Archive for Meet Seeples

SIPA CERV – SIPA’s Newest Student Organization

This post is co-authored by Jacob Stern MPA ‘21 and Matthew Miller MPA ’21 (pictured on the far left, and third from the left respectively).

One rainy Thursday night this past fall, we were sitting at a local restaurant waiting for some other friends to arrive. While we were talking about what we wanted to get out of our SIPA experience, one theme that kept coming up was community engagement and public service. Disappointed and surprised to find there was not already a student organization dedicated to community engagement and public service, after an extended brainstorming session, we decided to start our own.

Thus, SIPA Community Engagement and Resource Volunteers (CERV) was born! We began working with the Office of Student Affairs and quickly grew our membership base to what it is today – over 60 members.

If community engagement and public service is something you are passionate about or if it is a topic that you are looking to learn more about, we encourage you to join us this fall. We have some great programming planned!

What is the goal of SIPA CERV?

SIPA CERV was founded on the principle of promoting a sustainable mutually beneficial relationship between the SIPA community and the Harlem/Morningside neighborhood. It is a neighborhood into which we are welcomed for two years, and we believe it is our responsibility to actively support informed and persistent involvement in public service. Columbia and Harlem have often had a difficult relationship and we strongly believe in promoting and fostering understanding and driving positive change in both communities through volunteerism and service.

How does SIPA CERV do this?

SIPA CERV works closely with the Harlem community, student body and the Office of Student Affairs to understand programming needs. On our daily walk from our homes in Harlem to the university, we were struck by the long lines at the neighborhood food bank and pro bono tax prep center. We quickly sensed an opportunity for SIPA students to get involved in and help the local community. SIPA CERV had found its first partner, Food Bank for NYC.

Last Semester’s Events: Partnership with the FoodBank for NYC

In Winter 2020, through our partnership with FoodBank for NYC, which has multiple locations within a few blocks of SIPA’s campus on 116th Street, we were able to offer the SIPA community multiple avenues to pursue service. We were active participants in both their Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Community Kitchen programs, and found them immensely rewarding. Being able to help a local resident with their taxes and tell them they would be getting a $10,000 refund was precisely the type of collaboration between SIPA and the community that we had intended when we started CERV.

Despite the FoodBank suspending their programs in March due to COVID-19, CERV members volunteered in aggregate 145 hours and returned $161,000 in tax refunds to the local community this semester.  SIPA CERV members stepped up again in times of need and served over 500 meals at the Harlem Food Bank as local restaurants were closing due to COVID-19.  This feat could not have been accomplished without the dedicated SIPA CERV club members.

Why did you join SIPA CERV?

“I was struck by the visible wealth gap and disconnect between the shiny Columbia University buildings and the neighboring Harlem community, where poverty rates are higher than citywide rates. I also see public service as an integral part of a public policy education and SIPA CERV provided a unique opportunity to give back and help connect with the local community.”
Hon (Xing) Wong MPA Candidate ’21 | Energy and Environment Concentration:

“I joined SIPA CERV as a way to both engage with, and contribute to, the local community that has welcomed me as a resident during my time at SIPA. I know how fortunate I am to be able to attend such a top university as Columbia, and I am also acutely aware that there is a lot of need in our community and that so many of our neighbors have not had the same opportunities in life that I have. Joining SIPA CERV provided a really practical way for me to help the community. It’s quite a simple thing for me to take a few hours out of my day to serve meals at the FoodBank, and it’s so rewarding to see how much that can benefit people who might otherwise go hungry. We are taught at SIPA to be leaders in public policy and volunteering through SIPA CERV is a key part of building that foundation.”
Rachel Adeney MPA Candidate ’21 | International Finance and Economic Policy

What’s Next for SIPA CERV?

Next semester, we will continue to partner with the FoodBank for NYC while exploring new ways to engage with the community. Additionally, we see an opportunity for SIPA to be a leader among peer institutions in community engagement, an area that has taken on an enhanced, yet overdue relevance and importance in light of recent events. Our long-term vision is to integrate diverse forms of community engagement into the SIPA curriculum.

