Archive for Meet Seeples

Why Alejandra Cordero chose MPA in Development Practice (MPA-DP)

Thanks to Alejandra Cordero MPA-DP ’20 for this guest post. She is a second-year student from Quito Ecuador.

If you’re interested in learning more about the MPA-DP program, don’t miss out on this upcoming virtual information session.

Why did you decide to pursue the MPA-DP program at Columbia SIPA?

During my undergraduate studies I worked with a social entrepreneur in Ghana that proved through his work the importance of truly understanding the needs and problems faced by the communities and people any project or policy is trying to help. Through this experience, I realized the importance of fieldwork and engaging with the people you want to help. When looking at different Master’s programs, I knew I wanted a program that would prioritize the connection of the classroom with the outside world.

During my research, I came across the MPA-DP at SIPA. As I was reading through the program description, I was captivated by the program’s focus on giving students a “practice-orientated, interdisciplinary, education experience.”

I was also drawn to New York City. This is a city where you can meet people with very diverse backgrounds, where you can take a train and immerse yourself into different cultures, where you can try food from different parts of the world, and always find a new activity to do.

When thinking about where to study international development, New York is a perfect place. I am near the United Nations headquarters where every year leaders from all over the world come for the General Assembly sessions. I have Fortune 500 companies, NGOs, startups, and organizations that cover pretty much all industries. In addition, I am a train ride way from Washington, D.C. if I want access to the government sector.

What do you like the most about the program?

I recently finished my third semester at SIPA, one more to go. When people ask me what I like the most about the MPA-DP I always say, “my classmates.” Each individual in the program brings a unique experience  and set of skills. People from the MPA-DP program inspire you to do more, you learn from one and other, support each other in and outside the classroom and many of us end up working together with fellow MPA-DPs in academic competitions. Every year, MPA-DP students have been selected as finalist for the SIPA Dean’s Challenge, GPPN and many other competitions.

What do you think of the MPA-DP program, before and after becoming a student?

The MPA-DP program has been more that what I expected. A large percent of the learning does happen in the classroom, but I’ve learned that this program, SIPA and Columbia, offer students more than great faculty and classes. You get the opportunity to join and lead student organizations and meet individuals from around the world that are achieving a lot in their specific areas of development. You can join competitions and challenges such as the Dean’s Challenge, where you  work together with your team to come up with innovating solutions for a specific development issue. You can participate in consulting projects, simulation competitions, travel with different student organization and get access to a strong alumni network.

What did you do for your MPA-DP Summer Placement?

The summer placement is one of the experiences that I’ve appreciated the most at the MPA-DP program. During my summer placement I worked at Kantar Public in their Myanmar office. Kantar is a market research and consulting firm that works with governments, the public sector, non-governmental and academic organizations, and corporations around the world to help them deliver more effective policy, services and communications to the public.

During the summer, I worked across different quantitative and qualitative research project in a variety of development areas including women’s agency, food and nutrition, sanitation and education. This was a great learning experience. I was able to apply what I had learn in the classroom when doing data analysis and report writing and I learned how to organize and manage fieldwork. I also learned a lot about Myanmar, its history, culture, food and religion. This experience helped me have a better understanding of what I want to do after SIPA, and understand what skills I needed to further develop and what classes I should take in my last semester to get to the place I want to be by graduation.

Learn more about the MPA-DP Program here. Follow us on:
Instagram: columbiasipa_mpadp
Twitter: @ColumbiaMPADP

Words of Wisdom from 1st Year student Alex Frias MPA ’21

Hi! I’m Alex Frías, from sunny Mazatlan, Mexico. I am a 22 year-old first year IFEP student at SIPA. Before starting this adventure at Columbia, I was doing my BA at McGill University, getting involved with the Mexican diplomatic mission in Montreal as well as the Mexican community in Canada. I came to SIPA because I am really interested (and optimistic) about US-Mexico-Canada cooperation on trade, investment, migration, and environmental issues.  Something random about me is that I’m super passionate about Russian literature and astrophysics! 

Describe a week at SIPA for you.

I arranged my schedule in such a way that I would have some days off to focus on my professional development, which is a big part of one’s journey at SIPA.

