Archive for Meet Seeples

Post-SIPA plans and wisdom from an (almost) alumna

I’ll be graduating this month, so I figured I should wrap up my time at SIPA with a blog post about my post-SIPA plans and some lessons I’ve learned from SIPA and NYC in general. After graduation, I’ll be joining the US Foreign Service as an entry level economic officer, representing the United States abroad. My time at SIPA has definitely been challenging, but I’ve been able to meet some of the most amazing things and have access to the most incredible experiences. I don’t miss it all quite yet, but I’m sure I will very soon. Here are the top five takeaways from my SIPA experience.

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
SIPA is hard and A LOT of work. If you’re a bit of a Type A person like I am (and you probably are if you follow the admissions blog), not getting my money’s worth out of SIPA was a serious point of anxiety. I wanted to make sure I did EVERY reading, took as many classes with as many different professors as I could, have an internship every semester, and be involved in as many student orgs as possible. After about a month of doing the absolute most (and essentially living in Lehman Library), I realized that I can’t maximize my experience if I’m missing the forest for the trees. It’s okay if you don’t do all the reading, or go to every event or happy hour. Sometimes it’s not physically possible to it all, and you’re better off picking what’s important to you and making the most of those experiences rather than trying to spread yourself so thin.

2. Challenge yourself to try new things
Many of us come into SIPA with a strong idea of our expertise and interests, which we, of course, planned to explore at SIPA. While it’s, of course, great to delve deeper into a strength, I would also recommend trying to work on your weaknesses as well as trying out some new things you’ve never considered. In my case, I came to school planning to study international conflict resolution and to become as close to an East Asia regional specialist as SIPA would allow, but while here I found myself gravitating toward the gender classes and focusing more on Southeast Asia—I region I knew very little about before coming here.  Taking those classes were definitely one of the best choices I made at SIPA because it allowed me to expand my horizons and my expertise.

3. Playing hard and having fun is just as important as good grades
This goes hand in hand with my first piece of advice. One of SIPA’s main selling points (for me at least) was its location in New York City and access to all the amazing things the city has to offer. Thus, if you’re constantly stressed about getting the “A+” in every class you’ll be missing out on not only great parts of your SIPA experience but the New York experience as well. Your SIPA classmates are some of the most accomplished and coolest people you’ll ever meet, so you should really take the time to get to know them outside of your macro problem-set group and Conceptual Foundations discussion section. Think of it this way, when you’ve finally graduated what will be more helpful in the long run: the A you got in quant, or the network you’ve made along the way? This is not to say that grades aren’t important (it goes without saying that they are) but again, don’t miss the big picture by focusing too hard on the details.

4. Use all the resources available to you, and ask for help when you need it
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, and you should never be embarrassed to do so. SIPA’s a tough school, and we each have different areas of expertise. Not everyone is an econ or quant whiz and not everyone can write ‘A’ quality 25-page papers in 24 hours. The key is to know your strengths AND your weaknesses, and how to supplement your weak points. If econ or quant isn’t your thing, make sure you go to your favorite TA’s office hours, tutoring sessions and recitation (you can also go directly to the professor). If your writing is a bit weak, make sure you check out the writing lab and get your papers proofread far in advance so you can make the necessary changes. Being too proud to ask for help hurts no one but yourself.

5. You’re not an imposter
You’ve earned the right to be here! Whether you’re straight from undergrad, a career changer, an older student or somewhere in between, your experiences are no better or worse than any other student’s. That’s what’s so great about SIPA— we get to hear from a broad range of experiences from different countries and sectors. There’s no “perfect” Seeple, because we’re ALL the perfect Seeple.

Gillian Tee, MIA/MBA ’12, creates senior care start-up in Singapore

Barely 10 minutes into the interview, Miss Gillian Tee is asking for time out and a drink of water.

The 34-year-old had no problems handling the cut and thrust of New York and Silicon Valley technopreneurship for a decade, but talking about her late nanny and maternal grandmother is making her teary and a tad emotional.

“You’re good,” she says, sheepishly dabbing the tears at the corner of her eyes.

Her late nanny, then a 60-something woman from Kuala Lumpur, practically raised her until she was 10, while her maternal grandmother lovingly cocooned her from the turbulence of her parents’ divorce during her teens.

