Archive for Academics

Experiential Learning at SIPA

The objective of the Master of International Affairs (MIA) program at SIPA is to ensure “students acquire the substantive knowledge, practical skills, and real-world experience to address the big issues of international affairs.” But how does that work in practice? What kinds of experiential learning opportunities does SIPA provide to truly immerse students in international affairs?

First off, I’ll dispense with the most well-known factor. New York City is incredibly diverse and is home to numerous organizations that play vital roles in international affairs and public policy. SIPA students have countless opportunities to interact with these organizations via internships, guest speakers, conferences, site visits, and career panels. Not to mention that at SIPA you’ll be surrounded by classmates from over 100 countries and will gain immeasurably from those diverse perspectives in the classroom.

Beyond that, here are 4 less well-known experiential learning opportunities at SIPA:

  1. Global Immersion Courses

Just this year, SIPA inaugurated a new series of Global Immersion Courses that will enhance the MIA curriculum by providing students the opportunity to explore vital global policy issues firsthand. The first course in this program was titled Beyond the ‘Refugee Crisis’: Refugees in Turkey and Global Public Policy. Students in the course spent 10 days in Turkey taking classes on refugee policy and meeting with policymakers, journalists, multilateral organizations, and refugees. Upon returning to NYC, the course met four additional times during the Spring 2020 semester to further study the issues the students experienced firsthand in Turkey.

SIPA plans to offer additional courses in this innovative format covering additional issues and regions of interest to students. You can read more about SIPA students’ experience in this course here.

  1. Treks

Treks are student-organized trips to various countries that generally occur during the winter or spring breaks. These trips often include a mix of sightseeing as well as meetings with policymakers and business leaders. Past treks have included Korea, China, Taiwan, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Palestine, and Peru. There are even some domestic treks to explore certain industries or policy issues, such as the energy trek to Houston and San Francisco.

Treks have provided SIPA students with enormously valuable firsthand experience with pressing global issues. Amira Dhalla (MPA ’20) had this to say about her experience:

“Attending PalTrek was life-changing and moving. I am beyond thankful to the deeply connected and committed group of students from SIPA who opened their ears and hearts to those in Palestine while engaging and learning among eight days of nonstop events. While in the West Bank we discussed pressing human rights issues, practiced heartfelt allyship for communities, experienced a wondrous culture, and witnessed relentless resilience. All of which would never have been possible within the constraints of a classroom.”

  1. Capstone Workshops

The capstone workshop is a key part of the core curriculum for the MIA, MIA, and MPA-ESP. These workshops provide students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a consulting project for an external client. Some workshops provide opportunities for domestic or international travel to meet with clients or conduct research. Clients have included US and foreign government agencies, New York City government offices, the United Nations, the World Bank, think tanks, non-profits, and private sector companies. This semester, for example, SIPA students are researching sovereign liabilities for JP Morgan, advising NYC Cyber Command on responding to cyber incidents, and evaluating cash transfer programming for Mercy Corps. Check out more about capstone workshops here.

  1. Language Circles

If you’re looking for a way to practice your language skills outside of the classroom, many of Columbia’s language programs offer informal language circles to practice conversation. These voluntary, informal meetings are meant to facilitate speaking practice for students at all levels of the language. The Middle East Institute, for example, hosts a weekly Arabic language circle, and the French department offers weekly sessions of their Café Conversation program. Even if you aren’t taking formal language courses while at SIPA, these discussions can be a great way to connect with the community and immerse yourself in the language.

How to Choose a Graduate School

So now that you’ve submitted your graduate school applications, it’s time to start thinking seriously about choosing a school (after taking a much deserved break, of course). Most of you have applied to several schools, and all of the major schools of international affairs and public policy have so much to offer. How can you possibly decide? I certainly had a tough time with this decision two years ago so I’m going to discuss my decision making process in hopes of making this time just a bit easier for all of you!

