Archive for Columbia University

The First Day of School

Tuesday was the first day of classes here, and you can feel the energy of students, faculty, and the community on campus. Here’s a little of what’s going on at Columbia, and what you can expect.

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Remember to search through our archives, and if you can’t find the topic you want to know about, submit an idea here. I’m excited to introduce you to our new batch of program assistants, who will share their application experiences over the next few months. We’ve published a few posts based on your feedback:

What’s new at SIPA

Welcome to the newest members of the SIPA community, the Class of 2021. More than 450 students have joined us from 61 countries for our MIA/MPA/MPA-DP programs, and the incoming class is 60 percent international, with an average of 3.5 years of work experience.

Along with several visiting professors, adjunct faculty, and senior research scholars, SIPA also welcomes two new tenured faculty members:

  • Sandra Black, an influential and accomplished labor economist, has joined us as Professor of International and Public Affairs, jointly appointed with the Department of Economics. She comes to Columbia from the University of Texas. Her research focuses on the role of early life experiences on the long-run outcomes of children, as well as issues of gender and discrimination. She has previously worked as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and as a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, among other positions.
  • Keren Yarhi-Milo, a leading scholar of decision-making in foreign policy, joins us as Professor of International and Public Affairs, jointly appointed in the Department of Political Science. She comes to SIPA from Princeton University. She has written two exceptional books – “Who Fights for Reputation?” and “Knowing the Adversary” – both of which explore the topic of elite decision-making in foreign policy.

“No, I won’t start spying on my foreign-born students”

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger wrote this op-ed in The Washington Post, which addresses the university’s stance on students as they return to campus.

The mission of a university is to foster an open atmosphere conducive to speculation, experimentation and creation. American higher education is the envy of the world not in spite of, but because of, its unrivaled commitment to openness and diversity. Attracting — and welcoming — the brightest minds in the world, regardless of nationality or country of origin, is what we’re all about.

I’m Great at Math(s) — What Does SIPA Have for Me?

Thanks to David Wickland MIA ’19 for this post in response to a topic submitted by Nicole H. Submit your idea for a blog post here.

Taking a more quantitative focus at SIPA can mean a lot of different things: There’s the underlying conceptualization of quantitative analysis taught in Quant I and Quant II, the more direct applications covered in Evaluation and Economic Development classes, the academic literature analysis of the various Quant III classes, and the programming focus of others.

They’re all important. They’re all interesting. You might not want or need to do all of them, but there’s a lot to choose from at Columbia.

I’m a 2019 SIPA grad who obtained an MIA with a Concentration in Economic and Political Development and a Specialization in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis. I studied electrical engineering in undergrad and had worked as a data analyst prior to SIPA, so I came in with a decent quantitative background. But I had little-to-no knowledge of how quant could be applied in the social sciences.

One of my goals at SIPA was to figure out how to go about using any of this stuff, and taking as many quantitative courses as possible seemed like a good way to explore different applications.

Quant I

I never took Quant I, so I’m going to gloss over it a bit, apart from noting that regardless of how you feel about it, don’t let it play too much into your decisions on other quantitative classes. It covers a lot of ground and can be a bit overwhelming, but the later courses tend to take a milder pace and help drive home the topics covered in the first semester.

Quant II

This brings me to Quant II, which I cannot recommend enough. This is probably the second quant class most people will take (although exactly what constitutes a quant class is debatable). Quant II essentially picks up where Quant I leaves off, delving into the most widely used regression methodologies to give enough understanding to follow most papers and studies one would come across. I don’t want to claim that everyone loves Quant II, but a lot of people who thought they would hate it wound up loving it, and I think it’s probably the best course to judge if this is something you like. It gives a more practical understanding of the material and helps reaffirm everything in Quant I.

(Just to note, there are currently two Quant II professors, Alan Yang and Cristian Kiki Pop-Eleches. They’re both great, and their classes are structured slightly differently. In Alan Yang’s, the last month is spent on a data analysis project that helps ground some of methods in more practical usage, while Kiki’s ends by covering some additional methodologies which are also useful. If you take Alan Yang’s, the skipped methodologies are covered in Applied Econometrics and Economics of Education Policy;  if you take Kiki’s, Harold Stolper’s Data Analysis for Policy Research and Program Evaluation is essentially a full semester version of the data project you would have done, so neither is entirely a missed opportunity.)

