Author Archive for Kaitlyn Wells

Fall 2017 New Students Series: Sukirti Vinayak

In today’s installment of our New Students Series, we’re welcoming Sukirti Vinayak, from Delhi, India. He studied engineering at the University of Delhi in 2011, and is currently working pro bono for the Common People’s Party. He joined SIPA (instead of another policy school we won’t mention) to gain stronger quantitative skills. While he’s not sure which employment sector he wants to work in next, he looks forward to learning from SIPA’s world renowned faculty and all about governance innovations in NYC. Using a gambling analogy, he’s a self-described “Jack” and believes there are no winners when it comes to climate change.

Full Name: Sukirti Vinayak
Age: 28
Degree Program: Master of Public Administration
Concentration: Economic and Political Development

Hometown: New Delhi, Delhi India
Undergraduate University: University of Delhi
Undergraduate Major: Engineering
Undergraduate Graduation Year: 2011

What’s your professional background?
I have been working full time on a pro bono basis with the young, crowd funded Indian political unit, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or Common People’s Party, which was overwhelmingly elected to govern India’s national capital territory in 2015. I had the opportunity to design Delhi Government’s current strategies for combating air and river pollution. I also actively contributed to two election campaigns with my role ranging from developing the manifesto to managing polling booths to monitoring all campaign activities for the National Convenor of the party. I have previously worked with public, private and non-profit stakeholders including McKinsey (past employer), Safe Water Network (past employer), USAID, Indian Ministry of Mines, Energy and various urban local bodies. My focus almost all throughout has remained on policies, their implementation and the politics of all of this!

Did you apply to SIPA to change careers or to gain experience in a career path you already have experience in?
I applied to SIPA to gain quantitative skills and learn from academicians and practitioners. I also wish to use this time to figure out which broad sector I’d like to go back to- private or non-profit or government, given my personal preferences (work routine, financial security, scope of impact, etc.).

What was your reaction when you found out you were accepted to SIPA?
I was quite ecstatic! Plus New Yoork! 🙂

Why did you say “yes” to SIPA?
Better financial aid in comparison to HKS made me choose SIPA. New York CIty is also a big reason why I said ‘yes’! My interactions with everyone at SIPA throughout the process have been very warm, which I think has also subtly played a part 🙂

What do you most look forward to as a graduate student at SIPA?
As a Delhite and with some understanding of urban issues, I look forward to stumbling upon governance innovations in NYC. I also look forward to understanding how the academic circle copes with fake news, baseless rhetoric and democratic backsliding. Its a hot trend in my country too!

Do you have any apprehensions about starting graduate school?
Yes indeed! I haven’t studied Maths after 2008 and I have never studied Economics!

What are your goals after SIPA?
When I was making up my mind to quit McKinsey, in 2014, and become a public servant (of some sort) I met people from diverse backgrounds- policy think thanks, bureaucracy, non profits, and I realized that there aren’t a lot of people who honestly have mid/long term clarity. And that people who are at peace with this are leading more satisfying professional lives. I belong to this category of people now. I greatly look forward to 2 years at SIPA and the only part of my goal I am sure of, as of now, is that I will continue to work for changing people’s lives. What agent and what channel are details that I will figure out! 🙂

If you could change one small thing about your community, country or the world, what would it be?
Make them understand that climate change is real and everyone is going to be a loser sooner than later. There aren’t going to be any winners with this one.

Tell us something interesting about yourself:
I believe in experiencing and pursuing diverse activities. Aspirationally, I lean more towards being a Jack than being an Ace. I was an amateur bassist, photographer and actor. Now I look forward to getting back to them artistic realms! 😀

[Photos courtesy of Sukirti Vinayak | Seen here with Arvind Kejriwal, who is sort of like the Indian version of Bernie Sanders. We’ve both lost weight since that day!]
*Note: This series is published in its original form with no editing.

Fall 2017 New Students Series: Katy Swartz

In today’s installment of our New Students Series, wave your virtual hand at Katy Swartz. Katy is a Texan (ditto!) who moved to the frigid north in Massachusetts to attend Smith College. She has a degree in Jewish Studies, and taught English in Bulgaria for a year. Today, she lives in Brooklyn and works for the NYC Department of Education as a data specialist. Overall, she’s lived in five U.S. states and three different countries. I’m sure her experience abroad will serve her well in a future career as a Foreign Service Officer. Hook ’em, Katy!

Full Name: Katy Swartz
Age: 26
Degree Program: Master of International Affairs
Concentration: Economic and Political Development
Hometown: Colleyville, Texas, United States

Undergraduate University: Smith College
Undergraduate Major: Jewish Studies
Undergraduate Graduation Year: 2013

What’s your professional background?
My professional background thus far has been in education and operations. I lived in Bulgaria for a year after graduating from Smith College, where I was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the capital city, Sofia. After this experience, I moved to Brooklyn, NY where I have been working at a NYC Dept of Education high school for 3 years. I am currently the School Business Manager and Data Specialist, which translates to the director of operations. I oversee all operational aspects of the school including budget, purchasing, student and teacher scheduling, technology, data collection, and compliance.

