Archive for Meet Seeples

Ed tech startup “Learnabi” co-founders met at SIPA

SIPA Class of 2018 alumni Niara Valério and Rahel Tekola (pictured above in the graduation caps) are co-founders of the ed-tech startup, Learnabi. We’re excited to feature their journey from SIPA to startup.

Tell us about your startup, Learnabi.

Niara: We are an NYC-based ed tech company that wants to bring personalized learning to all schools across the U.S. Our approach to personalized learning is a holistic one, where we use data, tech, and engage with key stakeholders to develop individualized learning profiles for students. We provide students with engaging learning experiences that are tailored to their individual needs, preferences and skill level.

Rahel: Our ideal world is one where all students have the resources to do well academically, but more importantly, for them to gain insight into themselves and their personal strengths so that they become lifelong learners. We brought our services to the Bronx initially because we saw a huge need for a personalized format to education, but we’ve discovered that our strategies are applicable to schools across the U.S.

What motivated you to enter the ed tech field?

Niara: I think part of it came from teaching SAT courses in the Bronx, and part from my own personal academic experience. I think most students require more than just time in the classroom to learn and absorb information and schools don’t always have the capacity to do that. The onus falls on the student, but studying and test-taking is a skill in itself, and I think many students don’t really understand how to do so effectively until they get to college. Learnabi was motivated by that. We asked ourselves, “How do we get students to develop these skills early on? How can we fill that gap?”

Rahel: I went to high school in Texas where I was fortunate enough to have access to programs that supported me throughout my journey as a student. However, after moving to NYC I realized that not every student has access to resources to support them and their unique needs in learning. Seeing what our initial impact, prior to starting Learnabi had in our partner school, made me realize that we can have a greater impact on students in NYC and beyond.

How did you balance being grad students and running the startup at the same time?

Niara: Honestly, I look back now and I really have no idea how we were able to pull it off. You end up sacrificing a lot, and it also feels like a huge risk because everyone around you is looking for full-time employment. I would spend all day working in the Bronx then I’d have about an hour to head down to SIPA for classes in the evening, and we were working on Saturdays at the time too. It’s not easy, and I don’t think I’d recommend it haha. But I also think we were lucky in that we didn’t leave jobs to do this full-time, so I think starting a business as a student gives you a safety net and cushion that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Rahel: Most people in graduate school are juggling multiple priorities, and having a business while in school is a juggling act but a much bigger beast. Achieving balance is easier when you have a co-founder who is equally – if not more – dedicated to you and that was the case for me. You also become comfortable with saying no to things to achieve that balance. So, for example, Niara and I made a lot of sacrifices and said no to enticing opportunities that came up, so we could take that time to focus on Learnabi.

What’s the biggest challenge of running a startup?

Niara: You have to do everything and be everyone, especially when you are starting out and that’s tough. You’re doing marketing, finances, sales, it’s a lot and I think there is a huge risk of burn-out as a result. Rahel and I don’t go home after 5pm and not think about work — you’re always working on some level. So I think it’s really important to take breaks and do frequent check-ins with yourself. I think there is a trend with millennials these days where it’s become a badge of honor to be so busy that you have no time for anything or anyone. But I am really not a fan of this hustle culture we’ve created, I think finding balance is far more important and I try to do that as much as possible. Emphasis on try…

Rahel: Not comparing yourself or your startup to others! It’s easier said than done, but it is so important to remember this. As a founder you want to accomplish a lot of things for your venture to be successful, and we can get caught up in the idea of getting far and quickly. Comparing yourself/startup to others also plays into this notion. However, everyone’s journey looks different. Success is defined differently for each venture, so try not to get caught up in the vicious cycle. Niara and I take the time to surround ourselves with a supportive group of board of directors and advisors who cheer us on with each accomplishment and remind us often that setbacks are inevitable but achievable.

What do you wish you knew when you were first starting?

Niara: You can plan as much as you want but you will inevitably run into challenges you hadn’t thought of, so I think it’s important to stay flexible and open-minded.

