Archive for Meet Seeples

Seeples Spotlight: Rahel Tekola

This semester the Office of Admissions welcomed four new Program Assistants (PAs) to the team. This week and next, I’m introducing you to each of them in the form of self-interviews. Up first, Rahel Tekola. She’s studying Urban and Social Policy, worked as Chief of Staff to the CEO of an organization focused on domestic violence and poverty, and served on the Mayor’s Star Council to revitalize Southern Dallas and the City of Dallas Domestic Violence Task Force. Here’s what she has to say about her time at SIPA.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

I had a lot of personally compelling reasons for why I chose SIPA, but here are a few of my top reasons:

  1. SIPA is quantitatively challenging and this is a skill-set I wanted to hone in and work on post-working in the real world for three years.
  2. The great thing about SIPA is it’s not a generalist program. This graduate school allows you to delve into an area of passion through concentration and specialization selections. I was incredibly interested in domestic urban development issues and also management and business like classes, and the good thing is SIPA has allowed me to do both.
  3. The professors are as impressive as they look online. I remember coming to visit Columbia the week of Student Admitted Day and sitting in on a class called Venture Capital for Entrepreneurs, and I was absolutely blown away by the practitioner who was teaching the class. The students taking the class were equally just as impressive and fully engaged in the discussion. I really enjoyed that experience and it was instrumental in me choosing SIPA.
  4. Location!! Being in the heart of New York City, SIPA students have access to so many businesses, multilateral organizations, local government and non-profits. I love having the opportunity to catch a train to midtown and network with practitioners in the field any time of the week. The world is truly your backyard here! 

What experiences do you think prepared you to attend SIPA?
When I graduated from my undergraduate institution in Texas I had always planned on going straight through and going to graduate school. Many mentors and people I had worked with gave some great advice, and told me to take time and work before pursuing my master’s degree. So, this is exactly what I did. This time off from school and working in the field allowed me to realize the things I really am passionate about and the things I want to learn to continue building my skill-set. Working at a domestic violence agency for three years imparted me with so much knowledge I was also able to bring this experience to the discussions within classes.   

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?
For the longest time I didn’t want to leave Texas, because it is my home, it is where my friends and family are, I was comfortable and had a great job I loved, however, once I made the plunge to move and attend grad school, I know I made one of the best decisions of my life. I have been able to meet phenomenal classmates and made friends who challenge me every day and allow me to not get comfortable. 

Can you comment on the quantitative rigor in the curriculum?
My head was definitely spinning the first week of school! I knew SIPA is known to be quantitatively challenging, but I, whew – I was not ready. The good thing is most of these classes ask you to do your homework in groups so you will not suffer alone.

How was your internship experience been like?
I worked with the John A. Reisenbach Foundation this summer. I absolutely loved my experience at the foundation, the mission and the people that we serve, and my boss was amazing. I was tasked with board of director development work, drafting their new strategic plan and conducting site visits to grantee non-profits all over NYC. We work with great companies like Facebook so it was neat getting to be in their office and working with their staff, as well. After the completion of my internship, they offered me a position as Program Officer. 

How did you obtain your internship?
SIPA has a jobs portal called SIPALink where employers will post jobs and internships to recruit SIPA students. I applied to directly through the link and the rest is history!


[Photo courtesy of Rahel Tekola | Rahel (left) working this summer ’17 at the Facebook New York Office]

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.

Welcome to our Fall 2017 Program Assistants

I’m excited to welcome our new program assistants to the admissions’ team! I’ll be sharing their stories in the coming days, so keep an eye out. In the meantime, they’ll be here in the office to help answer any questions you may have about SIPA in general – our programs, student life, extracurricular activities, etc. They’ve all been where you are now and are the best resources for learning more about our SIPA family.

Nick Calbos was born and raised abroad as the son of a US Army Officer and Diplomat. He earned his undergraduate degree at the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 2009. After commissioning as an Infantry Officer in the United States Army, Nick was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. He had the honor to lead Soldiers in a variety of dynamic and challenging assignments forward deployed on the Korean Peninsula. Following Korea, Nick was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. From 2012-2013 he was deployed to Afghanistan as a combat advisor to an Afghan National Army infantry battalion in Kandahar province, leading to his involvement in the founding leadership team of AFG2USA, a nonprofit with a mission to assist in the resettlement of former interpreters seeking political asylum in the United States. Following his service in the military, Nick participated in a specialized internship at Goldman Sachs, working primarily in sales and trading. In the summer of 2017 he interned at Moody’s Investors Service, working on the Public Finance team. Nick is currently pursuing his Masters of International Affairs at Columbia University, concentrating on Economic Policy.  In his free time he enjoys traveling, hiking, skiing and shooting.

Mark Jamias is a second-year student concentrating in Economic and Political Development (EPD) with a specialization in International Conflict Resolution (ICR). As a five-year student between Columbia College and SIPA, Mark will be graduating in May 2018. Before SIPA, Mark worked at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations during the annual sessions of the UN General Assembly. For three years, Mark also worked for a major U.S. airline, and most recently gained experience in the maritime shipping industry.