Did you apply to SIPA to change careers or to gain experience in a career path you already have experience in?
I think it is a little bit of both. I realized while living in Bulgaria that I wanted to go into the field of international affairs, but I could not imagine what exact position or job duties most excited me. Over the last two years in my current role, I have been able to realize that my true talents lie in operations and management. Therefore, while I will be changing from the field of education to international affairs, I hope to remain in positions that allow for similar roles as my current job. I am excited that SIPA offers many management courses which will give me the academic background I need to continue in this career path.

What was your reaction when you found out you were accepted to SIPA?
For the two weeks leading up to learning I was accepted, I stalked the SIPA blog and application portal daily. The morning I found out was a Friday, and I had concluded (earlier that morning) that decisions would not come out until the following week, based on the timeline the previous year. I was sitting at my desk at work when I suddenly saw the email from SIPA saying my decision was ready to be viewed. Thank goodness I had saved all my passwords in the application portal already, because I was too nervous to remember anything that was happening. I screamed quite audibly when I saw the confetti coming down the screen and definitely scared my office-mate!

Why did you say “yes” to SIPA?
I was either incredibly bold or incredibly naïve in applying to graduate school, as I chose to only apply to SIPA. SIPA was the only school that had such a robust institute dedicated to the study of Eastern Europe (and specifically allowed for study of the Balkans), as well as rigorous coursework alongside practical hands-on experience through the Capstone workshop & internship opportunities. Therefore, my decision to attend was natural upon finding out I was accepted!

What do you most look forward to as a graduate student at SIPA?
I am most excited to gain an academic background in what has been a personal interest for so long. While I have done much independent learning and reading, I can’t wait to gain a deeper understanding in political development within the field of international affairs. Specifically, I can’t wait to student more about my regions of interest– East Central Europe and Russia/Former Soviet States.

Do you have any apprehensions about starting graduate school?
Of course! Any change comes with many apprehensions, but my excitement far outweighs them. I am most nervous about being back in school and keeping up with the rigorous coursework. I am also worried about balancing the life I’ve established already here in New York with my new life at SIPA.

What are your goals after SIPA?
After SIPA, I hope to join the US Department of State and work as a Foreign Service Officer in the Management Track.

If you could change one small thing about your community, country or the world, what would it be?
It’s hard to name just one! I think it would be nice if more people were willing to take a break from their various mobile devices and spend some time just talking to others the old-fashioned way. I think that so much of the way we interact with others stems from our constant distractions, as well as the fact that we can now structure so much of our lives in a way that prevents interacting with those who are different than us. Perhaps if more people took the time to talk to those outside their immediate communities, we would see less of the xenophobia emerging across the world.

Tell us something interesting about yourself:
I’ve lived in 5 US States, 3 different countries, and, by my last count, a total of 17 different apartments/homes (not including many dorm moves during college!). Perhaps my desire to join the Foreign Service stems from the many moves I’ve made in my life.

[Photos courtesy of Katy Swartz | In the hallways of the school where I work, Brooklyn, NY, May 2017]
*Note: This series is published in its original form with no editing.

Dilek Kurban, MIA ’04, IF ’04, co-authors working paper on Turkish Civil Society

You often hear of our Seeples doing amazing things in the world and pursuing additional research. This week a 2004 graduate co-authored a paper about how Turkey’s civil society can help the country “confront deep political and social problems.” Dilek Kurban, MIA ’04, IF ’04, worked on the paper — “Trends in Turkish Civil Society” — with the Center for American Progress, the Istanbul Policy Center, and the Istituto Affari Internazionali. (Kurban’s currently a fellow at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and member of the European Network of Independent Experts in the nondiscrimination field.) Here’s the working paper’s introduction:

Turkey today is riven by internal polarization and is increasingly estranged from the West. The country faces serious social, economic, and political challenges—particularly a deep division between supporters and opponents of the current government and its more religious, nationalist, and populist agenda. The governing party has undermined checks and balances and consolidated power in a disturbing way, and has aggressively pursued its political agenda with little attempt to seek consensus or include stakeholders from across Turkey’s diverse society.

In this environment, with formal politics relegated to relative insignificance by the majoritarianism of the current government, civil society becomes increasingly important. Civil society offers one of the few remaining checks—however weak—on government overreach. Civil society activists can help address pressing social problems and provide reservoirs of knowledge that can be tapped when political conditions improve. Participation in civil society groups can bridge Turkey’s deep ethnic, religious, and social divisions, and such activity has been shown to help reduce societal tensions and increase ethnic tolerance. Finally, civil society groups provide connective tissue to Europe and the West at a time when such connections have been frayed. For all of these reasons, Turkish civil society deserves support from those who believe in a participatory, democratic future for the country.

