Archive for Columbia University

New Year, New Students / Cohort / PAs!

Our Fall 2019 PAs: Nabila, Steven, George-Ann, Stuart

January always feels like the longest month, and I’m sure many of you feel that way! We’re catching up from the holidays, application deadlines keep coming, and work is picking back up.

Here at Columbia, the incoming Spring cohort is on campus for SIPA orientation. The Admissions and Financial Aid office will be closed on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and on Tuesday the entire SIPA community will be back for the spring semester.

What does this mean for you, prospective students?

  • The new spring semester will mean two new program assistants adding their voices to this blog! You’ll still see posts from Nabila and Steven over the next few months, but they won’t be in the admissions office this semester. They brought a great energy to admissions, but don’t worry — George-Ann and Stuart will still be with us this spring, and our new program assistants will be introducing themselves on the blog soon.
  • February 5th is our final admissions deadline. While we had our final admissions Q&A webinar earlier this week, you can still contact our office with questions. Remember to use this blog as a resource, and be mindful of other deadlines as we approach February 5th. Common obstacles I’ve seen for people completing their applications are missing letters of recommendations and the video essay — so be sure to follow up with your recommenders and submit your video essay!
  • Spring class visits will open up late February, so keep an eye out for that email. We wait until the spring semester is firmly scheduled so that students are not still adding and dropping classes and you can have a smoother class visit experience.

Finally, I’m excited to welcome these new J-termers (students who start in January) to SIPA. Thank you for trusting us with your applications, and joining Columbia SIPA is a great way to start off the new year!

Getting Involved in Campus – Inside and Outside SIPA

Of course, you’re thinking of applying to SIPA for all the great classes climate policy and impact investing we have and all the super smart professors butttttt…….you might be forgetting something……

THE PEOPLE!!!!!!!

The people at SIPA is one of SIPA’s best attributes. The people here are awesome and one very important way to meet more people is getting involved in campus groups and student life!!!! I myself, am the Communications and Marketing Chair of SIPA Students of Color, aka, I tell people in SIPA about the events and talks we are having as well as spending a lot of time looking up memes for newsletters. Due to this role, I have met some cool people who I am glad to say are very good friends (awwww <33).

There are many great student organizations here, some of which include Digital & Cyber Group, Migration Working Group and SIPA Pan-African Network. Anything you are interested in policy-wise, you can find it at SIPA. And if you can’t find it, you can start a new group. You’ll soon be drowning in events with interesting guests including diplomats, CEOs, managers, policymakers and more!

Now SIPA is lovely and all, but you may need a break from the International Affairs Building – seriously, we spend a lot of time here – and it’s important to get out of the SIPA bubble and meet people from other schools.

Columbia University Life is always throwing events that bring together students from different graduate schools. Last year, I met students from Columbia Business School and Columbia Law School at a Latin Student Mixer. Every now and then, I go to talks/events/panels at Maison Francaise/Journalism School/Law School/[other schools that are not SIPA] to meet students from other fields of study and get a feel of something other than international affairs and economics. There are so many cool things going at SIPA that it is easy to forget how much is happening across Columbia University and at the other schools here. I sign up for a lot of experiments so I have met postdocs at the Zuckerman Institute as well.

This is all to say that class is great, but don’t forget that a big part of your grad school experience will be the people you meet. SIPA and Columbia in general have A LOT of interesting people to meet. Remember to take a break from schoolwork and wander around campus, go to different buildings and explore. The University Life app will keep you up to date about what is going on around campus so pay attention to it!

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.

The blog is taking listener requests

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.

"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

Boiler Image