Rahel: It’s encouraging to surround yourself with other entrepreneurs, not just those in your niche market. It serves as a reminder that you are not alone in this journey.

Wishing Everyone a Happy Valentine’s – and Galentine’s! – Day

A Look Back on SIPA Love Stories

SIPA is the most global policy school that attracts a diverse, accomplished, interesting, and curious community of students, and it’s no surprise that many of them get interested in each other.

Our collection of SIPA Love Stories will warm your heart in this winter cold. Dyanna met her wife Miki on Valentine’s Day at a campus “LGBT Intergraduate School Speed Dating Mixer,” while SIPA graduates Carole and Matthew met while swimming laps at Uris Pool.

A recent addition to the SIPA Love Stories is Katherine Duceman MPA ’15 and Bryan Plummer MIA ’15, who met at Columbia SIPA and were married in December 2019 – congratulations!

Celebrating phenomenal women on Galentine’s Day

“February 13th marks a very special day — not only is it the 44th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar, and the day Earl Hines and his Orchestra recorded “Boogie Woogie on St. Louis Blues” in 1940; it is also Galentine’s Day! For those of you unfamiliar with Galentine’s Day, it is a national – and I may be using this term liberally – holiday in the U.S. Galentine’s Day is a day for us to celebrate female friendship, and what could possibly be better than female friendship?! Where would we be without the incredible women in our lives, who inspire and support us everyday.

Here is a shoutout to my fellow Seeples, celebrating and appreciating some pretty phenomenal women: Rahel Tekola MPA ’18, Anais Tongoi MPA ’18, Erin Lue-Ling MIA ’18, Fatimah Martin MPA ’18, Jaynice Del Rosario, MPA ’18, Rachael Sullivan ’18, Hermila Yifter, MPA-DP, and Michelle Joseph MPA – DP ’18.”

Niara Valerio, MPA ’19 — Recent SIPA graduate and former Program Assistant at the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid.

 

 

Watch: The 43rd Annual SIPA D.C. Career Conference

Ana Guerrero MIA ’19 gave a micro view of the SIPA D.C. Career Conference; check out the video below for a macro view. More than 220 SIPA students took part this year, joined by over 200 SIPA alumni throughout the Conference’s panels, site visits, and networking events from January 16-18, 2019.

Read the full recap here.

Program Assistant Introduction: Samantha Taylor

Classes for the Spring 2019 term started last week and the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid is delighted to have a new program assistant with us this semester. You’ve already met Dylan, Julia, and Kier – now please meet Samantha. (And a big congratulations to Niara who just graduated, though we’ll still have a few admissions insights from her this semester!)


My name is Samantha and I am a second-year, MIA student here at SIPA with a concentration in International Security Policy and a specialization in International Conflict Resolution. I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013 with a dual degree in Political Science and Global Studies. In between graduating from undergrad and SIPA, I lived in Washington D.C. for four years where I first worked as an intern on Capitol Hill, and then as a legal assistant for Sidley Austin LLP in their International Trade and Arbitration division. After three years in the legal field, I wanted to transition into the policy field to better understand the implications of foreign policy on peacebuilding and conflict resolution. That is where SIPA came in, and now I get to learn about these implications while being taught by some of the leading minds in the field.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

When I was making the decision to apply to graduate school, I made a list of all the things I wanted the program to have. I wanted to get both a theoretical and practical foundation regarding foreign policy; I wanted to learn from the leading minds in the field; I wanted to attend a place where I would have to work hard, but also could be socially engaged; and I wanted a program where my classmates would be from around the world and would bring new perspectives to policy discussions. SIPA and Columbia University, was the only school that had a blend of all of these elements, and this is what ultimately attracted me to the SIPA Masters in International Affairs program.

What experiences do you think prepared you to attend SIPA?