Quant III

While the Quant I – Quant II track has clear continuity, classes after these focus more topically and can mostly be taken in whichever order one likes. The term “Quant III” gets thrown around a lot, and it refers to a group of topically different classes which require Quant II, not a single specific class. In no particular order, these are some thoughts on the Quant III classes available:

  • Applied Econometrics: This covers a lot of the loose ends and more in-depth examinations coming out of Quant II, and is probably the most direct follow-up to that class. It is very technical compared to Quant II and less immediately practical. Quantitative Methods in Program Evaluation and Policy Research, which was not offered during my second year, is supposedly similar but more applied.
  • Economics of Education Policy: If you are interested in education you will love this class. It explores different aspects of education and the research surrounding them, with general open discussion of the papers, their relative merits, and their implications. Very highly recommended.
  • Time Series Analysis: This is perhaps the most technical Quant III class, and it has a fairly narrow focus on financial markets and predictions. For students with good quantitative and programming skills and are interested in how markets can be tracked and the underlying principles of time series’, this class is for you. If that’s not your cup of tea try one of the other classes instead. (Note: This class is taught in R, and is the only class at SIPA to do so to my knowledge. The basics are explained and the coding is not particularly intensive, but it can make things difficult. At the same time R is wonderful and everyone should learn R.)
  • Data Analysis for Policy Research and Program Evaluation: Whether or not this is a Quant III class is debated, but it does require Quant II and covers quantitative material, so it’s at least related. Full disclosure, I never took this class, but I generally heard positive things about it. The course is a semester long data analysis project, and works to build a deeper understanding of STATA both in the data analysis and data visualization fronts. I generally heard excellent things about it, and would recommend for anyone who wants to learn more applied STATA.

Thoughts on other Quant classes of interest:

  • Computing in Context: This was good introduction to Python as a language. The applications aren’t particularly quant-oriented, but if you’re looking to learn Python this is probably the best way to go about it.
  • Program Evaluation and Design: Not a quant class per se, but I feel that most quant classes at SIPA are focused on research and evaluatory studies. This class (which I did not take but have heard great things about) can help fill in more around how data was collected and why that specific question was asked or that specific information was gathered.
  • Machine Learning for Social Sciences: Taught in Python, this Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences (“QMSS”)** class goes into the fundamentals of machine learning and its applications. For any SIPA students interested in ML or AI, this is probably one of the most directly applicable courses available, although QMSS students get priority and it tends to fill quickly.
  • Data Mining for Social Science: Taught in R, this QMSS course is the main Columbia class on data mining and it’s supposedly fairly good as an introduction. This is another class I never took, but what I heard from other SIPA students is that it was interesting, though not particularly in depth.
  • Statistical Computing with SAS: This is a Mailman School of Public Health course on SAS. I knew one person who took this and they seemed satisfied. It sounds similar to Computing in Context except for SAS and with more of a public health focus. SAS as a language isn’t nearly as common as STATA/R/Python, but it’s still useful to know. It’s also quite different from the other stats languages and can be harder to learn on your own.
  • Research Techniques and Applications in Health Services Administration: This is somewhat similar in design to Economics of Education Policy except it is at Mailman, a bit less technical, and focused on Public Health. If health is a particular interest area and you want to know more about the quantitative studies surrounding different aspects of it, definitely try to get into this.

If you’re interested in SIPA’s quantitative program, I recommend researching and asking around about the courses you want to take. For example, talk to current students who may have taken the courses you’re interested in, speak with faculty members such as Kiki and Yang, and take a look at the course evaluations on a specific class as well as old syllabi.

I talked a lot with Kiki about what courses I was looking for, and he gave me a holistic view of the Quantitative program and an overview of the course’s strengths and weaknesses. I found his guidance valuable, and coupled with my research on the courses I wanted to take, I was able to craft the quantitative experience I was looking for at SIPA.

**QMSS is housed in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. SIPA students can take courses through QMSS by cross-registering, as well as obtain a dual-degree through its program. For more information about QMSS please visit their website here. For information about Columbia Dual-Degrees, visit our website here.

Professor Sarah Holloway on Social Entrepreneurship: “Empathy is the number one skill needed to be a successful social entrepreneur.”

We’re resharing this piece on Professor Sarah Holloway from Columbia News.

