Archive for Meet Seeples

A View From the Class: Yulia Belyakova and Nadia Ramirez

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

In this month’s issue, we feature current SIPA students, Yulia Belyakova MPA ’18, and Nadia Ramirez MPA ’18. Here, both discuss why they chose their particular areas of study, internship and capstone experiences, and the importance of fellowship.

Yulia Belyakova, MPA ’18, Economic and Political Development concentration, Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis specializationYulia Belyakova

What did you do before attending SIPA?
Originally from Moscow, Russia, I studied Economics and French at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. During my undergraduate career, I held internships in the Indian equivalent of the Silicon Valley and a financial advisory firm serving public institutions in the U.S., which piqued my interest in emerging markets and public finance. After graduating from Bryn Mawr, I spent three years in a leading economic consulting firm in Washington, D.C., where I worked on complex commercial litigations issues in intellectual property, trade, and finance, with client engagements ranging from the DOJ and the ITC to Google. As an analyst, I was challenged with finding the most precise ways to deduce the economic value of things that are difficult to value, a perspective that I intended to bring to the international development space.

Why did you choose SIPA?
SIPA has been on my radar since I started looking at policy schools. What really differentiated SIPA for me were the experiences of alumni I spoke with while researching schools: I knew several Bryn Mawr women who graduated or were attending SIPA, including my best friend who is now heading a government-led nutrition fortification program in India. I also engaged with a few alumni in D.C. (and there are many!) who were very accessible and clearly enjoyed reminiscing on their time at SIPA. I also received a generous fellowship offer that was not matched by any other school, which will allow me to consider interesting positions without a debt-imposed salary requirement post-graduation. Finally, I knew I wanted to either come back to D.C. or work internationally after graduation, so spending a couple of years in New York was a bonus.

Why did you choose your particular areas of study?
After a stint in economic consulting which is a fascinating but very U.S.-focused industry, I pivoted into development and international work. The EPD concentration allows me to build credibility as a development professional by complementing the skills I developed during my time in consulting. Additionally, I am interested in evidence-based approaches to development, and I have loaded up on quantitative analysis courses that are part of the APEA concentration.

Tell us about your summer internship experience.
I spent 12 weeks in Uganda this past summer working on a financial inclusion evaluation. During my internship at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), I made a small contribution to the currently limited volume of evidence on the welfare impacts of financial inclusion – specifically, mobile money products that facilitate domestic peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers. I analyzed data from an extensive panel survey in Uganda and Tanzania to better understand the complex financial lives of the poor and determine how access to mobile money changes the way households respond to situations requiring additional financing. The households that experienced negative income shocks benefitted greatly from domestic transfers and were able to bridge the financing gap without cutting back on meals or taking children out of school. In addition to research design and analysis, I learned a lot about project management and the challenges of implementation in the field. I am looking forward to my Capstone experience this spring which, I hope, will take me back to Sub Saharan Africa.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?
Taking classes with experienced practitioners has been the highlight of my time at SIPA so far. Last year, I took a class on microfinance, co-taught by two highly accomplished women with years of experience in banking, foundations, and microfinance institutions. Their professional expertise combined with perspectives of other students in the class – fellow development practitioners – was truly eye-opening. I learned a lot and was able to leverage this knowledge in my summer internship search.

What are your plans after SIPA?
I hope to enter the impact evaluation field and assist NGOs and governments in maximizing their impact through implementation of cutting-edge evaluation programs. I am looking at positions in multilateral institutions, impact evaluation consulting firms, and policy research organizations – both in the U.S. and internationally. At present, I am interested in working either in or with West Africa.

Nadia Ramirez, MPA ’18, International Security Policy concentration, Latin America and International Conflict Resolution specializations

Nadia RamirezWhat did you do prior to attending SIPA?
I studied international relations as an undergraduate at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida and studied abroad in 2011 in China at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. After graduating in 2013, I spent one year in Colombia (my country of birth) and then two years on a Fulbright in South Korea, teaching English at an all-girls high school in Busan and coordinating Fulbright’s volunteer program for North Korean defectors in the city.