Erin Lue-Hing is a 2nd-year MPA student in the USP concentration/Management & US Regional specializations. Prior to SIPA, Erin worked as a Data Analyst and Project Manager for the New Jersey Homeless Management Information System under the Department of Community Affairs. She graduated from Brandeis University with a Bachelor of Arts in Health Policy and a minor in Legal Studies, and served as the Future Leader for the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board, Northeast USA. Her background comprises law, health policy, social policy, advocacy for under-served communities and government administration.

Rahel Tekola is a native of Dallas, Texas and advocate of racial and gender equality. She has spent the past seven years working across government, non-profit and community organizing to advance marginalized communities. Before going to graduate school, Rahel spent three years in Dallas working at the intersection of domestic violence and poverty. In her role as Chief of Staff to the CEO and advocate for women and children who have been victims of violence, she worked to make sure clients received full services, counseling and education to a stable life free of violence. In this time, Rahel worked on the organization’s largest capital campaign project and also helped launch Texas’ first men’s domestic violence shelter. She also served on the Mayor’s Star Council to revitalize Southern Dallas and the City of Dallas Domestic Violence Task Force. In June 2017, Rahel joined the Reisenbach Foundation and is now currently working as the foundation’s grant Program Officer. Rahel is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Administration at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs with a concentration in Urban Development and Policy. In her free time she enjoys cooking and rollerblading.

SIPA Alumni Stories: Esther Waters-Crane MIA ’17

Esther Waters-Crane graduated in 2007 with an MIA degree and a concentration in Human Rights. She is currently Chief of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at UNICEF in Kenya.

Describe your background prior to attending SIPA.
I worked in private sector banking for five years in London. I found I wasn’t fulfilled by the private sector so, to supplement it, I did lots of volunteering – mainly with the British Red Cross refugee team.

What motivated you to choose SIPA?
I knew I wanted to study human rights and eventually work for the UN. I was compelled by the stories of the refugees I volunteered with in the UK and wanted to work on issues affecting people in flight, not just in the UK/Europe but more at a global policy level. I sought advice from the career service at my undergrad university (Cambridge, UK) and senior colleagues at the Red Cross – all avenues pointed towards SIPA. Then I visited the campus and SIPA faculty where I met Paul Martin and we discussed SIPA’s links with the UN. From that point onwards I knew SIPA was the right place for me.

What are you doing now?
I am currently Chief of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at UNICEF Kenya, where I am responsible for ensuring that the millions of dollars UNICEF receives, are directed towards, and appropriately spent to address the needs of the most deprived children in Kenya. Prior to working for UNICEF in Kenya (and prior to having my own children), I spent 5 years working for UNICEF and UNDP Somalia where my work involved implementing public health programmes and designing and implementing interventions to engage, empower and protect conflict-affected communities. I also spent 3.5 years working for UNDP South Sudan and the DPKO Sudan, looking at issues affecting women and children in conflict.

How has your SIPA degree helped your career?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without SIPA. I use the skills and knowledge I acquired on an almost daily basis. The connections between SIPA faculty and the UN gave me the exposure I needed to get my foot in the door. It was the perfect segue for me and opened my eyes to the reality of working in the field I do.

What advice would you give a first-year SIPA student?
Network!!! Chat with all your professors about your career plans and ask them to keep their ears open for opportunities. Attend events at Columbia and the UN and talk to as many people as you can. Join professional networks on and off campus and attend conferences on countries of interest to you. The earlier you have an idea about what you want to do after SIPA, the smoother your transition to that reality will be – focus on what excites you and what you’re passionate about, and hone in on the international experts working on this. Adapt your papers and research to fit your future career interests. And, don’t get fixated on grades – they’re not as important in the whole scheme of things as you may think.

Fall 2017 New Student Series: Jungwoo Lee

In our final installment of this season’s New Students Series, we’re welcoming Jungwoo Lee, from Seoul, Republic of Korea. Jungwoo has an MBA degree from KAIST and spent the last decade as a consultant for a securities company. Jungwoo, very self-aware of his career trajectory, became dissatisfied with private sector work and how his character was changing for the worse. So he left it all behind and trekked across four continents over two years to find his calling in life—which led him to a desire to help those less fortunate. Jungwoo, we’re happy we can assist you on your educational journey so you’re better prepared to help address global inequality issues. Everybody, say “hello” to Jungwoo.

Full Name: Jungwoo Lee
Age: Sorry. I forgot.
Degree Program: Master of International Affairs
Concentration: International Finance and Economy Policy

Hometown: Seoul, Republic of Korea
Undergraduate University: Seoul National University
Undergraduate Major: Philosophy
Undergraduate Graduation Year: 1999

What’s your professional background?
After I got my MBA degree from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Seoul, I became a business consultant because convincing clients of what I believe is right and bringing about positive change was the right fit for me and I enjoyed it. I was a business consultant for ten years. I was satisfied with my consulting work because it gave me a sense of accomplishment when I completed tasks, jobs, and projects through perseverance and hard work. After ten years as a consultant at IBM, Accenture, A.T. Kearney and Deloitte Consulting, I wanted to lead an organization instead of advising others. Thus, I accepted a position with a securities company in Seoul, Korea, and worked as a strategic planning team manager for about two years.