A View from the Class: Benjamin Seebaugh MPA ’20

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.


Hello, I am Benjamin Seebaugh, a recent Master of Public Administration (MPA) graduate, concentrating in International Security Policy and specializing in Technology, Media, and Communications. I was also honored to serve as president of SIPA Spectrum and to have attended SIPA as a Harry S. Truman Scholar.

What were you doing before attending SIPA?

I worked for civil service agencies at all levels, from local to international. Most recently, I spent three years in the Commissioner’s Office of the New York City Department of Correction managing jail reform projects. Before that, I worked on LGBTQ+ affairs, organized field operations for political campaigns, served as a legislative assistant, and interned for the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria.

While an undergraduate, my greatest accomplishments were managing the drafting and successful passing of a suite of tenants’ rights bills in the West Virginia State legislature and lobbying to create robust, systemic transformations in support of LGBTQ+ youth.

I graduated summa cum laude from the Honors College of West Virginia University where I earned three Bachelor of Arts in international studies, political science, and women’s and gender studies.

Why did you choose SIPA?

I considered several institutions, of course, but there were a few defining characteristics that really sealed my decision to attend SIPA. Firstly, SIPA’s emphasis on practical, skills-based education appealed to my desire to improve as an employee in the workplace, which I do not think other, more theory-based programs can offer. Secondly, the international diversity of SIPA students provides a rich tapestry of backgrounds and insights that most other American schools can only hope to achieve. Lastly, I want to follow in the footsteps of the many SIPA alumni who conduct work and hold positions that I aspire to achieve one day.

Why did you choose to concentrate in International Security Policy and specialize in Technology, Media, and Communications?

I am inspired by the endless possibilities that technology can provide to improve our world, our quality of life, and our governance. However, I am equally cautious about the vulnerabilities and potential dangers of technology, if not properly regulated. Accordingly, my studies have focused on the nexus where the potential for positive and negative impact intersect. The professors at SIPA provided an incredibly strong series of perspectives on cybersecurity, geopolitics, emerging technologies, threat intelligence, and crisis response that have bolstered my cautious optimism with a nuanced understanding of the landscape.

Can you talk a bit about SIPA Spectrum?

Serving with SIPA Spectrum was such an honor and a privilege. I worked alongside a brilliant, passionate, diverse board of queer and allied voices who became some of my closest friends. We supported the queer community at SIPA through visibility events, historical remembrances, alumni panels, poetry readings, University-wide community-building mixers, and so much more. As president, I guided the meeting agendas, but our work was a truly collective endeavor that valued all voices, efforts, and needs equally. This organization served to balance the stresses of classwork and current events with support and camaraderie. I would not trade those experiences for anything.

What are some highlights of your time at SIPA?

One highlight of my SIPA experience was my Capstone workshop for the United Kingdom Stabilisation Unit. I served as the project manager for my cohort as we worked to develop a typology of transnational organized crime networks that affect UK national security. This project was particularly interesting because we went beyond profiling individual crime groups, and instead, captured measurable data points about threat activity across regions and time – a framework that will assist policymakers to disrupt and deter criminal activity. More importantly, it also enables them to facilitate agile, iterative prioritization, and conduct predictive analysis about what crime groups might do next.

Another major highlight was traveling to Palestine with other SIPA students for a holistic study of human rights abuses, UN interventions, and economic development in the region. This trip, known as PalTrek, connected me with so many phenomenal and inspiring activists who are doing the field work that we study and discuss so often at SIPA. This trek changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined, and I will never forget my first-hand experiences or the lessons learned there.