  • Monday – I only have Microeconomics with Prof. Gerratana (amazing person and an even better professor!). I usually stay at SIPA for a few hours, working on assignments and catching up with friends on the 4th floor. Since it is a fairly calm day, I like making myself a nice dinner, watch the news and get ready for a busier Tuesday.
  • Tuesday – A busier day for me. I have Quant in the morning, followed by a “break” that I always dedicate to catch up with the news back home (Mexico and Canada). After that I have my Politics of Policymaking (POP) class with Prof. Sabatini, which is just a great time to discuss politics happening throughout the world.
  • Wednesday – The busiest day! Micro in the morning, then 3 hours of accounting with Prof. Bartczak, followed by POP recitation. I am usually exhausted after all my classes so, to keep myself sane, I normally watch a show and try to rest as much as I can
  • Thursday through Sunday – I focus on learning new skills online, reaching out to alumni, looking at internship opportunities, but also go out to talks, gatherings with my peers or even chill at the Columbia Club to meet new people. After all, socializing is a big part of professional development here at SIPA.

How do you find the curriculum? Is there a steep learning curve at SIPA?

I think it really depends on your background. Coming straight from undergraduate gave me the benefit that it didn’t take long for me to get used to the academic pace. But even then, professors are always there for you and will proactively reach out if they feel you are struggling.

Regarding the curriculum, not even after all my research when applying here did I realize how you can shape your degree. It is absolutely safe to say that two MPAs or two MIAs at SIPA can have very little in common because of how you can tailor your program to exactly your needs. In my case, I am tailoring my MPA to be very similar to an MBA but with a strong policymaking perspective, given the role that government policy plays in the markets and business world. 

What’s your favorite thing about SIPA?

The people, by far. A friend said during orientation, “I don’t know what kind of algorithm admissions uses, but they nail it with the kind of people they pick!”

Everyone is very open-minded, down to earth, and from so many different backgrounds that it’s impossible to find someone at SIPA who does not have an interesting story to tell. Oh, and it’s also very cool to be waiting in the same line for coffee with a Nobel laureate (Professor Stiglitz).

What’s something you want to change about SIPA?

Sometimes we forget SIPA is part of a wider Columbia. It’s very easy to stay in the SIPA bubble, with such amazing talks happening there so often and the proximity with your classmates that the International Affairs Building fosters. I really force myself to spend my time elsewhere other than SIPA, and explore the many libraries and amazing activities that Columbia and Barnard have to offer. 

What would you tell yourself about applying knowing what you know about SIPA now? 

Don’t be shy, get involved and interact with SIPA people! Students, alumni, professors, and people from Admissions: We. Don’t. Bite. Oh and also, for international students: housing in NYC is crazy. Don’t be like me. Think about coming a few weeks in advance to find a place to live.

What advice do you have for applicants? 

Don’t get discouraged because of grades, GRE scores, or job experience. People at SIPA understand each of those only tell a very limited part of your story. Trust me when I say this: there is no one way to get into graduate shool. As cliché as it sounds, don’t let your “weaknesses” bring you down; rather, share with Admissions what your attributes are and how you can put them into action at SIPA. 

Best of luck and I hope to see you around the halls of SIPA next year!

SIPA alumni on Forbes 30 Under 30; new Columbia Displaced Student Scholarship

The U.S. celebrated Thanksgiving last week, and wherever you are, I hope you were able to spend some time with loved ones and eat a good meal together. Now that we’re back, here’s a SIPA news roundup:

SIPA Alumni Featured on Forbes 30 Under 30

Forbes just released their 30 Under 30 list, which includes co-founders of education-tech startup Learnabi Rahel Tekola MPA ’18 and Niara Valerio MPA ’19! We are so excited that Rahel and Niara are being recognized for their amazing work, especially since we got to know them when they were program assistants at the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid! They shared how they met as students at SIPA and started Learnabi in this blog post from February 2019.

Congratulations Rahel and Niara!

