Archive for Academics

5 pieces of advice for incoming students

Planning out your first steps at SIPA can seem daunting, and it’s likely you’ll forget a step or two. As you finalize your plans to join the ranks of Seeples in August, there are some things I recommend you add to your to-do list when you get here.

Business Cards. When you arrive at SIPA, you may want to get a head start on your networking by heading over to the School of Journalism to order a set of business cards. They sure come in handy during conferences, alumni events, and interviews.

Be Open to New Classes. As you prepare to register for courses, be open-minded and consider a class out of your comfort zone. You can even take a class with a grading option of Pass/Fail or register to Audit a class; these are invaluable ways to learn a new topic without the pressure of a grade. Check out Vergil during Orientation Week, the University’s course listings database, and look out for special registration periods with the Business School, Law School, School of Journalism, Teachers College, Mailman School of Public Health, or the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. (As for your first semester, your OSA advisor will register you for your classes!)

Meet Your Professors. Don’t be shy to meet outside of the classroom with your professors. Take the time to go to office hours for both your professors and your teaching assistants. Better yet, get a few students together for a meal with your professor and apply to SIPA for up to $150 in TimeOut Funding for it.

Learn a Language.  If you have the time, learn a new language. Many of our classmates took a language course every semester at SIPA and it helps make your resume more attractive to know more than one language. Apply for funding for the academic year or for a summer program through the highly coveted Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship, which offers generous tuition and stipends; the deadline is usually in February. If you don’t have the time to fit in an entire class, consider brushing up on your language skills or become a language tutor through the Language Maintenance Tutorial Program at the Language Resource Center with 10, 90-minute meetings through the semester. For students who want to maintain Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew or Turkish, apply for a $300 grant to be a part of the program.

Find a SIPA Career Coach. Through the Office of Career Services, you can sign up to meet with a Career Coach, professionals from a variety of organizations who have agreed to sit down with students or take a call to offer guidance about entering into and working in a particular industry. It’s a sure way to get an informational interview and build your confidence. In addition to resume reviewing and workshops, the Office of Career Services also provides other great resources like mock interviews and the MBTI personality testing.

[Photo by Amir Safa]

What it’s like taking a class with the 76th U.S. Treasury Secretary

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob “Jack” Lew, serving under President Obama’s second term, joined Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs in Spring 2017 as Visiting Professor to teach the new course INAF U6092: “Leadership and Policy Development.”

How did I find out about the class?
Early in the semester, Dean Janow made an announcement to students welcoming Secretary Lew as a visiting professor and about a month before the class started, I received an email from SIPA Academic Affairs revealing Secretary Lew’s first course.

Did the class have any prerequisites?
Yes, to be eligible, students had to have taken SIPA U6401 Macroeconomic Analysis taught by Professor Andrea Bubula, which is now offered in both semesters of the academic year. An online application was also required including a resume and a statement of interest. The class was capped at twenty students as a seminar which allowed an intimate setting for candid questions and discussion.

What did the class cover?
The special five-week, one-unit course entitled “Leadership and Policy Development” aimed to familiarize students with current issues in economic policy development and the domestic and international factors influencing public sector decision-making.  The class discussed a number of contemporary issues including those in which the US has played a significant role or has a substantial interest:

  • Policy Practice and Business Tax Reform
  • Ukraine and IMF Quota Reform
  • Managing the US Debt Limit
  • Exchange Rate Management and Financial Stability Coordination
  • Financial Crisis in Puerto Rico

In the class, we discussed the types of dilemmas leaders can be expected to face: unavoidable issues with looming deadlines; managing to avoid a potential crisis and affirmative initiatives where policy leaders choose a policy objective to advance. Students also learned lessons of leadership, hearing stories from behind-the-scenes including from Secretary Lew’s moments in the White House sitting with President Obama.

What assignments were required?
As with most SIPA courses, Secretary Lew assigned required and recommended readings each week. Readings ranged from expert reports drafted in the White House, the US Treasury, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to analysis offered by pieces in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and academic journals including articles authored by Secretary Lew himself in the Harvard Journal on Legislation.

Students also drafted a concise 4-6 page policy memorandum addressing one of the course topics. To prepare for this assignment, Secretary Lew met with every student in a one-on-one meeting to discuss and flesh out key points and to formulate an argument.

Why did you take the class?
Why not? It is not everyday one gets to sit down with a former U.S.Treasury Secretary.

What did you enjoy from this experience?
Secretary Lew’s course provided the opportunity to apply what I had learned in SIPA courses to today’s issues. Prior to taking this class, I had taken courses driven by theoretical framework and models including Economic Development and Macroeconomics, acquiring the tools to understand problem solving and policy making processes. I had developed a background in how economies function in China, Japan, Latin America, the United States and Europe. When I took Secretary Lew’s course, I heard him speak about real life scenarios that require a policy maker to grapple with theory over practice and how to work toward feasible policies. These nuances of leadership, strategy, and practicality are the real treasurers from his class. No pun intended.

[Photo courtesy of Katarina Luz Mayers | Class photo with Jack Lew in the center, and Amir Safa on the far right.]