In terms of professors, I could write accolades about so many of them. A couple of favorites jump to mind immediately: Professor Alexis Wichowski who teaches courses on technology policy and e-governance, and Professor Seth Freeman who teaches negotiation and conflict resolution. One of SIPA’s greatest strengths is bringing in practitioners who can teach theory, but can also speak from their experience in the field.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I am currently seeking opportunities in a variety of sectors and roles. I am most interested in technology and public service, and I would love to continue working in operations, project management, or strategic change. Ultimately, my primary motivation is helping to make the world a happier, safer, and more equitable place. In the long-term, I hope to run for office.

How has your SIPA experience influenced your response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent protests against racism and police brutality?

That is a big question! As a career public servant, I came to SIPA with the intention of improving myself so that I may, in turn, better serve my community. Our graduating class has faced more challenges than any of us ever anticipated, but with that has also come a much-needed upsurge in momentum for positive change. Although the uncertainty is daunting, it provides opportunities for many of us to exercise the education and skills we cultivated during the past two years.

I have reflected a lot lately about how SIPA has equipped me to think creatively about policy solutions to navigate these uncharted territories. Today, I am more confident and hopeful than ever that SIPA alumni will make historical changes in the fields of public health and civil rights. I intend to be one of them.

Catching up with Peter Zheng MPA ’20

Last year Peter Zheng MPA ’20 shared his reflections on his first year at SIPA. He catches up with us after finishing his second and final year at SIPA during what is the most unusual semester anyone has ever experienced.

Along with landing a job at Facebook, Peter joins the Board of Directors of the Jericho Project, a nationally-acclaimed nonprofit ending homelessness at its roots. The 37-year-old nonprofit serves 2,500 New Yorkers annually, with programs dedicated to veterans, young (and mostly LGBTQ) adults, and families.

Read on to see what Peter was up to in his second year.


It’s been about almost a year since I reflected on my first-year experience. Boy – if I knew then what I know now, I probably would have run away to Antarctica. Just kidding! I heard it’s cold there. But there are cute penguins…

My final year at SIPA was mixed with stress and uncertainty but also excitement and immense happiness. Unfortunately, COVID-19 resulted in one of my family’s small businesses shutting down so I ended up back in Pittsburgh to help my parents apply for governmental assistance under the CARES Act, specifically the Payroll Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Assistance under the U.S. Small Business Administration. Typically, I handle 40% of their finances in school but with all of their stressors that came along with COVID-19 and our other small business, I ended up running 100% of their personal and business finances.

This experience was extremely stressful as I had my own commitments, so to add two people’s finances, two restaurants finances, & 20 employees, without revenue coming in, was an extreme shock. I’m thankful that Columbia implemented universal pass/fail and my professors were insanely supportive and understanding. They would tell me about negotiation tactics with landlords, delayed assignments and exams, and provided moral support through phone calls. In the end, things turned out super positively!

In terms of next steps, I will be working at Facebook in their business integrity department. This will be my first full-time job out of university and it will be exciting to leverage my MPA degree and technology expertise to shape global policy for Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Oculus.

What is most exciting about this role are my colleagues. They’re insanely passionate and smart, and super wonderful humans! Facebook is currently building out their internal venture capital arm and spearheading AR and VR acquisitions so it’ll be a great opportunity to be at the forefront of global innovation with the post-Covid-19 world.

5 Reflections After Two Years at SIPA:

  1. Become involved with organizations and groups outside of Manhattan. When your entire life revolves around 10 streets above and below Columbia’s campus – it can get pretty boring. You were sold on the NYC experience so go out there and get it!
  2. Emotional intelligence is far superior than intellectual intelligence. Be able to read a room, how to ask people about their days, and having a conversation for the sake of a conversation.
  3. Schedule time to relax and decompress. Work-life balance doesn’t really exist and we naturally gravitate towards work so schedule in fun. You can psychologically condition yourself to destress. Future you will thank the present you. J
  4. Embrace a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. Just because we are in grad school does not mean our past experiences leading us here will be enough to catapult us into the next phase of our lives.
  5. Treat yourself with radical compassion! Life is hard so let’s not make it a rat race.

