Author Archive for Emily Tao

We’ll be in the U.S. PNW soon — and a Spring application deadline reminder

The Columbia SIPA admissions team is still traveling to attend various graduate school fairs around the world. We’ve met a lot of fantastic future candidates and are looking forward to talking to more of you!

If you’re unsure if you want to come to these (free!) grad fairs, remember that Just a few minutes of conversation could lead to an opportunity that’ll change the course of your career. Keep up with us on our Off-Campus Recruitment Events calendar.

And a reminder for you Spring applicants that the application deadline is October 15th, 11:59pm ET. If you have any final questions, you should reach out to us at the Office of Admissions on Monday. Best of luck!

Camille Laurente MIA ’16 Defines “Interdisciplinary”

We often talk about SIPA’s interdisciplinary curriculum as a major benefit of our program for candidates. SIPA alumni go into government, international affairs, and policy positions (see: Eric Garcetti, Bill de Blasio), and many also do work that exemplify “interdisciplinary.”

Camille Laurente MIA ’16, is the creator and host of Sincerely, Hueman, a podcast that tells the “remarkable, diverse tales of advocates, philanthropists and everyday people who started local and global movements for social good.”

Formerly a corporate lawyer, Camille credits SIPA with expanding her perspective on how to use media as a tool for social good. Camille specialized in Technology, Media and Communications, an area for those interested in digital technology and writing skills among many other, well, interdisciplinary fields. We hope that readers of this blog are familiar with the numerous real-world examples of the intersection of media, communications, and policy (as well as advocacy, public affairs, and international organizations, just to name a few).

Sincerely, Hueman is now on Season 2, and its already caught the attention of Bill Gates. (You can listen to that episode here.) You can find Sincerely, Hueman wherever you get your podcasts. If you’re part of the Columbia University / SIPA community and are interested in connecting with Camille and her company, check out Hueman Group Media.

If you’re interested in learning more about SIPA’s interdisciplinary curriculum, you can come to an info session or find us at a city near you. If you’re sure that SIPA will help you where you need to go, remember that our 2019 application is open.

Program Assistant Introduction: Dylan Hoey

Introducing our final new Program Assistant this semester, Dylan Hoey.

Dylan Hoey is a second-year MPA student concentrating in Urban and Social Policy and specializing in Technology, Media and Communications. In 2017, he graduated from Claremont McKenna College, where he earned a dual degree in Government and History. Prior to SIPA, Dylan worked for his Congresswoman and interned with refugee resettlement organizations in Chicago and Istanbul. He was recently awarded the U.S. State Department’s Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship, and after graduating will join the U.S. Foreign Service.

Dylan ultimately decided to attend SIPA because he valued Columbia’s commitment to diversity and SIPA’s strengths as a leading school for international affairs and urban studies. While at SIPA, Dylan has primarily taken classes on good governance and urban leadership in the hopes that he can one day assist developing nations in the fight against corruption.

What do you hope to gain from earning a Master’s degree from SIPA?

As an undergrad, I attended a liberal arts college that pushed its students to become critical thinkers and strong writers. Naturally, I majored in Government and History, and like many of my peers, I shied away from heavy quantitative coursework. Coming into SIPA, I wanted to take more practical government classes, to supplement my background in political philosophy and theory. I also decided that I wanted to push myself by taking more rigorous economics and management courses. I hope to leave SIPA with a deeper understanding of international politics and institutions while also gaining proficiency in Stata, GIS, and other programs that are commonly used in the world of government and policy.

What are some exciting things about your concentration?

As an Urban and Social Policy concentrator, my favorite thing about our concentration is the diversity. Most of us come from urban backgrounds and we love cities, as places of professional and academic interest and as social environments. Although we are a relatively small concentration, the community is tight-knit and we all know each other. Due to SIPA’s location, we also attract some of the world’s leaders in urban leadership and development. I’ve had the opportunity to take classes with a former Mayor of Philadelphia, New York State’s Secretary of Housing, and other world-renowned economists and researchers in urban governance. If you want to run for office, or work for local or federal government, USP is a great concentration to choose!

How did you find the core curriculum at SIPA?

Admittedly, I was intimidated by Columbia’s core curriculum. There was even a time I considered not applying, as I didn’t think I had the quantitative background to be successful at SIPA. That being said, I have really enjoyed my core classes and I think they equip students with the skills needed to be competitive, and ultimately successful, in government and public sector work. While macro and microeconomics were certainly difficult at times, there are two tracks offered; a lower division course that is more conceptual and a higher division for those who are comfortable with math. In retrospect, I can say that they filled gaps in my previous knowledge of world politics and economics. My management course provided me with a better understanding of how bureaucracies function, and how workers respond to incentives; however, it also made me think critically about my leadership style, and my potential strengths and weaknesses. Out of all the core classes, my favorite has been Politics of Policymaking, which is required for all MPA students; it was undoubtedly the most in-depth class I had ever taken on comparative institutions and policy creation. I enjoyed it so much I ended up taking another course with the professor the following semester and have since remained in touch!

What advice do you have for current applicants?

I recommend that students reflect on what they want in their career, and really consider if SIPA, or graduate school in general, is the experience they need to accomplish their professional and personal goals. I like to think of an application like a narrative that has led the applicant to a fork in the road; the sum of their academic, professional and personal experiences has led them to this moment and now graduate school is the next natural step in the journey. If you can think of your desire to attend SIPA in these terms, then you will likely have a strong application. Most importantly, you must be honest with yourself about what is best for you, and your reasons for applying.

What was the most challenging aspect of the application process?

