Archive for Academics

A Case for Urban and Social Policy

Like many prospective graduate school applicants, I had a hard time deciding exactly which school or program was right for me. It’s incredibly difficult to think about places, schools, and classes you’ve never taken in the abstract, let alone even trying to compare them. While being incredibly fortunate, my situation is also a little complicated; as a Pickering Fellow, I am required to serve in the U.S. Foreign Service for five years after graduating from SIPA. While applying, I was attempting to reconcile my interest in domestic politics and cities, with my career and general interest in international relations. I wanted a degree that would wholly prepare me for my time in the Service, while also providing me the skills and expertise to succeed if I ever decided to leave the organization.

SIPA made sense on a variety of baseline levels; it’s incredibly diverse, and very international, two things I value both personally and professionally. It is prestigious and known for producing top-end talent in almost every profession related to public service and government. When I got in, it was almost a no-brainer; I knew this is where I wanted to be.

However, I had a much harder time deciding which concentration was right for me. As someone who has worked with numerous organizations engaged in human rights and refugee-related work, Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy was appealing. Similarly, Economic and Political Development sounded like a natural fit with the work I’d be doing in the Service. Urban and Social Policy, with its focus on development and broad social issues, also piqued my interest.

As you can probably guess, I ultimately decided to concentrate in USP. Now let me tell you why.

An Excellent Urban Studies Education…in the Greatest City in the World

Ever since I moved to my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I have been in love with cities. I want to know their population density, the history behind their most famous landmarks, the backgrounds of the migrants that shaped them. I want to know what sports teams the locals support, and the rivalries that may exist between different parts of town. Understanding a city, and its working class people is something that gives me immense joy and a feeling of understanding and solidarity with others, even if I am an outsider.

It just so happens that SIPA is located in arguably the greatest, or at least the most culturally significant city in the world. USP concentrators have the unique opportunity to study their favorite policy issues with leaders in the field, who are often engaged in their work while teaching. If housing is your favorite issue, you can study with William Eimecke, the previous Secretary of Housing for New York State, and then witness every day how city and state leaders are attempting to solve the affordable housing crisis. If you’re interested in education, you can cross enroll in classes at Columbia’s prestigious Teachers College, and intern at the NY Department of Education, one of the biggest city agencies of its kind in the world. If you’re considering running for political office, you can take classes with ex-Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter, and the legendary New York City Mayor David Dinkins. In summary, SIPA and New York attract some of the best minds in urban governance, and for this reason alone, SIPA has a comparative advantage to other schools with urban studies programs.

It’s Broad but You Can Make It Your Own

If you say you study Urban and Social Policy, you inevitably have to tell someone what that actually means. That’s partly because it is so broad; almost every social issue is now inherently an urban issue and vice versa. That being said, SIPA’s requirements make it incredibly easy to find your niche within the concentration, while also providing students with a generalist background that will prepare them for any type of work in the field. I am personally passionate about anti-corruption and good governance initiatives, and have therefore taken numerous management and systems analysis oriented courses. One of my friends in the concentration has explored the growth of data and algorithms in public sector decision making, and its impact on communities of color. Another friend of mine is committed to understanding the intersection of gender and development in urban communities. As a future diplomat, I know I will be serving in some of the world’s truly global cities; therefore, my USP education will provide me with the skills and knowledge I need to understand the key challenges these cities face, while also allowing me to dive deeper into many of my domestic interests. In turn, by drawing upon the experiences and interests of your peers, and the expertise of USP’s great faculty, you too can find your own place in this passionate and driven community.

The People

USP is a relatively small concentration, compared to some of the others available at SIPA. However, I consider this one of its greatest strengths. USP attracts bright, motivated and culturally savvy people from around the world, with many hailing from the world’s fastest growing and important urban centers. On an intellectual level, this is incredibly rewarding; often, you will find yourself in the halls or off-campus at a small meet up, casually discussing an urban policy issue with people from entirely separate countries and cities, each one providing their perspectives and experiences. Socially, you are surrounded by people who also love the city, and all that it has to offer. Personally, I have felt that my education has extended well beyond the walls of SIPA, as my network of USPers continues to challenge me, and introduce me to new concepts and ideas on a daily basis.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…

No matter where you are in the admissions process, I encourage all prospective or recently admitted students to think critically about what they want out of their graduate school experience and how every concentration or program may advance your personal and professional growth. Nonetheless, if you are passionate about cities and social issues, I suggest that you take a look at the concentration’s requirements and electives which are available on the SIPA website. It will give you a better idea of the type of coursework you can expect, while also hopefully inspiring some excitement at the prospect of being a USP concentrator!