This report describes the importance of Turkish civil society and provides historical, political, economic, and legal context for its operation. It addresses the ongoing purge of some civic actors and examines the polarization that continues to divide civil society groups (CSOs) despite their shared predicament. Looking at the major challenges facing Turkey as a whole, the report offers examples of how CSOs can contribute to solutions across the board. Finally, it offers recommendations for how best to support Turkish civil society.

Read the entire paper at

[Photo via Pixabay | CC0 Public Domain]

Fall 2017 New Students Series: Esteban Angel

In today’s installment of our New Students Series we’re welcoming Esteban Angel from Bogota, Colombia. Esteban studied mechanical engineering at Universidad De Los Andes, and he hopes to be a leader in the energy policy field one day. He admits that he cried after reading his acceptance letter, and he is excited about living in his dream city. We’re excited to meet you, too, Esteban!

Full Name: Esteban Angel
Age: 29
Degree Program: Master of Public Administration
Concentration: Energy and Environment
Hometown: Bogota, Capital District, Colombia

Undergraduate University: Universidad De Los Andes
Undergraduate Major: Mechanical Engineering
Undergraduate Graduation Year: 2012

What’s your professional background?
My professional background is in consultancy and private equity, both focused on social and economic development. I worked for two years in Compartamos con Colombia ( a non-profit consulting firm focused on positive social impact projects in Colombia. Then I moved to Bamboo Capital Partners ( an impact investing private equity firm specialising in investing in business models that benefit low-income communities in emerging markets, where I currently work.

Did you apply to SIPA to change careers or to gain experience in a career path you already have experience in?
I want to gain experience in the energy sector, this may imply a career change but not necessarily. I want to learn a lot about energy policy but this can be implemented both in the public or private sector e.g. a private equity firm focused in renewables.

What was your reaction when you found out you were accepted to SIPA?
I must accept that I was so happy that I cried.

Why did you say “yes” to SIPA?
Because it is the program/university which I most wanted and also because I have always dreamed about living in NYC.

What do you most look forward to as a graduate student at SIPA?
Meeting amazing people and living in a wonderful city, while learning a lot from teachers and their courses.

Do you have any apprehensions about starting graduate school?


What are your goals after SIPA?
My main goal is to become a leader in renewable energy policy and implementation.

If you could change one small thing about your community, country or the world, what would it be?
Well, it is not a small thing, but definitely, I will eradicate the internal conflict and violence in my country, Colombia.

Tell us something interesting about yourself:
I like a lot knowing new people and travelling. I’m also a big soccer and biking fan. Looking forward to meeting seeples with whom I can play soccer and ride, in NYC and surroundings.

Share your story by completing the New Student Self-Interview Form today!

[Photo courtesy of Esteban Angel]
*Note: This series is published in its original form with no editing.


We just made proving English proficiency so much easier

I’m often asked if there are separate admissions deadlines for our international students. The answer, simply put, is no. All deadlines are open to all students, regardless of their nationality. The same goes for our application materials. For example, no one has to submit extra paperwork in order to qualify for our general fellowships (just meet the predetermined deadline). However, international students do have to prove their language proficiency before they apply to SIPA.

Until today, international students only had two options: take the TOEFL or IELTS exam. Depending on where they lived those exams weren’t always the easiest to arrange; sporadic exam dates and minimal locations were frequent complaints. I’m happy to share that our office has approved a third English-language proficiency exam, known as the PTE Academic.

We added it to the list of approved exams because the PTE exam is offered in more locations than the TOEFL and IELTS.  PTE also offers students flexible test sessions, a flexible re-take policy, and results are typically available within 5 working days versus 10-15 days turnaround for the TOEFL. Lastly, it’s also accepted at a number of academic institutions in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, UK, Canada and the US — making it easier for you to share scores with several institutions.

So while you’re making arrangements to take your English-language proficiency exam, keep in mind there’s now a third option. (We’ll update our website to reflect this change, but please forgive us if we miss a page!)

For your reference, here are the minimum and preferred score requirements for all three exams. The minimum score is what’s required in order to apply to SIPA. While the preferred score means you won’t be required to enroll in a special English language course once admitted to SIPA. If you have questions, just check the blog’s archives for more information on these requirements.

  • TOEFL Minimum: 100 & TOEFL Preferred: 110
    • School code is 2161 (there is no department code)
  • IELTS Minimum: 7.0 & IELTS Preferred: 7.5
    • Select Columbia SIPA from the list of schools
  • PTE Minimum: 68 & PTE Preferred: 76
[Image courtesy of Pearson]

"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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