I believe my work and internship experience really prepared me for SIPA. These experiences made me passionate about pursuing a graduate degree at SIPA, and they also demonstrate that I had the skills to perform well in a working environment. Most students have three or more years of work experience before coming to SIPA, so my recommendation for future students is to get as much work or internship experience as possible. Even if future students are applying straight from the undergraduate level, any experience counts.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? Why or why not? How did you perform in those classes?

When I was applying to SIPA, I had been out of school for four years and my job at the time did not have many quantitative elements to it. I kept asking myself: “Am I qualified enough?” If you are a prospective applicant with minimal quantitative experience and are looking to brush up on your quantitative skills before applying there are ways to do so. You can take a macroeconomics/microeconomics or statistics course through a local college, use online resources to practice basic quantitative skills, or see if you can jump on projects at work that have quantitative components. In order to familiarize incoming students with the quantitative methods used in its core curriculum, SIPA provides a math refresher course online over the summer, and while it is optional, I highly recommend reviewing it especially if you do not have a lot of quantitative experience. It really helped me brush up on the skills, and, despite my lack of quantitative experience, allowed me to create a foundation to do well in the quantitative courses that are a part of SIPA’s core curriculum.

What has been the most challenging part of your SIPA experience?

The biggest challenge has not been the coursework, the networking, nor the work life balance; but rather getting over the self-doubt that I acutely felt in my first semester. I constantly wondered: “How did I get in when my peers are uniquely qualified to be here?” This doubt resides in all of us but can oftentimes be hard to shake. However, once I dove in to my course work, became involved in some student organizations, and made some new friends, I slowly removed this layer of doubt and recognized I was exactly where I should be.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?

The best part of my SIPA experience has been the friendships and personal connections I have made while at SIPA. While SIPA and its coursework are unique and top-notch, it’s the people I have met that have truly enriched my experience. Through courses, student organizations, and winter-break trips run by SIPA students, I have made friendships with bright and passionate individuals from around the world. School can be stressful, but it helps when you have such amazing fellow SIPA classmates who are there for you when you need it.

 

A recap of the 2019 SIPA D.C. Career Conference

SIPA’s 43rd Annual D.C. Career Conference & Alumni/Student Networking Reception was held on January 16 – 18, 2019.

My name is Ana Guerrero, and I am a second-year MIA student, concentrating in International Security Policy and specializing in International Conflict Resolution. I am originally from the Dominican Republic but I grew up in Brooklyn. I had a myriad of jobs before SIPA, and I am hoping to use my degree to pivot into the Security sector.

For that reason, I was really looking forward to the 43rd annual SIPA D.C. Career Conference, so much so that I successfully applied to be the panel coordinator for the Security & Political Risk session. (I couldn’t attend last year because a group of classmates and I organized a relief trip to Puerto Rico to help clean up after Hurricane Maria.) Needless to say, for someone who doesn’t have direct work experience in the field, I felt that I couldn’t miss the D.C. Career Conference *Don Corleone voice* on this the year of my graduation.

I am very glad I made the most of my time at the conference. I had two coffee chats with SIPA alumnae in D.C., and I managed to make a connection with each of my panelists. My favorite panel – aside from my own – was the Foreign and Civil Service session, where we heard from people from the State Department, the FBI, and a former CIA employee. Their insights into government work and the fellowships to apply for were invaluable.

Panels aside, the site visits are another excellent resource because I got to see the workplace and talk to people I otherwise would not have met if I just attended the conference day’s events. I went to the National Counterterrorism Center, Elizabeth Warren’s Senate office, Albright Stonebridge Group (ASG), and led the site visit and panel of State Department employees. At the ASG session, a human resources representative talked about internship and employment opportunities to look out for in the coming months. Additionally, the networking reception on the last night allowed me to follow up on connections I had made throughout the week. THIS is why you attend a conference like this!

My one piece of advice to prospective students is to absolutely attend the SIPA D.C. Career Conference if they are open to working in Washington D.C. And if you want to work in D.C. and can attend both years as a SIPA student, do it!

"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