Decoding SIPA Courses for Prospective Students

When I was looking at graduate schools, I wanted to know what my course load would look like and what electives I would be able to take. I didn’t want to be stuck taking two years of core classes and I wanted to make sure there were elective classes that suited my interests. Here’s the guide for past-Julia on how to decipher SIPA’s courses.

All students must fulfill their “core requirement” courses which include Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Quantitative Analysis I, Financial Management, and Management. Students will also need to take a Professional Development course, internship, and complete a capstone project which usually takes place second year, last semester.

Students can take up to 18 credits per semester, though most take around 16 credits. You can view sample course schedules in each Concentration’s “Sample Path” or “Sample Program” tab (Eg: Energy and Environment’s sample path, Economic and Political Development’s sample program)

All prospective students can find SIPA’s list of courses here. You can then filter for semester as well as degree programs, concentrations, and specializations if you click “advanced search criteria”. Clicking on the blue plus button on the left of the course title, you will be able to find the course description, professor, and time/location of class.

Key notes on searching for classes:

  • Students who are in the MPA and MIA program are blocked from registering for EMPA courses (Executive MPA program)
  • There are 3 credit courses and 1.5 credit courses. 1.5 credit courses are usually half-semester courses or courses that are completed in two weekends.
  • Enrolled students will be able to find past course syllabus and evaluations.
  • Not all courses are offered every semester or every year.

As you’re completing your application for SIPA, take a look at the courses we have to offer, and if you can, sign up to sit in on one or two!

Note from Admissions: As Julia mentioned, class visits are open. You can sit in on up to two SIPA classes and get a feel for the classroom experience and community. Sign up soon as seats are first come, first serve.

Meeting Africa’s funding gap to meet the SDGs and how an MDP student is part of this ambitious objective

Africa faces an annual funding gap of $1.3 trillion if it is to meet the SDGs by 2030. MPA-DP student Ji Qi traveled to Kigali, Rwanda, as part of the program’s summer placement, to work at The Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa and look at how development banks can improve their performance against international best practices and benchmarks to contribute to the achievement of the #SDGs in the continent. In his own words “I’m really glad to be part of this ambitious continent-wide initiative which can help turn the development banks into the true driving force behind Africa’s sustainable development.”

 

Why I Chose to Apply to SIPA

Note from Admissions: The Spring application deadline is coming up, and we hope applicants feel like they’re making good progress with the admissions process. Current student Dylan Hoey has been in your position and reflects on why he applied to SIPA in the first place. 

We encourage you to reach out to us at the Admissions office if you have any questions about the application or just want to talk it over. And if you want to talk to Dylan or other SIPA students about their experience, we can make that happen.


Rodin’s “The Thinker” outside Philosophy Hall [Wikimedia Commons]

During undergrad, like most first year students, I was unsure of what I wanted to major in. At first I was confident that environmental science was the right choice. Within a semester, I was disabused of that idea. After taking an amazing introduction to international relations course, I thought I had settled on international relations. When my second year started, I changed my mind once again and declared as a Government and History dual major, which finally stuck. While I had formally decided on a major, my interest in other subjects did not wane. Thanks to a great liberal arts education, I was able to dabble in almost every major subject, from religious studies to mathematics. Throughout my undergraduate career, I developed an interest in urban studies, post-colonial history and theory, continental philosophy, and film, amongst others.

In turn, when I decided to apply to graduate school, I knew I wanted to be at a place that engaged all of these interests, while also providing me with a central skill set that would allow me to be successful in any industry. I knew that my ideal school would be in a large city, with plenty of extracurricular opportunities to pursue my interest in the arts. Naturally, that narrowed my list of schools down quite considerably.

