A View from the Class: Cortney Newell

Hoping everyone stays safe and warm as the winter storm approaches New York!

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 student, Cortney Newell MPA ’18. Cortney is a second year Master of Public Administration in Development Practice candidate. She is this year’s Trangucci Family Fellow and an International Fellows Program (IFP) Fellow.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

After graduating from the University of Virginia, I spent two years as a journalist for the Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee. In 2011, motivated by a desire to work in development, I moved to Siguatepeque, Honduras, where I worked for a bilingual primary and secondary school. Shortly thereafter, I transitioned to Amigos for Christ, a nonprofit organization in Chinandega, Nicaragua, gaining experience in integrated, sustainable community development, and eventually, serving as the Director of Communications.

Why did you choose SIPA?

The MPA-DP program is focused on all the right things: practical professional experiences, interdisciplinary approaches, strong connections to leading professionals and organizations in the sector, and a heavy emphasis on empowering students to shape their own experience.

Please describe some of the work-experience opportunities you’ve had at SIPA.

Since arriving at Columbia, I have focused my studies on humanitarian policy and programming, with a particular interest in how gender affects the experience of different populations in the midst of emergencies. Along those lines, my first year I worked as a research assistant for MADRE, a nonprofit human rights advocacy organization, drafting and editing human rights reports on gender based violence in Iraq and Syria.

This past summer, I worked with Mercy Corps’ humanitarian response in West Nile, Uganda, leading the design and implementation of a new, market-driven mobile phone program targeting 20,000 South Sudanese refugees and Ugandan host community members across the region.

During the fall semester, I worked with the American Red Cross of Greater New York’s Mass Care team to develop a strategic plan for their Emergency Response Vehicles. This semester, I am interning with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), helping the Emergency Preparedness team develop a Communications Strategy that will ensure they are maximizing the impact of their communications both within the Emergency Unit and across the IRC as a whole.

And, finally, I am serving as the Project Manager for an EPD Workshop team which is developing a white paper on gender and intersectionality in the humanitarian sector for the Women’s Refugee Commission.

How has SIPA and your SIPA experiences affected you?

SIPA has taught me how to translate a long career of experiences and a growing set of skills into a cohesive professional profile, while at the same time enabling me to continually expand that catalogue of experiences and skills through the courses and professional experiences I’ve accessed while here. I know that upon graduation I will be empowered to do the work I love much more effectively and at a significantly higher level.

What are your plans after SIPA?

After SIPA, I plan to continue my work in humanitarian aid, working in frontline program management and implementation – most likely in cash, protection, or education programming with a large, international NGO. The nature of the sector means I don’t necessarily know exactly where I’ll be, but I have my eye on developing crises in Latin America and the ongoing emergencies in the Middle East.