Archive for Academics

This could be your Capstone project one day

SIPA’s signature Capstone Workshops give students the opportunity to apply the practical skills and analytical knowledge learned at SIPA to a real-world issue for client organizations in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Students from the Master of International Affairs and Master of Public Administration degree programs, working under the guidance of an expert faculty advisor, are organized into small consulting teams (generally about six students per team) across more than 80 projects each year.

While students won’t complete their MIA/MPA Capstone Workshop until their final semester at SIPA, there are ways to preview what the assignments are like. Here are two Capstone Workshops highlighting some of the compelling work that our Seeples do.

Preventing Social Conflict in the Peruvian Mining Industry

Capstone Client #1: Government of Peru, President of the Council of Minister’s Office

Faculty Advisor: Jenik Radon

Team: Ayaka Ishida Amano, Lidia Cano, Filippo Ghersini, Ana Gabriela Gonzalez, Marisol Grau, Jordan Grimshaw, Vidyu Kishor, Emmanuel Laboy, Alessandra Mistura, Joshua Trinidad, Clara Young Thiemann

Mining is one of Peru’s most important industries, responsible for a considerable portion of the country’s economic growth since the 1990s. However, this growth has come at a financial, environmental and human cost. Work stoppages and deaths have resulted from social conflicts that arise when members of the communities impacted by mining projects are excluded from the approval processes and the economic benefits. Government regulations aimed at preventing and mitigating the causes of these social conflicts have been largely ineffective. With renewed government focus on this issue in 2017, the team’s report harnessed the current political momentum and provided a guide for the new administration through the process of filling legal gaps, mapping administrative processes, improving state engagement with communities, and ensuring implementation and compliance with robust social license policies.

Assessing Offline Internet Technology as a Development Tool to Connect the Unconnected

Capstone Client #2: Wikimedia Foundation, Mount Sinai—Wikipedia Project for Offline Education in Medicine (POEM) in the Dominican Republic

Faculty Advisor: Anne Nelson

Team: Lucia Haro, Maria Gonzalez Millan, Katie Nelson, Jorge Salem Suito

Offline internet technology is an emerging ICT4D tool to expand access to information to the 60% of the world’s population who lack internet connectivity. Wikipedia is interested in expanding the use of their open source encyclopedia content around the globe, and assessing its usefulness in low-resource settings. The Dominican Republic, a country with an under-resourced health system and limited internet connectivity, is an ideal laboratory to test offline internet as a tool for development. The team interviewed healthcare providers in the Dominican Republic to learn what kinds of information they require, and to assess the usefulness of the ‘internet-in-a-box’ as a low-cost offline internet-enabled data storage device that allows users to wirelessly access open-source content. The project’s findings are that offline internet has considerable potential to bridge information gaps, especially in rural, low-resource settings. The team’s recommendations are being incorporated into a pilot project to field-test the device during summer 2017.

5 Items to get you through Micro and Macro

As a recent admit or prospective student you may be wondering, “what do I need to prepare myself for the econ courses?” Well, as a recent econ survivor, I have a few tips to share. Whether you go with calc or concepts, here are the five items that will help you get through your micro- and macro- courses.

*Disclaimer: These are all my personal preference! You are more than welcome to pick one, two, or none of these items at all. I’m also a by-hand note taker (6400 prospects, you will be too), so these tips are very much geared toward the analog rather than digital. You’ll retain the info better this way anyway.

5. Graph Paper Sticky Notes
This is really a point of personal preference, but I love a good graph-paper sticky note. I tend to reorganize my notes a lot, so movable graphs are really handy in this respect. It also makes comparing your graphs much easier

4. A Folder
As a chronic printer of notes and problem sets, a folder is an absolute necessity. How else will you keep all those loose papers in one place? And in order?

3. A Notebook
Arguably the most important item on this list. This is where all your notes will go, so make sure you get a notebook you will not forget/ lose. And make sure it’s one that you love! I’m also a big fan of matching my notebooks and folders so I always know which goes with which.

*Note: Tips No. 3 and No. 4 could easily be combined into a 3-ring binder with dividers separating the different concepts, but 1) I am entirely too lazy to hole-punch anything and 2) I hate binders. I’m really not into loose sheets of paper and I have bad luck with functioning rings. Team folder-notebook for life!

2. Highlighters
I’ve already mentioned that I’m a chronic printer of lecture notes, so highlighters are a must have. 6400 students: Gerratana gives you his lecture notes beforehand. I personally got a lot out of reading/ highlighting the notes the night before so that I had a good grasp of what we’d be talking about in class. Bubula (6401) is a post-class note disseminator, so his class notes are much more of a review.

1. The Holy Grail: Colored Pens
These were honestly my saving grace. There’s no better way to get organized than a set of colored pens. When I first started, I was a firm believer that econ notes should be done in pencil only, but the minute I started color coordinating, my life was forever transformed. Graph shifts? Producer vs consumer outcomes? INCOME AND SUBSTITUTION EFFECTS? What once was a monochromatic bloc of confusing arrows suddenly became an orderly sequence of concepts ready and waiting to be understood. Added Bonus: Even if you have no idea what’s going on (you won’t be the only one, that’s for sure) you’ll more easily be able to figure out where you’re having trouble AND you’ll look like you really have your stuff together. It’s a win-win!
Now that I’ve outed myself as someone who is clearly too excited about school supplies (though honestly, who isn’t?!), I hope you guys will find some of this useful! Of course, perfect school supplies are no substitute for actually studying the material, attending class, and going to recitation, so make sure you’re as focused on the concepts as you are on the pen colors and you’ll be good to go.

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]

"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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