SIPA had always been on my radar just based off its name recognition, but when I researched more into its curriculum and Columbia’s own resources, I became more and more interested in applying. First of all, I appreciated that SIPA stresses both theory and ‘practical’ applications of course material. As a future U.S. diplomat, I valued SIPA’s diversity, which is unrivaled. I also liked that SIPA has a distinctly international focus, with an emphasis on urban politics and culture. When I looked through SIPA’s course offerings and faculty, I was similarly impressed by the broad array of fields and disciplines represented. I remember also coming across a couple ‘superstar’ professors, including former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. On more comprehensive faculty lists outside of SIPA, I saw that one of my favorite authors, Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, was also listed as a member of Columbia’s faculty. Another search led me to discover that leading Indian post-colonial theorist Gayatri Spivak was a resident faculty member.

When I looked at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ website, I found that the events section was full of film series that I was interested, including a few where the directors themselves were there to answer questions. At the Journalism School, I saw Jelani Cobb, one of the New Yorker’s most prolific and insightful contributors, listed as a professor. While I was certainly drawn in by SIPA’s course offerings, I really fell in love with the idea of Columbia being a place of such great academic diversity. I knew that at SIPA I would receive a world-class education in policy analysis and public management; I had no doubts about that. But I relished the idea of being on a campus where it would be easy to meet people engaged in other fields, and to pursue a truly holistic education. When it was time to finally apply, I was excited at the prospect of enrolling at SIPA, an excitement that has never left me, even as a second year student now.

MPA-DP Summer Placement in Hanoi, Vietnam

Nausher Khan MPA-DP ’19 shares his Summer Field Placement experience in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Over the course of the summer, I along with my MPA-DP colleague, Claire Thibault worked with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Hanoi as part of the inaugural Columbia World Project (CWP). The CWP is titled ACToday: Adapting agriculture to climate today for tomorrow and is a collaboration between the International Research Institute at Columbia University and strategic partners in 6 countries. The project is operational in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Senegal, Colombia and Guatemala and is scheduled to run for 5 years commencing in 2018. The CWP is mandated with working with the relevant national governments and civil society organisations to enhance their capacity in adapting their food systems to the changing climate.

These countries have been chosen as they are predominantly agriculture based economies which are severely vulnerable to climate change. Vietnam is the third largest producer of coffee and second largest producer of rice in the world, however due to its placement proximal to the south China sea, it has experienced a proliferation of extreme weather events over the preceding decade. Additionally, due to the global sea level rise, the Mekong delta in the south of Vietnam is subject to saline intrusion, rendering rice paddies situated on the river bed, extremely unproductive. A pattern of increased rains and typhoons in the north of the country, and drier and hotter summers in the South is posing a current and impending threat to the agricultural productivity of the country. Thus, ACToday is partnering with the ministry of natural resources and environment, ministry of agriculture and rural development, and with international organizations such as CIAT in Vietnam to build their adaptive and mitigative capabilities. The project aims to help the local government incorporate accurate Climate change projections and data into the development of their agricultural plans and setting of their food system priorities.

Over this summer, the MPA-DP student team working in Vietnam worked to conduct an extensive stakeholder analysis and needs assessment of the climate information services value chain. We were tasked with identifying the organisations and processes responsible for the production of climate information, the translation of that information into agricultural advisories, and the dissemination channels by which this information was reaching the farmers. This initial scoping will lay the foundation for the succeeding initiatives that will be established under the ambit of the ACToday program. Similar work was carried out in the remaining CWP countries and now as the strategic operations have been formalized In the respective countries, the project will enter the second phase and work in a localized manner to achieve the end goal of increased food security through a sustainable food system.

In addition to the conduction of the climate information service value chain analysis, I had the opportunity to document the experience in an audio-visual format. The purpose of this documentation would be to develop a short audio-visual case study to be used as a teaching aid for the students of Food systems in the coming years. This documentary followed the novel format of student-led filmmaking, primarily using an Iphone to record field experiences, day-day life and expert interviews. It will go to show the impact of climate change on Vietnamese agriculture, and capture the experience of working within the mandate of the CWP in Vietnam.

"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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