Did you apply to SIPA to change careers or to gain experience in a career path you already have experienced in?
I want to extend my career from the private sector to the public sector. After more than ten years as a business consultant and as an employee of a securities company, I became frustrated with the logic of capitalism. I became a cold-hearted person who was obsessed with evaluating everything according to the ruthless logic of ‘cost and revenue,’ ‘efficiency and effectiveness,’ and ‘return on investment.’ Did I really want to spend the rest of my life as a capitalist warrior? I did not. So, I decided to hit the reset button and spent the next two years backpacking around the world to expand my horizons and find my calling. I visited four continents, 18 countries, 72 cities across the globe. By the end of my trip, I had expanded my knowledge of world politics and economics, history and culture, religion and philosophy. The world was even larger than I had thought, and there was much work to do both for the private and public purposes.

What was your reaction when you found out you were accepted to SIPA?
I vividly remember the midnight I found out I got into SIPA. At the one of the happiest news in my life, I opened a bottle of wine and started to sip it, listening to the background music, ‘New York, New York’ again and again.

Why did you say “yes” to SIPA?
I have much interest in both the private and public sector. I witnessed cross-border investment/business opportunities, and the grim global inequalities between the developed countries and developing countries during the world travel. I want to incubate business leads on the one hand and contribute to easing global inequalities on the other hand. I believe I can find more varied chances of harmonizing these two seemingly-different objectives in SIPA which is located in New York, the heart of the global business, finance, and multilateral organizations.

What do you most look forward to as a graduate student at SIPA?
I believe I can acquire the academic and professional framework with which I can analyze the real world; build up a global network with renowned professors/practitioners, like-minded classmates, and a vast alumni network; find various co-work opportunities in a multilateral organization in New York. In return, I hope I can find lots of chances to share my business consulting and world travel experiences with my SIPA cohort.

Do you have any apprehension about starting graduate school?
It is my first time studying abroad in my life. I got increasingly fretful and nervous as the beginning of the first semester approaches. However, I believe I could get through all the difficulties just like I did when I backpacked around the world.

What are your goals after SIPA
As of now, I cannot specify my future goal after SIPA because I truly believe SIPA, Columbia, and New York combined would afford me a lot of opportunities and chances that I cannot foresee now. Of course, I have tentative goals in my mind: start-ups, multilateral organization employment, more advanced degrees like Ph.D. or JD and so on. However, I will not cling to them rigidly. Rather, I will try to discover more possibilities while I stay at SIPA for next two years.

If you could change one small thing about your community, country or the world, what would it be?
I would like to find some way to contribute to easing the yawning global inequality. Early in my world travel, in Nepal, I spent a month as a medical volunteer in rural communities, a project organized by a Korean doctor. On my first day in the mobile clinic, I was overwhelmed by the long line of people with festering sores from unsanitary living conditions. While transporting patients, dispensing medicine, and attending to their needs, I noticed that many of the Nepalese did not have even basic health care. It was the first moment when I saw the magnitude of global inequality. In Nepal, my tour guide’s annual salary was $500, barely enough for a family to live on. In Havana and across Cuba, I met families living below the subsistence level. This misery dramatically contrasted with midtown Manhattan’s upscale department stores and Sao Paolo’s lively markets. I hope to make some difference in this grim reality even if it is small. This is why I decided to conduct academic research at Columbia SIPA on the international finance and economy, and their impacts on global inequality. Moreover, I would like to find practical solutions for easing global inequality and for securing sustainable economic growth.

Tell us something interesting about yourself.
I’d like to add some words about my world travel experiences. Three keywords define my world travel: challenge, team spirit, and diversity.

These were my challenges. I recited Diamond Sutra in Nepal and learned Spanish in Latin America. I completed a 40km bicycle ride in the Atacama Desert, finished a 60km trek of Torres del Paine in Patagonia, and climbed to the peak of an active volcano at Chile. No matter how hard these adventures seemed, once I tried courageously and worked with passion and perseverance, I completed them. I realized “whether you think you can or not, you’re right.”

This is how I learned about team spirit. I climbed Annapurna base camp and Andes mountain peaks over 4,000 meters above sea level. I explored the Amazon rainforest and completed the 40km Inca Trail. All of these treks were possible thanks to my teams I met on the road.

I appreciate diversity. I have made friends from Asia, Europe, and America, and these friendships have expanded my knowledge of other cultures, languages, histories, politics and economics. In addition, I came to have an open mind, flexibility, and tolerance.


[Photos courtesy of Jungwoo Lee]
*Note: This series is published in its original form with no editing.

"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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