Archive for Admissions – Page 2

ISP, Will You Be Mine?

In honor of Galentine’s Day and as an International Security Policy (ISP) concentrator, I thought I would write a blog post that not only gives incoming students interested in ISP a glimpse in to the concentration, but also provides some perspective on being a woman in a field that is often thought of as a patriarchal space. To do this, I enlisted the help of Ana Guerrero, Brit Felsen-Parsons and Caitlin Strawder, three current ISP concentrator SIPA students to discuss the topic and give advice. But before I dive in, let me introduce you to these ISP women.

Ana Guerrero MIA’19 is a second year, MIA, ISP concentrator, specializing in International Conflict Resolution. Ana completed her undergraduate degree at Middlebury College with a Bachelors in Spanish and Italian literature, and a minor in Portuguese. Prior to SIPA, she worked for an Italian petroleum company where got to explore her interest in geopolitics.  Ana is interested in Middle East conflicts, and during her time at SIPA, she interned for the Global Security department at NBC Universal, and is currently a Terrorism Analyst where she is learning the hard skills necessary to supplement her Theoretical education.

Brit Felsen-Parsons MPA ’20 is a first year, MPA, ISP concentrator, specializing in International Conflict Resolution.  Before SIPA, Brit served for two years as a shooting instructor to the infantry and commander in the Shooting School of the Israeli Defense Forces.  Brit then went on to complete her Bachelor’s degree at the College at Columbia University, double-majoring in Political Science and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies.  She also held research assistantships at the National Defense University, the Institute of World Politics, the Columbia University Political Science Department, and the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.  While at SIPA, Brit supplements her studies as a research assistant at the Saltz man Institute of War and Peace Studies at SIPA.

Caitlin Strawder MPA ’19 is a second year, MPA, ISP concentrator, specializing in International Conflict Resolution. Caitlin completed her undergraduate degree at Florida State University where she earned a B.A. in Political Science.  Upon graduation in 2013, she received two consecutive Fulbright English Teaching grants to serve in Colombia and while teaching she studied romantic languages, economic development, the then-present negotiations with the FARC, and conducted research on indigenous rights in Silvia, Cauca.  While at SIPA, Caitlin interned on the Colombia Desk at the State Department 2018, and maintains a position as a conflict resolution practitioner and operations analyst at New York Peace Institute.

Now that you know a bit about these ladies, let’s jump in:

Why did you choose to apply to SIPA, and specifically the International Security Policy concentration?

Brit: I fell in love with SIPA, and specifically with ISP, when I took the infamous ISP core class – Professor Richard Betts’ “War, Peace and Strategy” (WPS) – as a sophomore in college.  Since I did my BA at Columbia as well, I had the opportunity to explore SIPA, and I found myself most drawn to ISP courses and events.  In my first year of undergrad I was still torn between studying political science and neuroscience, but with that first ISP course I was hooked. A few courses later, I had decided that for me it was SIPA or bust, so I applied to the MPA program. It’s been three years since WPS, and I can honestly say I keep loving SIPA – and ISP – more and more.

Caitlin: I applied to SIPA blindly following the Top Ten online rankings for international affairs degrees (like so many of my peers) and was delighted to get in. Joking aside, I had been living in New York for a few years and wanted to start the MPA adventure without sacrificing the family I found, my job, my apartment, or saying goodbye to the greatest city in the world. I was originally attracted to the program because of the International Conflict Resolution specialization, and I saw the ISP concentration as an ideal complement. I also thought it was important to study ISP particularly because I knew so little about it, while cognizant of its importance.

What are some misconceptions you have faced about the ISP concentration, in general, and as a woman in the ISP concentration at SIPA?

Ana: Students not in ISP think everyone in the concentration is either active or former military and male. They are very surprised I am neither of those, which always proves interesting.

Brit: I think some students might have the impression that ISP is very militaristic and masculine, and to a degree I can understand why. It’s true that many of SIPA’s military veterans (though certainly not all!) are studying ISP.  Additionally, I know a lot of women studying ISP, and we make a unique, significant, and highly valued contribution to our classes and to the ISP community.  I recognize that I might feel more at home in ISP because I’m a military veteran, but I think the non-vets in ISP have no trouble holding their own in the classroom or in conversation, because we all recognize that we bring different experiences and skills to the table. Although I may be biased, I think ISP is one of the most familial and welcoming concentrations at SIPA, in part because it is influenced by the military culture of camaraderie and toughing it out together.