Having worked in the public and nonprofit sector for 25 years, Sarah Holloway, a member of the SIPA faculty and Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the Columbia Startup Lab, understands what it takes to make a difference in the fast-changing world of socially responsible businesses. She teaches knowledge and skills essential for non-profit, for-profit and social enterprise management at Columbia and is often seen around the Lab at WeWork Soho West, answering questions and giving feedback to teams from the more than 70 alumni entrepreneurs.

Professor Holloway mentors students competing for the SIPA’s Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant, which awards a total of $50,000 annually to two or three innovative projects that use digital technology and data to improve the global urban environment. She has also helped launch a number of social enterprise startups in the New York metro area that focus on education and urban technology, including MOUSE.org and Computer Science for All (CSforALL).

Q. What is social entrepreneurship?

A. Social entrepreneurship is the practice of solving global social problems through market-based strategies. Social entrepreneurs are empathetic, adaptable, patient and “build with, not for.” They know and listen to their customer. Technology is a tool that can be used to support growth, scale and transparency.

Q. How does entrepreneurship work in different cultural settings?

The key is that the entrepreneur be authentic and, as a result, really know their customer. The most successful social entrepreneurs either come from the geography they are supporting or have experienced the challenge they are trying to solve. The skills are the same no matter where you are starting out. That said, I believe, it is slightly easier perhaps to be an entrepreneur in the United States as the ecosystem of support is broader and, at the moment, there are more sources of capital available.

Q. What are some of the critical social entrepreneurial skills essential for today’s business environment?

As mentioned, empathy is the No. 1 skill needed to be a successful social entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs also need to be passionate about their work, scrappy, resilient, open to change, and they should be able to wear many hats as social enterprises are often under resourced. It’s quite common in a startup environment for the CEO to play the role of COO, CFO, CIO and Chief Everything Officer.

Q. Share with us some of the best social entrepreneurship examples that make business sense.

I think Warby Parker, the glasses company and lifestyle brand, and their give one get one campaign is an example of a for profit social enterprise that is doing it almost perfectly. Warby is a multimillion dollar company that has built giving back into everything they do. They have successfully hacked the glasses industry by producing equal quality for a fraction of the cost and, in turn, have left room to be able to give back –to date over 5 million glasses have been distributed and for free. In terms of a nonprofit social enterprise, I love the work that Five One Labs is doing in Iraq. Founded by two SIPA alumni Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf, Five One Labs is now a massive support network and incubator for refugee entrepreneurs living in Iraq. In less than two years, they have developed such a tight, well-oiled model that continues to pivot and pilot new ideas. As a result, they keep getting it right. They are so hands on and holistic in their service model that they are impacting every single person they serve. I think they are amazing!

Q. What are the biggest misconceptions about social entrepreneurship?

That it is easy to get something off the ground. It takes years and years. You have to be persistent and patient. Another myth is that if you have an amazing, unique and innovative idea, it is easy to sell and raise money. Sometimes the best ideas never get funded. Those that know best how to market themselves and tell the best stories usually have their ideas get funded.

Apps on Apps on Apps on Apps

(*Disclaimer: The applications identified in this article are based personal recommendations, and SIPA is not receiving any form of compensation for mentioning them in this blog post.)

Alright incoming Seeples, because it’s 2019 and we use our mobiles for nearly everything I’ve compiled a list of useful Apps to download prior to your imminent arrival in NYC. Of course, none of them are a must-haves, however, many SIPA students find them useful especially if you’ve never lived in this city before (i.e.: students like me). I’ve got recs. on everything from rideshare Apps to money saving Apps. Hopefully, by the end of this article I’ll have you feeling App-solutely prepared to conquer this city!

Your Compass to Campus

Look, New York is a big place, and can be difficult to navigate if you are not familiar with your cardinal directions. Just in case you do not have this skill set, are unfamiliar with how a grid system works, or are just want to figure out how to get to that bespoke coffee shop in Brooklyn here are some Apps to help you get there:

Google Maps: This App will map out step-by-step instructions for your preferred route no matter where you are trying to go and in real-time. It will allow you to map it by car, transit, or walking. It also allows users to route maps offline and discover new places across the city. Personally, this is my go-to App for getting around NYC.

Apple Maps: If you’re an iPhone user, this App should already be somewhere on your Apple device. It does pretty much the same exact thing as Google Maps, but because of #BrandLoyalty, some prefer the trusty insights of this Apple-led navigation.