Ayanda’s Kisumu Workshop Debrief

Four members of my six-person team and I traveled to Kisumu, Kenya to collect data for our Workshop Project for two weeks this March. Our project was an analysis of the programs of a local NGO, Alice Visionary Foundation Project, that works on women’s economic empowerment through micro-enterprise and group savings and loans programs in Manyatta slum—the largest in Kisumu. We were building off of the research gathered from our January field team (2 travelers then), as well as all our desk research and literature review. While in Kisumu, we spent our spring break interviewing 22 people from all different ages, education levels, and walks of life to understand how they found the NGO, the program they were in, and to learn about their goals for their businesses, their households, and themselves. After an intense week, we took the weekend to relax and explore Kenya; some went to Mombasa to visit the seaside while others stayed in Kisumu to better explore our surroundings. After a restful weekend, we went back to work—this time to interview experts in banks, government, Savings and Credit Associations (SACCOs), and micro-finance institutions, to hear the stories of their organizations and look for potential partnerships that could enable the participants to move from informal loans programs to the formal banking sector. Through these interviews were could map the financial ecosystem of options for these beneficiaries, as well as map their pathway from a neophyte in the program with small financial goals to the more senior participants with more ambitious plans for their business. All in all, though it was an exhausting two weeks, I learned a lot about Kisumu, fieldwork in general, and the process that goes into planning and executing a client-based consultancy.

[Photo courtesy of Ayanda Francis | Workshop Team with our in-country client, Alice Visionary Foundation Project]

Students take part in symposium on gender law and constitutions

A group of students in the Gender, Globalization and Human Rights class taught by Yasmine Ergas in spring 2017 took part in last month’s Second International Symposium on Gender, Law and Constitutions, held April 12 and 13 in Washington, D.C.

The conference was organized by UN Women and the United States Institute of Peace; one SIPA student, Ashleigh Montgomery, MIA ’17, had worked on the conference as a Women, Peace, and Security intern for UN Women last summer.

The theme of the conference was “Equitable Constitutions,” and programming focused on constitutions and gender equality policy. A series of panels featuring speakers from UN Women and other NGOs, Many students presented on constitutions and other aspects of gender policy—including the SIPA delegation, which addressed the gender politics of populist and nationalist movements and governments.

Two things that especially distinguished the event, Ergas said, were the geographic range of participants—who represented universities in the United States, Europe, Middle East, and Africa—and the deep engagement of audience members in the students’ research. Both students and participating faculty gave extensive feedback to student presenters.

But the conference was noteworthy for another reason as well, Ergas said.

“I learned a lot, but I also saw an international network start to take shape,” she said. “A cohort of students, scholars, and practitioners came together to work on gender and equality from the perspectives of law and public policy, and I think their combined contributions are going to expand, and have a determining impact for years to come.”

In addition to Columbia, universities represented at the symposium included Adam Mikckiewicz University (Poland); Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel); Universidad de Alcala (Spain); Universita Bocconi (Italy), Universita’ degli Studi di Milano (Italy); University of Birmingham (UK); University of Chicago; University of Malawi; University of Pennsylvania; and University of Westminster (UK).

Pictured: Yasmine Ergas (center) is surrounded by student participants

No finance background? No problem, says Sadia Afreen, about her renewable energy course

The course I most enjoyed in my SIPA career is INAF U6326: Renewable Energy Project Finance Modeling. It is a 1.5 credit course and an Energy and Environment elective, usually offered during the spring semester and is taught by Daniel Gross. Professor Gross has extensive experience in the renewable and clean energy financing space, working previously for companies like Goldman Sachs and GE Capital. He is currently the Managing Director at Pegasus Capital Advisors, which is a private equity fund manager with $1.8 billion in asset under management. With all the expertise that Prof. Gross brings to the table, he has also designed the course in such a way where students get to learn the theoretical and practical aspects of project finance that are niche subject area and very specific to renewable energy projects.

The course can be broken down into two main categories and both are tackled during the semester simultaneously and one builds on the other. On the one hand, we reviewed and analyzed different contracts between stakeholders involved in the financing, operations, construction and other aspects of the project. We use the information and assumptions extracted from these to build the financial model. This exercise continues through the life of the course and we continue building the model as we learn new levels of complexities in class. 

Professor Gross was very considerate of the fact that the class was a mix of students (like me) with little or no background in financial modeling and others who had comparatively more expertise in the area (including five Business school students). The teaching team arranged for additional modeling workshop to help students who needed it. There were two workshops and Bartosz Garbaczewski, a recently graduated SIPA alum graciously agreed to invest his time after work to conduct these. There were countless best practices for modeling in Excel that were covered during these two workshops and on class proved to be invaluable to our learning process.

SIPA offers a range of amazing courses within itself and across other graduate schools in Columbia. Besides the core courses for my program and concentration, I had the option to chose from a huge list of electives. As an energy concentrator, I found out my passion for energy finance after I came to SIPA and have decided to pursue a career in the field. Not having a finance/business studies background was particularly concerning for me at the beginning, and hence I looked for courses that would enhance my skills in this aspect. Although I took other courses in the same subject matter, none was as rigorous as INAF U6326, and I would recommend this class to anyone who is interested in project finance for renewable energy.

Read more about INAF U6326 in the February 2016 issue of EE Quarterly.

[Image adaptation courtesy of EE Quarterly | Daniel Gross]

"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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