Have there been any challenging aspects to being a woman going into the ISP field?  If so how did/do you address them?

Caitlin: In terms of diversity, so much of getting the opportunity to work in some environments is the compromise of waiting until you have experience and standing before being able to authoritatively question assumptions of gender and roles in the workplace. 

Ana: I think traditionally the ISP field has been seen as a “boy’s club”. To combat this, I am trying to learn as much as I can, both in classes and in internships, in order to compete. Additionally, I believe it’s important to foster a strong female network within ISP in order to help each other succeed in the field. For me it’s a double whammy: I knew being a first-generation woman of color in a traditionally white male field would be tough. But I also knew that would be the case regardless of the field.

What do you recommend those students who are interested in International Security Policy consider before they attend SIPA?

Brit: I would recommend that students sit in on a few lectures or events if they can, and that they talk to current SIPA students to get an impression of the culture, the workload, and the opportunities here. Columbia University has a distinct culture, and SIPA has a culture-within-a-culture all its own, which you can only get a sense of by talking to people who are part of it. Also, reading course descriptions probably won’t be as informative as hearing a lecture or two, in terms of getting a feel for SIPA classes. For those for whom that’s not possible, I would recommend reading up on SIPA’s faculty and centers/institutes (Saltzman, Harriman, the Middle East Institute, etc.) to get a sense of the kind of research being done in-house.

Ana: Think about what you want to do after graduation and where you want to work—and work backwards from there. If you’re thinking of working for the government with some level of clearance you should start looking at those applications (if they’re available) even before you arrive on campus for orientation. Also look into fellowships for federal service and keep an eye on those deadlines!  Additionally, knowing where you want to end up will help you plan your course list so you get the most out of your precious two years at SIPA.

Are there any words of wisdom you have for women looking to go into the ISP field, and/or pursue the ISP concentration at SIPA?

Ana: As with anything we set out to accomplish — once you set out to achieve your goals, don’t take no BS!

Caitlin: Constantly look for networking events, career panels, and mentorship match-ups so that you have a chance to connect with different practitioners.  Especially for women—give prospective employers a preview that the nature of the field is changing and they should anticipate a high number of specialists in technology, geopolitical conflict, and analysis who happen to be women.

Brit: First and foremost, don’t be intimidated by security studies or by ISP. It’s not all machismo all the time, or all military lingo all the time. Some of my closest friends (and the best people I know) at SIPA study ISP, and the concentration draws a diverse crowd from all walks of life. I’ll be honest: the workload can be heavy. The readings can be loooooong and dense. But if you are passionate about security studies, and about studying them in an incredibly diverse and cosmopolitan setting, then the ISP concentration at SIPA is the place for you. And if you are a woman interested in security studies, then I highly encourage you to apply. ISP is a pretty close-knit and supportive community here at SIPA, and it’s a great place to challenge yourself academically in order to best prepare yourself professionally. I love it, and I hope you will too!

I want to give a big thanks to Ana, Brit and Caitlin for their advice, and I hope you found it useful. I’d like to leave you with one final thought:  ISPer’s at SIPA are diverse in nationality, experience, and gender; and while the ratio is not 100% perfect, it is evening out.

Madeleine Albright, a SIPA alum, once said, “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” I think this sentiment rings true for many of the women I know in the ISP concentration who continue to move the needle on women’s roles in ISP, and who are not deterred by the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding the field.

I hope you enjoyed this piece, and Happy Galentine’s Day!

Parks And Rec GIF by NBC

And now, we wait!

(Though with the SIPA application deadlines passed, it’s more like you wait — and we thank you for your patience.)

For those applying to the Fall 2019 term for the MIA and MPA programs, the February 5th deadline has passed. What happens on our end: The joy of reading applications, and putting together events for the spring! You can look forward to signing up for SIPA class visits, events for admitted students to meet the global SIPA community, and opportunities to chat with SIPA students and alumni about their experiences one-on-one. For those of you looking to apply in the future, keep an eye out! It’s good to spread out your research instead of cramming all the events into one.

In the meantime, the Spring 2019 semester is in full swing and we’ll continue updating you on the blog on events happening at Columbia University SIPA, scholarship opportunities, and more. If you want us to address something on the blog that you haven’t seen yet, please shoot us an email. We’ll have takes from SIPA students throughout the next few weeks about looking towards life after SIPA, how to decipher the numerous SIPA course offerings, and advice on learning languages for your future career.


For now, here’s a taste of what’s happening on the SIPA campus: Discussing entrepreneurship with a social missions with Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal.