Click here to read Peter’s reflections after his first year at SIPA from May 2019.

Meet new team member Kathleen Vital-Herne

My name is Kathleen Vital-Herne, and I’m elated to be the newest member of the SIPA Admissions and Financial Aid team.

I was born and raised in Queens, New York as a second-generation Haitian. I earned a Bachelor’s in Sociology from Stony Brook University, and a Master’s in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Columbia University’s Teachers College. During my graduate studies, I explored research that highlighted the disparities among racial minorities in their pursuit of higher education.

I’ve been in the Columbia community for six years, previously working at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. I have also worked at other institutions including Stony Brook University, Baruch College, and Fordham University. In my free time, I enjoy reading, traveling, and learning about different cultures. One of my favorite trips took place in the summer of 2015, where I taught English to third-graders in Ankara, Turkey.

As you weigh your options for graduate study, I would encourage you to explore the opportunities that SIPA may have for you. In my role, I’m looking forward to communicating with prospective students as they navigate the application process. I will also be upholding the School’s mission to support underrepresented populations. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via email.

A View from the Class: Ryan Dahm MPA ’21

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


Hello, I am Ryan Dahm, a first-year Master of Public Administration (MPA) candidate, concentrating in International Security Policy and specializing in Management. I am also honored to be the recipient of SIPA’s Michael and Polly Brandmeyer Fellowship.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

I served five years in the U.S. Army as an infantry platoon leader, company executive officer, battalion communications and signal officer (S6), and battalion operations officer. I participated in many multinational efforts in the North Sinai Peninsula, Eastern Europe, and as a part of a NATO Battle Group in Bemowo Piskie, Poland. Being stationed in Europe and operating in an international environment were the most thrilling aspects of my professional life.

Why did you choose SIPA?

Columbia SIPA was my dream school after I commissioned out of the ROTC program at my undergraduate school majoring in international affairs and economics. SIPA’s diversity and predominantly international student body was something that appealed to me. I also knew names like Professors Dipali Mukhopadhyay, Thomas Christensen, and Richard Betts from my academic studies in international relations, and I wanted to go to the school that had the most renowned academics in diplomacy and international affairs.

Why did you choose to focus your SIPA studies on International Security Policy and Management?

Although I voluntarily separated from the military, I knew my future was in the American foreign policy or national security apparatus. The International Security Policy program seemed like the perfect fit. I also wanted to civilianize my leadership style through SIPA’s management courses. Dr. Kirsti Samuels, a lecturer at SIPA and an experienced leadership trainer and coach, mediator, and facilitator, has taught me valuable leadership concepts that I hope to utilize in the future.

What are your plans this summer?

I was chosen as a Harold W. Rosenthal Fellow in International Relations, a program by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, and will be interning this summer at either the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction section, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), or the Bureau of Refugees and Migration at the U.S. State Department.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your studies and post-graduation plans?

It has definitely made me appreciate in-person education and the resulting relationships developed with fellow classmates. I think students will need to be more mindful about proactively pursuing opportunities.

What are you looking forward to studying and doing during your second year at SIPA?

I am looking forward to taking any class taught by Dr. Peter Clement, our intelligence officer in residence, Professor Thomas Christensen, or Dr. Kirsti Samuels. I am also excited to attend the Latin American Student Association (LASA) party and class boat party. Neither disappoints.

What makes SIPA unique?

In addition to its world-renowned faculty, SIPA attracts bright students with a unique mindset and motivation. Being a part of SIPA reminds me of military camaraderie—everyone has a shared mission to contribute in public service, just in civilian attire.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?

Learning about China’s foreign policy from a giant like Professor Thomas Christensen was the academic highlight of my life. Having spent fifteen months in the Middle East and four years in Europe, it was thrilling to learn from a leading expert about East Asia, a region I knew little about.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I will likely join the Foreign Service or the U.S. State Department’s Civil Service.

"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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