“It was rough, but they were a source of comfort. They had a huge impact on my life,” says Ms Tee, adding that she developed a soft spot for the elderly as a result.

This affinity is one of the reasons she gave up a heady career in New York City and Silicon Valley, where she co-founded Rocketrip, a start-up to reduce travel costs, which has raised US$18 million (S$25 million) in funding.

She is now home in Singapore where she has set up Homage, a start-up which connects professional caregivers with seniors who need help.

Read the rest of the interview at Straitstimes.com.

[Video still courtesy of Straitstime.com]

Join Seeple Groups for the camaraderie

The fall 2017 class has around 400 students (MPA/MIA) from around the world with different skills, ideas, and professional backgrounds. Do you appreciate the diversity of perspectives, but are concerned about becoming being just another a number? If that’s a “yes,” then that’s exactly why SIPA came up with Seeple Groups (SIPA + People = Seeple). As a Seeple Groups leader, I wanted to share with all of you the value of this initiative. Launched last year for the Class of 2018, the program is designed to do two things: provide incoming students with dedicated support and to foster interdisciplinary camaraderie that cuts across degree programs (MPA and MIA) and areas of study (concentrations and specializations).

Each Seeple Group consists of around 40 first-year MPA/MIA students, and they are led by select second-year students, known as SIPA Peer Advisors (SPA). Advising deans are also paired up with each group. SPAs, like me, provide wisdom from experience on university resources, course selection, and student life. In other words, we’ll tell you where the least-crowded libraries are; how to navigate the school bureaucracy; how tough a professor is; where to find free food; and where the best happy hours are at. (You know, the important stuff.) In all seriousness, if you’re running into issues as a student, the chances are high that someone else has been through it and resolved it. And if the SPA don’t have the answer, they’ll find someone that does.

For example, during orientation week, we had a first-year student from Asia who discovered that his initial housing plans fell through due to circumstances beyond his control. His family was also due to arrive two weeks later. I don’t think we would have learned how dire the situation was if we hadn’t approached him. Leveraging the network of the SPAs, we managed to find a unit that fit his needs. Result: crisis averted.

The groups as a whole build community within the unit through various events planned by SPAs and their group members. The events range from community service and house parties to ice skating in Midtown and secret Seeples gift exchanges. The ultimate goal of Seeple Groups is to provide a vector for students to build meaningful and life-long friendships. It’ll be one of the first networking platforms you’ll encounter at SIPA. You’ll likely form into problem set teams for Quant and Econ. And even if you feel like it’s not working out, there are countless other opportunities to build new relationships (concentration/specialization happy hours, student organizations events, and student-led cultural and policy excursions around the world to name a few).

I was in Seeples Group B aka “the Rumble Bees” (the groups are named after animals/insects). My favorite part about being a SPA is watching the bonds form within the group. I remember meeting the gang during orientation week and doing ice breakers to get everyone to loosen up. Now, I see them lounging together on campus and tagging each other on Facebook during late-night study sessions. When I was deciding between graduate schools, the strength of a school’s network was a key factor for me. SIPA created Seeple Groups to do exactly this.

[Photo courtesy of Gloria Oh (Seeple Group B Peer Advisor) | Andrew Liu (first row, left) attempting to buzz like a bee with Seeple Group B aka “the Rumble Bees”]

GEN Day 2017 at SIPA

In solidarity with the Columbia undergraduate First-Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP), SIPA students celebrated GEN Day 2017 on April 10, 2017, to honor and highlight the experiences of first-generation students at Columbia University and at SIPA.

As defined by FLIP, first-generation typically refers to being the first generation of one’s family to achieve the level of education one is pursuing, however, due to distinctions in how one defines family and status, being first-generation can be defined as having a different intellectual, emotional, and academic support system.

Here are brief snapshots into the lives of SIPA first-generation students, as compiled by current student Alejandra Bz.

(Can’t see the images below? You can access them on Facebook here.)

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Social empowerment through pizza

In a video interview with Al Jazeera, pizzeria owner Alejandro Souza, MPA-DP 2013, shares how he’s “teaching people to fish” instead of giving handouts to Mexico City’s homeless population.

Watch the video on Al Jazeera’s website here.

[Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera]

"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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