MTA: Many Trains Absent, but Here’s how to Know Your Train is Approaching

As you will come to learn, taking the MTA is by far the quickest and cheapest way to get anywhere in this city. However, it is also a somewhat unpredictable and illogical mode of transportation.

My MTA: This is a New York must have. It will allow you to plan your trips, provided you with updates on planned and unplanned services changes, as well as real ETA’s for you trains.

Transit: Very similar to the My MTA App, it allows you to plan your trip and provides you with real-time updates of your transit options. The App also allows users to compare their transit options in the App, and includes options for Bikeshare, Rideshare and walking routes.

Sharing that Ride is Caring AND Good for the Environment

Sometimes you find yourself out at 3 AM in the Lower East Side (LES) and the thought of taking public transportation is too much to bear.  This is where riding home to the Upper West Side (UWS) in the comfort of a strangers car is by far the most tantalizing option. Of course, you can take the classic NYC yellow taxi cabs, or you can use any of the below ridesharing options.

Uber: One of the most popular ridesharing options, Uber will get you a ride anywhere in the city. It provides users with price estimates before selecting rides so you can be assured you’re getting the best price for you. Uber offer wheelchair accessible rides, black SUV options for big groups, and UberPool where users who are going in the same direction can carpool for a discounted rate. The only downside to this App is that on holidays or days when big events are happening there can be surge pricing and long wait times.

Lyft: Is also one of the most popular ridesharing options in NYC.  Lyft offers pretty much the exact same services as Uber, such as a pool option, private car and SUV rides for larger groups. However, there are some differences, so here’s a New York Times article that weighs in on the millennial age-old debate: Uber v. Lyft.

Via: While it isn’t the most used ridesharing platform, do not discount it here in NYC. Via is all about the carpool. It allows passengers headed in the same direction to share their rides. For SIPA student’s conscious of their carbon footprint, carpooling with VIA is a great way to be a friend to our environment. Via also allows users to use commuter benefits to pay for rides on their platform, a feature neither Uber nor Lyft have.

Foodies Unite

I think most of us can agree food is life, and with over 24,000 restaurants in Manhattan alone, the options to dine out in NYC are endless. These Apps are perfectly curated to placate the palate, especially if you need to refuel during a late night study session or need to order a bagel and coffee ASAP after a night out. Don’t worry, you won’t get quizzed on this Cuisine, but you will have to decide on where to eat.

Seamless: This App has all the noms, and is extremely useful in Manhattan. It allows its users to order their food from over thousands of restaurants across Manhattan and will bring it right to your door. This App is excellent and the perfect option for a late night snack, or those who refuse to cook because grad school is hard enough.

GrubHub: Classic move here, and when Seamless doesn’t have your local artisanal handmade pasta available, you should really check out GrubHub. The platform is similar to Seamless and brings your food cravings to life. I highly recommend for any student who just can’t bring themselves to leave the couch after getting through a 20 page essay.

SIPA: Where the World Connects (Through Social Media)

For some of us luddites social media may seem like the bane of our existence, however, I assure you it is alive and well at SIPA.

WhatsApp: All I have to say is, in WhatsApp we Seeples, stan. If you don’t have this end-to-end encryption messaging App you need to get it. SIPA students use this platform to connect more than any other. The App lets you message 1 person, or start a group chat to firm up plans, and is considered the preferred method of communication for your average Seeple.

Facebook: This social media platform is where Seeples create events. Personally, I keep a light social media presence, but almost everyone creates events throughout their time at SIPA on this platform.  If you have FOMO, you need this App just to keep your social calendar in check.

Eventbrite: this App is utilized at almost every single SIPA function including the famous LASA parties (don’t worry you will soon know what these are).  I recommend getting it to make sure you have your tickets at the ready. It’s also a cool App because it will inform you of other events happening around NYC—a great way to explore the city.

Explorest: For all my Seeples out there doing it for the #gram. This App gives users the information they need to take the best photos in their city. The spots are listed by local photographers, and come with tips such as the best time to go and what to wear.  It’s great if you’re trying to live your best New York Life and want to show the Fam. back home.

Spotify: A classic music platform to perfectly curate that intense study playlist. While Spotify is free to download, Spotify Premium is just $5 a month for students and includes: no ads, offline playing, and a free subscription to Hulu and Showtime (who needs cable at this rate).

The Grad School Hustle is Real

Digit: This App allows users to unknowingly save money as they spend. It tracks your spending habits, helps you budget your spending, and saves a bit of your money without you knowing its being withheld. It truly is an App curbs your spending, and saves you money!

