built a network of partners, and immersed ourselves in learning as much as possible about aid and development response to refugees in the region. It was so gratifying to know that we were in the Middle East because the Dean’s Challenge judges believe in our hard work and our vision to prevent a lost generation of Syrian refugee learners and at-risk youth.
Are there particular SIPA experiences that stand out?
There are incredible professors here who will go above and beyond to invest in your learning and your future. Sarah Holloway’s mentorship has been so meaningful as I’ve developed a passion for social entrepreneurship and put that learning into A4ED.
Another important experience was being chosen as the inaugural recipient of the James Mead Stephenson Memorial Fellowship. James was an incredible alumnus who was passionate about human rights and service, and I am honored to be the first student to carry on his legacy at SIPA and beyond. When I read about James’s life and work, it led me to reflect on my own passion to live as fully and commit to improving the world with dignity like he did.
What are your plans after SIPA?
I look forward to applying what I’ve learned about management and innovation to my passion for humanitarian affairs and development. I will be looking for opportunities to do this at the UN, in development consulting, or in social enterprise. Gemma and I plan to move forward with our social enterprise, A4ED, and I’m excited to see where this year takes us as we develop our idea and prototype the blockchain technology in Jordan.
A first year Master of International Affairs candidate, Mohammed is concentrating in International Security Policy with a specialization in International Organizations.
Mohammed is SIPA’s SJS Charitable Trust Fellow. The recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, he holds a Master of Arts in Conflict Transformation from the Center of Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University and a postgraduate degree and a bachelor’s degree from Damascus University. He is also an Atlantic Council Millennium Fellow. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News Opinion, Foreign Policy, Politico, The Hill, The New York Post, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, The Washington Examiner, Syria Deeply, and the Atlantic Council’s MENASource and FutureNATO blogs.
What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?
I was Government Relations Director and Senior Political Adviser for the Syrian American Council in Washington D.C., where my portfolio included a wide array of responsibilities ranging from briefing senior U.S. officials and law-makers on Syria to monitoring elections in Aleppo. When the Arab Spring began, I drew on my conflict studies to advise leading Syrian pro-democracy activists on nonviolent resistance strategies, and I quickly found myself dedicating the bulk of my time to helping communities on the ground.
Why did you choose to attend SIPA?
SIPA is part of my journey towards earning a PhD. As an Assistant Professor at the University of Damascus, my professional life was never confined to lecture halls; I am an academic-practitioner. SIPA has a vast menu of options to choose from, and once here, one can also branch out and take courses at other schools. I’m hoping that my time here will not only bring me into contact with formidable Ivy League academics but with practitioners who have grappled with real-life issues around the world as well.
I also came to SIPA to take a step back and reflect on everything I have done over the past seven years before charging ahead again. SIPA will help my interest in examining multilateral affairs and international organizations at the seat of the United Nations in New York, similar to how I learned the ins and outs of policy and politics in Washington, D.C. Also, some of my favorite academics like Will Durant and Edward Said went or taught here, so Columbia is hallowed ground for me, and I remind myself of this great honor every single morning.
What has been your experience at SIPA so far?
Columbia has a lot to offer so you have to quickly figure out your priorities and firmly stick to them. We have received tremendous assistance from our Peer Advisors, who were a great help as I learned my way around SIPA. I should also note that the Admissions Office’s professionalism and unfailing courtesy have far exceeded my expectations. I also greatly enjoyed Professor Richard Betts’s War, Peace, and Strategy course.
I am really looking forward to taking international relations courses with Professors Jack Snyder and Robert Jervis, two stellar academics who I feel quite privileged to have access to as a Columbia student.
What are your plans after SIPA?
I might take a sabbatical for a year to do some fieldwork but the plan is to press ahead until I have earned a PhD. Being a Syrian, though, nothing is certain. Duty might call again anytime, and the needs of my fellow Syrians come first.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Yes, take time to meet and get to know your fellow Seeples. You will meet some of the most amazing people here. Learning about your colleagues and their unique journeys is an education in and of itself. Good fellowship will also help you carry through and meet your academic obligations.