First University-Wide Scholarship Program for Displaced Students

The United Nations estimates that more than 70 million people are currently living as refugees or asylum-seekers, or have been internally displaced due to wars and natural calamity – the largest such population in human history. We’re proud that prospective SIPA students can apply for the world’s first university-wide scholarship for displaced students. Hear from Warda Sahtout MIA ’20 and other Columbia University in the City of New York students about the impact of this scholarship and learn more about applying at

Warda Sahtout MIA ’20

Upcoming Scholarship Opportunities

The SIPA Financial Aid Office maintains a database of external funding opportunities, and we wanted to alert students to some with upcoming application deadlines.  For more external scholarship awards, go to our External Fellowships and Funding Sources page.

Margaret McNamara Education Grants

Requirements: Applicants must be at least 25 years old at the time of the application deadline, a national of a country listed on the MMEG Country Eligibility list, enrolled for a full academic term after award and not related to a World Bank Group, IMF or Inter-American Development Bank.

Deadline: January 15, 2020

Boren Graduate Fellowships

Requirements: Applicants must be US citizens planning an overseas program that meets home institution standards in a country outside of Western Europe, Canada, Australia or New Zealand.

Deadline: January 29, 2020

Lint Center for National Security Scholarships

Requirements: Scholarships provided to Counterintelligence and National Security Workers, their children and scholars, and to advance the study of National Security, cross-cultural studies, and global understanding.

Deadline: January 31, 2020

Straus Historical Society Scholarship

Requirements: Applicants must be U.S. citizens preparing for a career in public service.
Deadline: January 31, 2020

Finlandia Foundation National Scholarships

Requirements: Applicants must be U.S. or Finnish citizens with a minimum GPA 3.0.
Deadline: February 1, 2020

Kappa Kappa Gamma Foundation Scholarships

Requirements: Applicants must be members of Kappa Kappa Gamma.
Deadline: February 1, 2020

Zeta Phi Beta National Education Foundation Scholarship

Requirements: Applicants need not be members of Zeta Phi Beta. Eligibility criteria and award amounts vary, and some are available for international students.

Deadline: February 1, 2020

A week in the life of a 2nd year student

If you haven’t guessed it by now, the 2nd year student is none other than moi (aka Steven, who is writing this post). Some things to keep in mind while reading this:

  1. I’m not a morning person and like to sleep in so my days begin a little later.
  2. I’m taking 16.5 credits and working this semester so I’m doing a quite bit of running around. Talk to enough people at SIPA and you will hear some pretty hectic schedules (i.e 2 jobs, 5 classes and is in 3 groups 😯 )

Everyone at SIPA (especially 2nd years) has a “rough day”…and for me, a rough day is the day that most of your classes are on. All that intro to say that my rough day is Monday:

3 classes…..

6 hours……..

2 sips of water (if I’m lucky).


2:10pm: I start my Mondays off with Decision Models and Management, a super interesting operations management class with a lot of excel optimization model building. This is one of my favorite classes this semester, and I’m learning a lot. The professor, Lucius Riccio, is funny and smart. Homework every week though so I spend a lot of time working on that — despite that, highly recommended class.

4:00pm: I walk about 20 steps to my next class Cyber Threat Intelligence. Another interesting class, lots of insightful reading. I find myself looking up random malware and Youtube-ing videos on how to hack and learn more about vulnerabilities or past hacking incidents. LOTS of Acronyms.

4:05pm: Stomach loudly grumbling in class.

4:10pm: Get some gummy snacks from the vending machine. (PRO TIP: Get a locker and put snacks in it or bring snacks in your bag for your rough days. #dontstarve)

6:10pm: I crawl to my last class, Community Economic Development. I learn all the things about how affordable housing is financed.

8:00pm: Fin

tired arrested development GIF


A WAY LIGHTER DAY THAN MONDAY!!!! My school day doesn’t start until 6:00pm (International Trade)! I usually spend Tuesdays working on Decision Models and cleaning out my inbox (email inboxes fill fast at SIPA. There is A LOT going on). Two days into the week and I’m already fatigued.

I burn my incense and play a lot of R&B at home. After Mondays, I need a day to decompress and exfoliate.


From 11am to 5pm: I am at Admissions working and writing blog posts for all you beautiful people, as I am currently doing right now as I write this.

After work @ 6:10: International Political Economy class

6:15pm: Stomach growling again.