  1. Determine your priorities

The first step is to determine your priorities. This is different for everyone, and there is truly no right answer. The specific course offerings, employment outcomes, financial aid opportunities, location, culture, class size, faculty, name recognition, and rankings are just some considerations that students may prioritize. Determine what is most important to you and prioritize those factors in your decision. It is often helpful to discuss these priorities with friends, family, or mentors.

  1. Compare courses and faculty

Of course, the majority of your time in graduate school will be spent in or preparing for courses so it’s vital that you are taking courses that both interest you and provide you with the skills you will need in your career. I found the best way to evaluate this was to create a full semester-by-semester course plan for each school I was considering. Using excel, I inputted each required course and the electives I wanted to take at each school. This provided me an easy way to compare each program in detail. I looked at the excel sheet and asked myself which program I would enjoy most while also developing the skills I would need in my career. In the end, the variety of electives and world-class faculty in international security, cybersecurity, and technology policy, the moderate amount of quantitative coursework, as well as the wide array of skills-based courses (and short courses) available at SIPA won me over.

  1. Location matters

Location has a huge impact on your access to employers, cost of living, and social life, but the most important factor is fit. You’ll be here for at least two years of your life, so you want to ensure you’re in a place that’s right for you. The best way to determine this is to visit the schools you’ve been admitted to. Explore the neighborhood, go out to eat, tour campus, and talk to current students about the quality of life. While I had been to NYC many times before and knew it was a place I wanted to live, attending SIPA’s Admitted Student’s Day assured me that Columbia and NYC would be a great fit for me. I can’t stress enough the importance of visiting campus, sitting in a class, and exploring the city.

  1. Cost

Finally, the least glamorous but still vitally important factor is cost. Research the cost of each school and then make a plan for how you will pay for graduate school. Review the SIPA Financial Aid page for information on costs and additional funding opportunities. You should also check out this blog post on Completing Your FAFSA and Budgeting by SIPA’s Associate Director of Financial Aid.

Choosing a graduate school is an intensely personal and difficult decision. While everyone’s decision making process is different, I found that going through the process I’ve described here enabled me to choose the program that was the best fit for me.

Top Five Classes At SIPA: A List From a Second Year EPD Student

Note from Admissions: Class visits are currently open! Register soon as spots fill up quickly.


So, after being at SIPA for near the marketed maximum of four semesters, I have a few thoughts about classes. This isn’t the usual, obvious offering of advise such as “don’t take an 8:30am on a Monday” because chances are, in grad school, most of us have been there and done that. No, in this essay I will outline my top five classes ( and some honorable mentions ). This is also helpful for prospective students with a keen interest in the EPD program who are on the look our for cool classes to sit in on for class visits!

** For context, my course load is, as expected, very influenced by the fact that my concentration is Economics and Political Development and my specialization was Advanced Economic and Political Analysis but became Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis in my second year. Therefore, I can’t say much in the way of courses that interest concentrations in human rights, energy, international security policy, et cetera. So, with no further blabbing, let’s get to the meat or vegetarian alternative, here’s my top five:

  1. Global Inequality with Suresh Naidu: For those interested in economic inequality and understanding it both on the level of economic theory and on a practical level of policy levers to counteract it, this class offers not only a comprehensive history of inequality, its origins, and policy solutions for it but why we should care. It covers everything from Kuznets curves to slavery’s impact on cross-country inequality. There is also space for practical applications with problem sets that lean on skills learned in quantitative analysis courses at SIPA and response papers to the readings.  Professor Naidu’s class is very conversational with very informative power points and interesting readings. This is a great class to test your aptitude for further economics study beyond the required Micro and Macro offerings at SIPA.
  2. Impact Evaluation Methods to Health and Social Policy with Rodrigo Soares: Professor Soares is an economist and noted expert in impact evaluations, especially in health policy, crime and violence, labor economics, and more with much of his work centering around his home country of Brazil. His class, Impact Evaluation Methods to Health and Social Policy is a considered a level three quant class so prepared to use STATA intently! In this course we learn basically the same thing as many other quantitative analysis courses at this level at SIPA – the principles of regression discontinuity, IV, etc. and how and  when to use these different quasi-experimental methods with observational data – but, each is unique due to each professor’s policy focus area and interest so it doesn’t hurt to take two. This course both prepares you to understand and implement these statistical methods in an impact evaluation context. This is possible one of the least theoretical quant courses as SIPA as its assignments, particularly the final paper — a policy evaluation project — mimic the prompts, instructions, and work expected if we were working as quantitative research staff at a think tank or NGO for a randomized-control trial, for example. It will also help you distinguish a bad study or evaluation from a good one and be able to critique evidence when it is given to you — a good skill for future policy makers.
  3. The Transatlantic Economy with Seamus O’Cleireacain: Seamus is a G. A trade economist by training, he excels at explaining economic theory and quantitative concepts in a class that is truly multi-disciplinary attracting students with no economics background at all and students like me who live and breathe the stuff and still keep us both entertained. With fair exams and a pretty comprehensive final paper, Seamus’ Transatlantic Economy course covers international relations, economic growth theory, trade negotiations, and macroeconomics through the lends of comparing the EU and United States positions and attributes. Taking this course during the Brexit era was doubly intriguing as Professor O’Cleireacain started each class with an overview of the updates to the negotiations and politics that occurred the preceding week and managed to always bring it back to the class subject at hand with humor and ease. Class participation was expected and, often times, helped us to digest the material better as they pulled on all our strengths from economic research papers to international relations or political science papers. This class, however, was more on the theoretical end, but it was really engaging and definitely a good way to spend a Thursday evening.
  4.  Economic Development for International Affairs with Miguel Urquiola: This class or its counterpart Economic Development for International Affairs, is compulsory. However, that doesn’t mean it is a dreary mandatory class that everyone suffered through. I enjoyed it thoroughly as an addendum to macro, which I happened to be taking at the same time. This course is a mix of basic quantitative analysis ( which you normally take in either your first or second semester in Quant Level I), open economy macroeconomics ( especially with regards to taking a deep dive in growth theory), development economics, health and education, and poverty studies. There are quantitative and qualitative problem sets you do in groups to share the load and interesting readings which assist you in comprehending the lectures. There are a few STATA-based problem sets at the beginning, which is why taking quant to learn or refresh your coding skills is a prerequisite, but it’s not too hard once you attended the lab sessions and did the practice problems with the teaching assistant.
  5. Private Sector Development Strategies for Developing and Transition Countries with Stephan Hadley: I am only a few weeks in but I can already tell that this class will be one of the most useful non-quant courses I’ll take at SIPA. This course looks at the evolution of private sectors in developing and transitional economies and the current economic, managerial, and political issues that they pose from macroeconomics, FDI, financial sector development, conflict, corruption and more. It’s a few weeks in so I can’t say too much about examinations and workload but the readings are really interesting so far and the professor has been nothing but courteous and understanding.

Honorable Mentions!

These are classes that I hear my fellow Seeples rave about but haven’t gotten the chance to sample: Race Policy & American Politics with Christina M Greer, Theory of International Political Economy with Markus Jaeger, Gender, Globalization, and Human Rights with Yasmin Ergas, and Data Science and Public Policy with Tamar Mitts ( or anything with Tamar Mitts for that matter).

So there you have it! The courses I’ve taken and loved and the ones who got away. For more courses that are non-econ and quant (can’t blame you) check out fellow PA Stuart and his over view of the ISP concentration.

You’re invited to visit a SIPA class

We welcome you to experience being a student at SIPA with a class visit. Until late April 2020, you have the opportunity to meet SIPA faculty and current students in their natural habitat – the classroom. 

If you’re in NYC or planning a visit, please register for a class at least one week before. Prospective students may attend a maximum of one class by two different professors (two classes total) so choose wisely. You can use the Course Curricula to find out more about each class and you can use the SIPA Faculty Directory to learn more about the professors. 