One billion people in the world don’t have access to eyeglasses.

That’s the statistic that led Neil Blumenthal to co-found Warby Parker, the e-commerce eyeglasses retailer now valued at $1.2 billion.

Blumenthal, who today is the company’s CEO, visited SIPA on January 28 to explain “How We Turned $120,000 Into a Billion-Dollar Eyeglass Brand.” The lecture was sponsored by SIPA’s Management specialization; specialization director Sarah Holloway introduced Blumenthal, and Inés Dionis MPA ’19 mediated a Q&A session following his remarks.

After graduating from Tufts, where he studied conflict resolution, Blumenthal — a native of New York City — was connected to a doctor running a program that trained low-income women to give vision screenings and sell eyeglasses.

The next thing he knew, Blumenthal said, he was working with a foundation doing the same work in El Salvador, where he first learned that fashion matters.

“No matter where you live, you care about your appearance,” he said.

The idea to turn this nonprofit idea into a private company came while Blumenthal was enrolled in an MBA program at Penn’s Wharton School. His friend (and eventual co-founder) Dave Gilboa was complaining about losing a $700 pair of glasses on a plane. As a banker, before he attended business school, Gilboa could easily afford a new pair; as an ex-banker and current student, his circumstances were a little different.

As Blumenthal recounted, e-commerce was just beginning to take off at that time, but no one had tried selling glasses online yet. And so the idea cutting out the middleman — the distributor — in order to sell less expensive glasses was born.

The idea was tested for a year at Wharton, where the founders flooded their fellow students with focus groups.

“The ecosystem [at graduate school] is great for building a business,” said Blumenthal. “Entrepreneurship is about testing in a proactive way.”

Testing and experimentation became a core value of the company that would become Warby Parker, Blumenthal said.

In their first rounds of testing, the founders developed what became the central tenets of Warby Parker’s business model. They quickly discovered that prospective customers wanted to interact with the product before buying. This led to the practice for which Warby Parker became known — giving customers the chance to try on five pairs of glasses at home.

A mentor at Wharton suggested that customers would perceive their planned price of $45 as low-quality and cheap. After determining that people were equally willing to spend $100 for a pair of glasses, the team ultimately landed on $95.

But the founders also never forgot their nonprofit roots. From the beginning, for every pair of glasses Warby Parker sold, the company donated to those in need.

Almost immediately, Warby Parker’s social mission got attention. GQ and Vogue magazines came knocking, each seeking to do a piece on the internet e-tailer with a cause.

Blumenthal, Gilboa, and two other co-founders launched Warby Parker in 2010 amid a flurry of great press. Within 48 hours, they had run out of inventory of the try-on sets. They hit their first-year sales goal easily.

From there, Warby Parker only grew. The company expanded quickly to brick-and-mortar stores, opening up their first showroom in Blumenthal’s Philadelphia apartment, using his wife’s mirror. After discovering a shortage of optometrists, Warby Parker started offering screening done entirely on personal screens, phones, and computers.

By 2018, Warby Parker was valued at $1.2 billion.

To Blumenthal, the company’s social mission and profit goals have always been intrinsically linked. It was obvious, however, that to successfully scale both, they couldn’t do everything.

Instead of managing the a nonprofit and private company at the same time, Warby Parker started partnering with outside nonprofits, like VisionSpring, to provide funding. This took the fundraising burden off of the nonprofit partners and allows them to devote more time to the cause. At home in New York, where the company is headquartered, they have partnered with the office of the mayor to provide screenings and glasses to all New York City kindergarteners.

Blumenthal’s message to entrepreneurial SIPA students is to know their brand and customer base — to “test, test, test” and be driven by a clear purpose and mission.

“We believed in the power of brands to influence culture and society. Brands can stand for something much more than the individual product.”

— Claire Teitelman MPA ’19

Program Assistant Introduction: Samantha Taylor

Classes for the Spring 2019 term started last week and the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid is delighted to have a new program assistant with us this semester. You’ve already met Dylan, Julia, and Kier – now please meet Samantha. (And a big congratulations to Niara who just graduated, though we’ll still have a few admissions insights from her this semester!)