Definitely the personal essays. Essentially, you have to condense everything – your desire to attend SIPA, the essence of the most transformative moments or experiences in your life, and your professional career – into a few essay and short prompt responses. That being said, going off of my earlier advice, I would encourage all applicants to really think about their own life and experiences as if you were a character in your own story. Perhaps even create a list of the moments or experience you feel most nostalgic about, even if they seem irrelevant or trivial. In doing so, you may discover what really motivates you and how specific experiences made you the person you are. You can weave these into your essays, in a way that humanizes you and makes you standout to the people reading your application.

What do you think makes a good SIPA student?

In my opinion, the best students at SIPA are the ones who have a genuine desire to learn and are interested in solving complex problems with the help of others. They value collaboration, diversity, breadth of opinion, and are rigorous in their studies. They also seek out opportunities to form relationships with other communities, and most likely have a strong sense of what is right, which informs their commitment to making the world a better place. While they may not know what they want to do, they know they want to be leaders in whatever field they end up in, because of their work ethic and their commitment to something outside of themselves.  Sometimes class isn’t fun; it’s the middle of the semester, it’s cold, you’re studying for midterms. But if you’re a naturally curious and dedicated person, the prospect of learning more, of becoming a more well-rounded individual; these things will ultimately sustain you.

Program Assistant Introduction: Julia Chung

We’re introducing our new group of program assistants with the Office of Admissions. You’ve already met Niara and Kier, so now please meet Julia!


Julia Chung was born and raised in New Jersey but hopes to be considered an honorary New Yorker. She is a second-year MPA student concentrating in Urban and Social Policy and specializing in Technology, Media, and Communications. After graduating from Vassar College with a BA in Sociology and a minor in Asian Studies, Julia worked at various nonprofits in New York City on issues including housing, immigration, education, and civic engagement.

Photo courtesy of: Sandy Zhang

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?
Before SIPA, I spent four years working at various nonprofits in New York City, focusing on immigration advocacy and civic engagement. After working on various grassroots-level campaigns, I realized that I needed more knowledge and expertise. I decided that the best way to serve my community was to first learn how to create better policies and how to better include multiple voices and communities in policy-making.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
When looking at graduate schools, the two factors that were most important to me were the classes and professors and where the school was located. I wanted to be in a city so I could remain involved in local issues and I wanted professors that had expertise on social policy and municipal governments. After my acceptance, I sat in on Mark Steitz’s Data Driven Approaches to Campaigns and Advocacy class. Less than half way through the class, I knew that SIPA was the school for me. It was clear that SIPA would not only provide the theory and best-practices about policymaking, but also teach the practical skills I needed to further my career.

How did you find the core curriculum at SIPA?
With no previous quantitative experience, I was apprehensive about the economics and quantitative analysis series. However, in the end, I found both to be extremely useful. Microeconomics and macroeconomics provided me greater insight in why governments make certain decisions around monetary and fiscal policy. And having enjoyed Quantitative Analysis I, I enrolled in Quantitative Analysis II, which is not required, the next semester. Now I highly recommend all students to take Quantitative Analysis II because I think it’s crucial for all policymakers to know how critique the methods of an academic journal article.

How did you obtain your internship?
I found the general internship posting for NYC Department of Transportation on SIPAlink, our platform for career resources. Having had mainly nonprofit experience, I was looking for opportunities in municipal government. Soon after sending in my resume and cover letter, I was invited to interview with the Grants Management team and offered a College Aid position.

What are your goals for the second year?
Having completed all my core classes for my degree and concentration in my first year, almost all my second year classes will be elective courses. My goal for the second year is to continue building my skills in design thinking and data analysis. I also want to take classes in other Columbia University schools, such as Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia Business School.

What do you think makes a good SIPA student or what qualities do stellar SIPA students typically possess?
I think stellar SIPA students typically are:

  • Skilled in time management. There’s quite a bit to juggle between lectures, recitations, office hours, club meetings, networking events, group projects, and life in general! A stellar student knows exactly how much they can take on, where to allocate their energy and when they need to say no and have some self-care time.
  • Open minded and willing to listen to other perspectives. Classmates are from all walks of life with different personal and professional experiences. We don’t always agree on the merits of certain policies or hold similar political views, but we have to respectfully hear the other perspective.
  • Proactive in getting involved in SIPA and off campus. There are so many events and opportunities at SIPA, but also in New York City. Stellar students do their research and get involved!

Co-founder of Think.iT, Mehemed Bougsea ‘17, Shares His Entrepreneurial Journey

Mehemed Bougsea MPA-DP ’17 is transforming Tunsia’s tech sector with his start-up Think.iT.

Bougsea founded Think.iT after many years of desiring equality in tech markets across different countries. Growing up between Libya and Germany, Mehemed saw the vast difference in openings for jobs in the tech sector. He saw this as an injustice to gifted and skilled young STEM students, who had immense potential for success but who lacked the qualifications to meet the demand for lucrative jobs in the field.

Think.iT is based in Tunisia where 57 percent of the workforce is unemployed and where the local economy cannot produce jobs in the fields to match the talent of the workforce. Think.iT’s programs focus on training young students on newer technologies such as AI, Cloud, and Blockchain, to ensure that graduates are prepared to address today’s most prevalent and pressing problems. At SIPA, Mehemed was a Ipek Cem Taha and Shwan Ibrahim (2015-2016) and SIPA Fund Fellow (2016-2017).

Click here to learn more about Mehemed’s ethos and entrepreneurial journey.


The 2019 SIPA application is open, so keep up with our Admissions Blog here for application tips over the next few months. You can learn more about the MPA in Development Practice program here.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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