Here’s a list of classes I recommend but you should look through the calendar and see what interests you most.

The Core: Economics and Budgeting

If you’re interested in finding out more about the core economics curriculum or you’re a potential International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) student, Professor Andrea Bubula teaches Macroeconomic Analysis for International & Public Affairs Monday through Thursday morning. This class is one of the two macroeconomics courses that are part of SIPA’s core curriculum (this class has more calculus). Professor Bubula is an exceptional teacher and he also serves as the IFEP Concentration Executive Director.

You can join me and Professor John Liu in Budgeting and Financial Management for Government on Thursday afternoons. This is one of the options to complete the management/financial management curriculum (requirements are different for MIA and MPA candidates). Professor Liu is a New York State Senator and previously served as the Comptroller of the City of New York from 2010-2013. This is a great class to discuss the politics of government spending, and to hone your Microsoft Excel skills to analyze budgetary data.

Concentration: Urban and Social Policy (USP)

I spend my Wednesday evenings studying Urban Social Policy with Professor Yumiko Shimabukuro, who is my favorite professor at SIPA. As a student of social policy, I took her Comparative Social Welfare Policy class in my first semester and she made an indelible impression on me. In this class, we’re learning about social issues in urban settings like educational inequality, child abuse, and other obstacles to greater inclusion.

Professor Christina Greer is at SIPA on Thursdays to lead students in examining Race Policy & American Politics. This class is a highlight of my time at SIPA and helped me to better understand American history, politics, and society. Professor Greer has phenomenal political nous and I learned so much from her, particularly in our class discussions of current events.

Specialization: Technology, Media and Communications (TMaC)

On Tuesdays, you can learn the Art of Creating Social Impact Campaigns from Professor Stephen Friedman. Professor Friedman is an Emmy-award winning creator of social impact campaigns and was the President of MTV for seven years. He is incredibly generous with his time and insights, and in 2018 a student campaign on maternal mortality developed in this class was picked up by MTV.

Specialization: US Regional

The US Role In World Affairs with Professor Stephen R Sestanovich is the second installment of the International Fellows Program (IFP) curriculum. Professor Sestanovich is the IFP director and has had an impressive career, including as an ambassador-at-large. He is the George F. Kennan Senior Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy. He also teaches Contemporary Diplomacy on Thursdays.

While you’re on Columbia’s campus, you might enjoy the Guided Historic tour to learn more about the history, architecture, and sculpture of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus. There’s also a self-guided walking tour and, for those who can’t make it onto campus, there’s also the option of a virtual tour.

You are always welcome to drop by the office, Monday- Friday, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM (excluding holidays) and you don’t need an appointment. We would be happy to share more information with you about SIPA and you can speak to one of the current students, like me, who are working as Program Assistants this year. Directions and travel information may be found on the SIPA page. You can always call our office or email us should you have questions before your arrival on campus.

From SIPA Student to Cyber Professional—CJ Dixon’s Cyber 9/12 Journey

In November 2019, SIPA hosted the fourth annual Atlantic Council Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge in New York City. Planned and run by SIPA’s Digital and Cyber Group, this year’s event featured 31 teams from 18 different schools including Tufts, Harvard, Georgetown, NYU, West Point, and the University of Pennsylvania. Each team was tasked with developing policy recommendations to respond to a rapidly developing cyber incident at both the local and federal level. The teams were judged by experts including former Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert, former Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Director of the CIA Avril Haines, and senior executives from numerous private sector entities.

CJ Dixon (MIA ’19), a member of the winning team in 2018, returned to judge this year’s competition in his new role as a senior advisor at NYC Cyber Command. CJ took several cybersecurity courses at SIPA, competed in both the NYC and DC Cyber 9/12 competitions, and served as a Google Public Policy Fellow following graduation. CJ’s journey is a great example of how SIPA’s Tech & Policy Initiative provides students with the academic and professional preparation to pursue cybersecurity and technology policy careers.

"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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