My name is Samantha and I am a second-year, MIA student here at SIPA with a concentration in International Security Policy and a specialization in International Conflict Resolution. I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013 with a dual degree in Political Science and Global Studies. In between graduating from undergrad and SIPA, I lived in Washington D.C. for four years where I first worked as an intern on Capitol Hill, and then as a legal assistant for Sidley Austin LLP in their International Trade and Arbitration division. After three years in the legal field, I wanted to transition into the policy field to better understand the implications of foreign policy on peacebuilding and conflict resolution. That is where SIPA came in, and now I get to learn about these implications while being taught by some of the leading minds in the field.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

When I was making the decision to apply to graduate school, I made a list of all the things I wanted the program to have. I wanted to get both a theoretical and practical foundation regarding foreign policy; I wanted to learn from the leading minds in the field; I wanted to attend a place where I would have to work hard, but also could be socially engaged; and I wanted a program where my classmates would be from around the world and would bring new perspectives to policy discussions. SIPA and Columbia University, was the only school that had a blend of all of these elements, and this is what ultimately attracted me to the SIPA Masters in International Affairs program.

What experiences do you think prepared you to attend SIPA?

I believe my work and internship experience really prepared me for SIPA. These experiences made me passionate about pursuing a graduate degree at SIPA, and they also demonstrate that I had the skills to perform well in a working environment. Most students have three or more years of work experience before coming to SIPA, so my recommendation for future students is to get as much work or internship experience as possible. Even if future students are applying straight from the undergraduate level, any experience counts.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? Why or why not? How did you perform in those classes?

When I was applying to SIPA, I had been out of school for four years and my job at the time did not have many quantitative elements to it. I kept asking myself: “Am I qualified enough?” If you are a prospective applicant with minimal quantitative experience and are looking to brush up on your quantitative skills before applying there are ways to do so. You can take a macroeconomics/microeconomics or statistics course through a local college, use online resources to practice basic quantitative skills, or see if you can jump on projects at work that have quantitative components. In order to familiarize incoming students with the quantitative methods used in its core curriculum, SIPA provides a math refresher course online over the summer, and while it is optional, I highly recommend reviewing it especially if you do not have a lot of quantitative experience. It really helped me brush up on the skills, and, despite my lack of quantitative experience, allowed me to create a foundation to do well in the quantitative courses that are a part of SIPA’s core curriculum.

What has been the most challenging part of your SIPA experience?

The biggest challenge has not been the coursework, the networking, nor the work life balance; but rather getting over the self-doubt that I acutely felt in my first semester. I constantly wondered: “How did I get in when my peers are uniquely qualified to be here?” This doubt resides in all of us but can oftentimes be hard to shake. However, once I dove in to my course work, became involved in some student organizations, and made some new friends, I slowly removed this layer of doubt and recognized I was exactly where I should be.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?

The best part of my SIPA experience has been the friendships and personal connections I have made while at SIPA. While SIPA and its coursework are unique and top-notch, it’s the people I have met that have truly enriched my experience. Through courses, student organizations, and winter-break trips run by SIPA students, I have made friendships with bright and passionate individuals from around the world. School can be stressful, but it helps when you have such amazing fellow SIPA classmates who are there for you when you need it.

 

Use the optional essay to your advantage

Application deadlines are here, and the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid has been getting a lot of calls and emails lately. We’re glad you’re reaching out to us with your questions.

I’m choosing to tell y’all about something that has NOT been asked about, which is the optional essay.

[Before you get too far:  You are not required to write this! If you’ve said all you need to say about yourself as a candidate and you don’t have it in you to write more, that’s totally understandable! The optional essay is truly, Optional. And don’t feel guilty about being relieved that you don’t have to read the rest of this post.]

So why answer a question that hasn’t been asked? Because I think it’ll give some of you an advantage in your application. This is what the optional essay is in the application for: An opportunity to discuss something you weren’t able to address elsewhere; OR, an opportunity for you to explain a situation that needs more detail.

SIPA does not have an ideal model of an applicant. Our candidates come from more than 100 countries around the world, with a variety of undergraduate and graduate studies, career backgrounds, expertises, and aspirations. We value this diversity immensely because these differences enrich the class experience for everybody.

Instead, what the Admissions Committee looks for falls into the broad categories of: relevant professional experience; proven academic ability; quantitative coursework; and a passion for public policy and International Affairs.

Because there is no One Ideal Applicant, the admissions process is holistic – meaning, the Admissions Committee takes the whole of your application into account. We are looking at the gestalt of your application, if you will.

This is where the optional essay – and knowing what the Admissions Committee is looking for – comes in. Use the optional essay to explain any discrepancies or unique situations that you weren’t able to address anywhere else in the application. Is there something that you want to tell the Admissions Committee because it will add to you as a whole?