Acorns: With Acorns, users are able to use their spare change to micro-invest. This App allows users to track their spending, but also grow their funds by crafting a set of personalized strategies that allow them to invest at their discretion.

Honey: This App is one of my favorites, and also comes in Google Chrome Plugin form.  Its purpose is to find its users the best deals, coupon codes, and promo codes for whatever website they are looking to make a purchase on. Everyone loves a good discount, and Honey is your best virtual shopping friend. Trust me, your bank account will thank me.

“Because it’s Never too Early to Start that Job Hunt”- Every OCS Advisor

I know you’re just about to start SIPA, but to be honest it is never too early to start looking to your future. Trust me when I say your OCS advisors and your professors will all say this. So, if you’re interested in job hunting here are a few Apps to help.

LinkedIn: This is a must at SIPA, and your Professional Development professors will implore you to create a profile. It’s a great way to connect with SIPA alumni, and those whose industries you are looking to enter. Do yourself a favor and create a job profile—it’s a great networking tool.

ZipRecruiter: Another job App that gives you access to hundreds of job postings instantly.  It is rated the # job search App for Android and iOS, and will alert you when a job posting in your desired industry is released.

Well, thanks for bearing with me, and I hope you found a few of these Apps useful. I know there are plenty more out there that would be useful, but these are the most used at SIPA and the ones I think new students would find useful. Hope you enjoyed it, and are furiously checking the App store to learn more!

A View from the Class: Sarah Goddard MIA ’19

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. In this issue, we feature recently the graduated Sarah Goddard MIA ’19. Sarah earned a dual degree Master of International Affairs concentrating in Urban and Social Policy with a specialization in United Nations Studies. She also has a Master of Public Health degree concentrating in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?
I taught English at a high school in Toulouse, France. Afterwards, I served a year with AmeriCorps in Western Massachusetts at an affordable housing nonprofit, working on a community health and public safety project in a low-income urban area. This opportunity inspired me to apply to SIPA.

Why did you choose SIPA?
I chose SIPA because of the ability to combine my interest in urban and social policy with a degree in international affairs, and SIPA’s course offerings in community development, gender, and international relations theory inspired me. I also chose SIPA because of its location and access to the many opportunities and resources in New York City, including the United Nations. Attending the admitted students’ day and walking through the campus with future peers and colleagues solidified my decision.

Why did you choose your particular areas of study?
I chose urban and social policy because I wanted to bridge the gap between my pre-SIPA professional experiences working internationally in education and domestically in urban community development. I decided to specialize in United Nations Studies because I wanted to become more familiar with international organizations, and I became increasingly interested in the UN through internships, coursework, and exposure to the Sustainable Development Goals while at SIPA. I applied to the dual degree program with the Mailman School to better focus on the links between urban and social policy and health.

What have been some of your standout SIPA experiences?
At the end of my first year, I interned at the United Nations Development Programme in New York in their HIV, Health and Development group. This was the first time I really saw my interests in health and social development come together professionally, and it was exciting to gain first-hand experience in the UN system.

For my SIPA Capstone, I chose an Economic and Political Development (EPD) Workshop related to urban development and the Sustainable Development Goals in Colombia. This was a defining part of my SIPA experience. I got to travel with a great team to do fieldwork in multiple cities, and our project was selected for a microgrant from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and as a top project to present at the UN’s High Level Political Forum.

What have been some of your favorite SIPA courses?
I have taken a number of great courses with great professors at SIPA, but two courses stand out. The first is Yumiko Shimabukuro’s course on Comparative Urban Policy. Professor Shimabukuro made the course extremely dynamic and engaging by bringing in real life examples of urban policy failures and successes that brought the material to life. Beyond that, she transformed the class into a supportive family and became a mentor to many of us, and for that, I am grateful.

The second is Barbara Magnoni’s course on Working with the Private Sector for Development Outcomes. Professor Magnoni brought to the course expertise in private sector development and used many case examples from various sectors to make the material engaging and relevant. More importantly, she orchestrated a supportive classroom environment where students could debate and provide constructive feedback. Opportunities like this have shaped my experience at SIPA and are what make SIPA such a unique place.

What are your plans after SIPA?
I recently accepted an offer to work at Global Communities, an international development nonprofit, as a Program Officer in the Governance and Global Health pillar.

"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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