Author Archive for Sadia Afreen

My Capstone experience with Barclays Capital

Capstone is a semester-long, mandatory project for Master of International Affairs (MIA) or Master of Public Affairs (MPA) candidates at SIPA. Like most of my peers, I have registered for my Capstone in the final semester. My client is the Public Finance Division of Barclays Capital and I have five other colleagues with me in the team. We are the consultants and our academic orientation at SIPA is either Finance (IFEP) or Energy (EE). We all have a background working for public-sector organizations or private entities that engage in public-sector financial management. I am an MPA candidate, concentrating on EE and my team members are Isaac Rauch (MPA, IFEP), Cathy Chen (MPA, EE), Yidai Zhao (MPA, IFEP), Aly Waleed El Salmi (MPA, IFEP), and Jay Shin (MIA, IFEP). My faculty adviser for the project is John C. Liu, former Comptroller of the City of New York (2010-2013) and former member of the New York City Council (2002-2009). He also teaches municipal finance and public policy in master’s programs at the City University of New York and Columbia University.

Spring 2017 Capstone typically go live a semester before the assignments begin. So I applied for and received my Capstone assignment last fall. This project was my first choice because of my previous professional experience in the sector and my interest in learning more about public-private partnerships in green infrastructure investment. The scope of my team’s Capstone is to conduct an agency-wide research on opportunities for Barclays to provide lending, underwriting, consulting, and advisory services for green bonds to finance public infrastructure in the state of New York. Our first meeting with the client occurred in December 2016, where they briefed us on what they are looking to get out of this project. Coming back from the winter break, my team met with our faculty adviser to assign roles and responsibilities so that we could delve into content research. Currently, we are doing a comprehensive study of federal, state and municipal level agencies and programs in New York, and are reviewing their previous borrowing trends and deals, while identifying opportunities for our client. The research part truly requires a lot of time and constant coordination between client and consultants. But due to the very practical nature of the project, this is a huge opportunity for us to design a deliverable that would add substantial value to our client’s business.

Before starting the project, I was concerned about the workload that a Capstone would entail, and I thought of it much like a part-time job. The final semester is often stressful for graduating students, with the added pressure of job search, in addition to most people having internships on top of everything else. What helped all of us this semester is having clearly defined roles and responsibilities and a monitoring framework to track outcomes and activities. But most importantly, I felt getting comfortable with my team members was crucial since we will be working closely with each other for a whole semester. In that regard, we had a lot of fun taking a personality test (I am supposedly the ‘Virtuoso’!) and sharing our results with each other over drinks on a weeknight. Who says Capstone is all work and no play?

[Photo courtesy of Professor John C. Li | Sadia (bottom right) takes a Seeples selfie with her Capstone team and Professor Liu.]

SIPA welcomes a domestic policy magazine about universal truths

Being a part of a school that is always buzzing with discussions of and debates over pressing policy issues, it is hard not to get excited when some of your peers work hard to add another channel to do so. The school and the student body provides numerous platforms for this but the newest addition to the list is the print version of Columbia Public Policy Review (CPPR). CPPR started as a student-lead blog that has been publishing thoughtful and timely policy pieces on pressing US domestic issues. It was founded at the beginning of Spring 2015 with Jen Kim, Caitlin LaCroix, William Colegrave, Thomas Gaffeney, John Olderman and Audrey Yu as the founding board. The inaugural print edition of the magazine was published in November 2016 and features nine articles by SIPA students and faculty.

cppr-presidentExperience Publishing Inaugural Issue

I had a chance to chat with former CPPR board President Erin Kathleen Dostal, who is a second-year Master of Public Administration candidate at SIPA, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy (USP).

I asked Erin how the initial experience of gathering articles was like since this was the first print edition of the magazine: “We started looking for authors in May 2016. When you start from the grassroots level, you tap the people you know personally.” Although this was the reason why most students involved with the magazine ended up being USP concentrators, Erin clarified that they had very different backgrounds and interests. “Will Jordan, the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, has experience working for YouGov and a strong quantitative background and chose to write about polling. Camille Gray, on the other hand, is a lawyer and her article focused on the dispute between Apple and the FBI [over the San Bernardino shooting and the contention over U.S. communications laws].”