8:00pm again:

tired arrested development GIF


Just working at Admissions from 11am to 5pm, writing more posts and answering all your questions on SIPA!


black lives matter freedom GIF

Friday through Sunday:

A mix of more incense, more R&B, endless readings and problem sets, more sips of water, more gummy snacks and building up the will and core strength to do it all again next week.

brain studying GIF

Note from Admissions: For those applying, Steven will be online to answer your admissions and student life questions on Wednesday, December 4. Check your email to RSVP for our live Q&A.

A View from the Class: Zulpha Styer MPA ’20

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students.

Hi, I am Zulpha Styer, a second-year Master of Public Administration candidate, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy with a specialization in Management. This year, I’m excited to be participating in the International Fellows Program. I’m also a Global Public Policy Network Sustainable Development Goals Fellow and honored to be a recipient of the General Sir John Monash Foundation scholarship, Australia’s most prestigious scholarship for graduate study overseas.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

I graduated from the University of New South Wales in Sydney in 2013 with a combined Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts in Politics and International Relations, and Development Studies. For almost six years, I served as a senior policy advisor to the Australian government at the federal and state levels, including as a legal officer on the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) team in the Australian Attorney-General’s Department and as a policy officer in CVE and indigenous policy with the Department of Premier and Cabinet. While working, I completed a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice and a Master of Laws with Merit from the Australian National University, and was admitted as a solicitor to the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory. I was also appointed to the Multicultural NSW Regional Advisory Council for South West Sydney, advising the Minister for Multiculturalism on one of the state’s most culturally diverse areas.

Why did you choose SIPA?

I wanted a school with international credibility and renown without a college town experience. It was very important for me to continue to live in a city and be embedded in a community that was more than university students. I also valued SIPA’s much larger international cohort, and the opportunities for practical engagement through capstone projects and practitioner-led courses.

How has your experience at SIPA been so far?

My time at SIPA has been full of incredible experiences in the classroom, in New York City, and abroad. This past summer, I interned with Internews at their Regional Headquarters for Asia. Internews is an international non-profit that supports local communities to participate and make more informed decisions by producing, disseminating, and promoting high quality and trustworthy news. This internship was the fieldwork component of the Applied Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution course I completed in the spring with Professor Zachary Metz. My specific role focused on projects on peaceful pluralism, religious freedom, and violent extremism in Asia, particularly in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

What are you looking forward to studying this semester?

This semester, I’m the Teaching Assistant for Professor Horst Fischer’s International Law course, and I’m excited to also be taking a course through the law school which studies Post-9/11, the Trump Administration, and the Rights of Non-Citizens. I’m also excited about Professor Stephen Friedman’s The Art of Social Impact Campaigns course. With the help of Professor Friedman, my team is developing our own campaign on gender-based violence, and I’ll have the opportunity to explore issues I’m passionate about in my country of birth, South Africa.

How has SIPA affected your life?

First and foremost, my SIPA experiences have helped me to refine my personal values, articulate my concerns and hopes, and plan for my personal and professional future. I’ve also learned so much about U.S. politics and society, which I look forward to continuing to explore through the International Fellows Program. While I know I’ve barely scraped the surface, it has been invaluable to reflect on current events with professors with a wealth of knowledge and diverse perspectives, like Mayor Michael Nutter and Professor Christina Greer. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve developed a strong network of inspiring classmates and generous mentors who will be life-long friends. I am deeply grateful for the community I have at SIPA and already saddened by the prospect of having to say farewell to some of them at the end of this academic year.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?

Professor Yumiko Shimabukuro’s Comparative Social Welfare Policy course was transformative. A phenomenally talented, dedicated, and thoughtful teacher, Professor Shimabukuro is invested in the success of her students. I’m looking forward to taking her Urban and Social Policy course in my final semester at SIPA, as she is exactly the teacher I need as I prepare to head back out into the world.

What are your plans after SIPA?

In the short-term, I hope to be involved in the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign, working for a candidate or on issue-based advocacy. Afterwards, I plan to spend time working in Cape Town or return to the Australian public sector, ideally working on social cohesion or violence prevention programs.

"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