Tell us why you’d be a stellar policy candidate despite your previous studies being in something unrelated. Tell us why you’d come out on top of the core economics courses at SIPA despite the quantitative grades on your transcript not reflecting that. Tell us what unique perspective you can add to the classroom, even though you have an employment gap due to family reasons.

Life happens. The Admissions Committee are people too. They’re understanding and respectful. But sometimes there is nothing for them to take into account as a whole, if you are the only one who can provide the information and don’t do it.

Because each applicant is so different, we can’t possibly tell you what specific topic we’re looking for. I will just say: The optional essay is NOT another personal statement, or a place to rehash something already explained in your application. Perhaps it’s just a few paragraphs that can’t all “flow” together, and that is fine. Maybe your optional essay is just one sentence – we appreciate brevity.

Remember, the optional essay is not meant to trip you up, nor is it a ~secret admissions test~. It is simply an opportunity for you to address your situation(s) to the Admissions Committee that you weren’t able to in other parts of the application.

For another perspective, here is an overview of the Optional Essay from a student who went through the application process.

Wishing you all the best of luck!

“I’m coming straight out of undergrad. Should I apply?”

When we here at Admissions talk about what we look for in a SIPA candidate, the first item on that list is professional experience: “Most successful applicants have had at least three years of work or internship experience relevant to their intended course of study.” But every year, the incoming class has a small percentage of students who come straight from undergrad.

We often have people asking us, “Should I apply if I’m coming straight from undergrad? What are my chances?” Only you know when the time is right to apply and attend graduate school – for some people that’s at age 22, and others maybe 32 or 42. (Regardless of your academics and experience, you have 0 chance of getting in if you don’t submit your application.)

An anonymous student who came straight from undergrad says, “Don’t Apply Yet, Undergraduates” in this piece on The Morningside Post, a student-run platform for SIPA experiences and opinions:

“If you are an undergraduate student thinking about applying to SIPA, don’t rush. Expose yourself to the best, most enriching experiences so you can to get the most out of a truly unique graduate program like SIPA.”

As another student who came to SIPA straight from undergrad, Dylan shares his thoughts:

“As a junior and senior in undergrad, I naturally got caught up in the anxiety that surrounds the job recruiting process. As young twenty-somethings, we are expected to make decisions that will shape the trajectory of our careers and our lives, with little experience to draw from.

I was fortunate enough to be awarded a State Department fellowship that made my decision much easier. However, I still felt like I lacked the skills and experience to know how to best take advantage of this opportunity.

Now, two years later, after completing three semesters at SIPA, I have a concrete idea of what I offer to State and what I hope to specialize in. I credit SIPA and Columbia for providing me with the skills and exposure to new ideas and fields that I previously knew nothing about. Now, as a prospective Foreign Service Officer, I hope to build upon my anti-corruption and good governance coursework, by applying what I’ve learned in the field.

While the decision to jump straight into graduate school after undergrad is a difficult one, it has been rewarding for me and most of my other peers who made the jump. Here are some things to consider before making the decision to apply.

I majored in Government and History in undergrad. I loved my undergraduate education; it was holistic, I developed my reading and writing skills, and I learned a lot about political theory. While great, I didn’t leave undergrad with a field or area of study that I knew I wanted to study in-depthly. At times, I was drawn to Latin American studies. Other times, I wanted to focus on human rights and post-conflict resolution.

This type of oscillating is natural; however, SIPA’s rigorous education forced me to think about these issues in ways I previously never had. In turn, after a few courses that threatened to draw me in a million different directions, I realized that I really loved two things: anti-corruption policy and writing.

At SIPA, I have access to world-class experts on the issue of good governance, who continue to serve as mentors. In terms of writing, I took a course with Claudia Dreifus, a New York Times reporter, who completely blew up my style – and changed it for the better.

I do not encourage students to apply if they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing post-grad and want to delay going into the professional world. However, if you have strong interests and a general idea of what fields/careers you want to pursue, going into graduate school immediately after undergrad is a great option. It provides you with perspective, exposure and ultimately the connections that can only be found in places like SIPA, where theory and practical application are taught by experts who are active in their field. By taking classes, completing internships and befriending your peers, you will slowly gain a better understanding of where your strengths lay, and how to begin your journey into the professional world.”

We hope this gives you more information in making your decision about graduate school. Know that you are the only person who can decide when the time is right for you; and that the Admissions Committee does see applicants that would be fantastic candidates after another year or two of working. Graduate school is a huge commitment in time, resources, and opportunity cost, and every candidate should make sure they can get the most out of their time in school.

"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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