She also elaborated on the publication process: “Putting together the articles was easy in comparison to the other things that needed to be done, like coming up with the layout for the cover. Natasha Avanessians, the Vice President and Treasurer, and I went through piles of New Yorker, Wire, Cosmopolitan to come up with the cover for the magazine.” She also mentioned how her experience of working for a magazine before helped with the process. But while we discussed these challenges, she did not forget to acknowledge the amazing efforts put forward by the board members and admired their competency on the job. “The people involved are amazing. Will made sure that everything fit together, going back and forth to the writers with questions and getting the best out of them. Natasha had to make sure all the financial operations ran smoothly. I knew Cathleen Gates from before, who works for Gates Sister Studio, and she gracefully offered to do the cover for the magazine for free.”

Policy Focus

I was curious to know more how the board selected specific topics to feature in the magazine. It was also interesting to note that the focus of CPPR is solely domestic policies, despite the fact the school has such a diverse and international crowd. Erin shared her view on the matter and I realized how CPPR was different from similar initiatives at SIPA. She said, “We are not exclusionary. The policy areas chosen are very broad and have an impact on a wide range of people, both international and domestic. Besides going to school here, we also live in New York, which in itself is a very international city and it is important for us to know about the domestic policy-making process. Given the fact that other similar platforms, like the Journal of International Affairs, focus more on international policy, and that the majority of SIPA students are international, CPPR is a unique platform to talk about domestic policies.” The content of the magazine, ranging from Obama’s racial legacy to an aging LGBT population in New York City, attest to the truth in that statement.

Events

CPPR has partnered with student organizations to host policy dialogues. Erin excitedly highlighted one event from last year where CPPR collaborated with Women in Leadership (WIL) to host “Women Shaping New York’s Policy and Politics.” The event focused on the crucially important topic of female participation in grassroots politics and housed a panel of women serving in a leadership role in the city’s government.

Moving Forward

The magazine has a new board that has already assumed responsibilities, and Erin hopes that they will publish twice every year. Talking about challenges Erin mentioned, “One of the major hurdles faced by the previous board was financing the publication cost. SIPA Student Association (SIPASA) allocated funds for hosting the events, while we had to fundraise to finance the publication of the magazine itself.” She is hopeful that fundraising will go smoothly this semester and in the future. In the meantime, the online platform is open and active for any domestic policy related discussion.

If you are interested in writing for the Columbia Public Policy Review as a new student next year, send them an email at cppr@gmail.com.

 

Tips on the short essay policy question

The deadlines for Fall 2017 application are almost here and a lot of you are in the process of working on your admission essays. The second essay for this cycle (Fall 2017/Spring 2018) asks applicants to express their views about a policy-related question. This is a mandatory essay and the prompt for this changes every year. So I thought it was a good idea to share my take on this year’s prompt and some advice on how you can approach writing it.

The prompt for this year is: Tell us about a policy change related to your selected SIPA concentration that has had a negative or positive impact on others. For this, you need to focus on a policy change that is related to your desired concentration at SIPA. For applying to SIPA, you need choose one of the six following concentrations: Economic and Political Development, Energy and Environment, Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy, International Finance and Economic Policy, International Security Policy or Urban and Social Policy. Each of these concentrations cover a wide array of policy issues and questions, so there is a lot of flexibility to chose the specific topic you want to write about. The main idea here is to understand your outlook of the policy world around you. So the essay should reflect your knowledge of the specific policy or industry you are interested in. Feel free to focus on either a domestic or an international issue, something that has happened recently or something that is a few years old and has been debated over time.

It is always a good idea to start early. Make sure to have enough time in case you need to research the topic you are writing about and filter out the necessary information to include. While writing this essay, please keep in mind the word limit is 200 and that it is there for a reason. It is hard to be concise when you are writing about complex policy issues and their impacts, but that is one of the qualities we look for in our future students. So this is a chance for you to show the Admissions Committee that you are able to write succinctly on policy subjects.

A second pair of eyes always help. Although we are looking to see your understanding of and opinion on the issue, discussing about it with a friend, peer, or family member who knows about the topic can’t hurt. Making them read your essay can also help you identify and correct any editing mistakes you might have made and we highly appreciate reading an essay that has been properly proofread.

To wrap things up, this essay is not meant to stress you out in any way. Given the fact that you are applying to a policy school and you know your desired concentration means you are halfway there with identifying what you want to write about! Now it is just about putting pen to the paper — writing down your thoughts is helpful! — and make good use of those 200 words.

[Photo | “Ready” by Kevin Doncaster is licensed under CC BY 2.0.]

"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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