Why did you choose SIPA?
Before starting my Fulbright, I thought about going to law school, but once in South Korea and through my work with North Korean defectors, I realized that what I actually wanted to do was work in diplomacy. I had considered the idea before, but after coming in contact with Foreign Service Officers, I decided to apply to the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship Program, a U.S. State Department program that provides funding for graduate students who want to pursue a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. I ultimately chose SIPA as a Rangel fellow because of the heavy emphasis on quantitative skills and its international focus.

Why did you choose your particular areas of study?
After engaging in SIPA coursework and thinking about my career in the Foreign Service, I decided on the ISP concentration. I really like the ISP courses and think the material is relevant to my future work. My interest in Latin America grew out of my focus on East Asia as an undergraduate and research I conducted on the socioeconomic implications of Asian business in Latin America. I really enjoyed the research and thought specializing in Latin America would complement my East Asian focus. Specializing in Conflict Resolution happened accidentally. While looking at my course matrix, I realized that two classes in which I was interested (Negotiation and International Conflict Resolution) were part of the Conflict Resolution specialization. I’ve grown to really enjoy the area and now appreciate the importance of an institutional “soft power” type of perspective.

What has been your experience at SIPA thus far?
As a Rangel fellow, I am committed to serving a minimum of five years in the Foreign Service after graduating from SIPA. Since I don’t need to stress over internships and my job search, I’ve focused that energy on the SIPA community. I’ve done a lot of extracurricular activities and try very hard to support other SIPA students and their organizations. I was elected as one of SIPASA’s social chairs and find it very important to represent SIPASA at events. During my second semester, I was tapped to be on the SIPA Follies board, and I’m now their Executive Director, something I’m very happy to do since it gives me the opportunity to use my artistic side to the betterment of the SIPA community.

How has SIPA affected you?
SIPA has affected how I relate to people. Knowing that my classmates trust me enough to vote for me as their social chair, attending their events, and simply getting to know each and every one of them has made me a more confident, well-rounded individual. Every single one of my peers has an inspiring story to tell. It’s these people and their appreciation for what I do that has made me realize my potential. In many ways, they’ve helped prepare me for my career as a Foreign Service Officer. My peers and the positive relationships I’ve created as a naturalized American helped me in deciding to choose Public Diplomacy as my State Department career track. It’s where I can serve the U.S. best while doing the most good.

How have your SIPA professors and instructors impacted your SIPA experience?
There are many professors that have made my time at SIPA absolutely amazing. Academically, Richard Nephew has really helped prepare me for my future career. His short courses on Nuclear Concepts and Economic Sanctions are the perfect balance of theory and practicality. Other professors include Mayor Michael Nutter, Sarah Holloway, Chris Sabatini, and of course, the entire Econ/Quant team.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
I never realized how many doors a SIPA education could open until I did my State Department internship in The Netherlands. I met many SIPA alumni in the service as well as in many parts of Dutch society from banking, to government, and even the arts. It definitely allowed me to experience things I would not have gotten the chance to experience otherwise and created an immediate rapport that was immensely valuable on both a professional and personal level. Meeting all of these alumni and seeing the great work they’ve done in their communities demonstrates that Seeples go on to do amazing things.

Seeples Spotlight: Kier Joy

Everyone, we have a new work study joining us for the remainder of this fall semester. Please welcome Kier Joy! He is a first-year student at SIPA, studying economic and political development and international conflict resolution. He was raised a military brat, having lived all over the U.S. and in the UK. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 2017 with a dual bachelor degree in International Affairs and Political Science. During undergrad, Kier worked as the director of a state-level legislative research fellowship, applying his passion for policy and progressiveness to legislative issues. Also in undergrad, he studied abroad at the University College London and spent a summer in Washington D.C. as a Rangel Scholar. Kier is also a 2017 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship recipient under the United States Department of State. Upon graduating from SIPA, Kier will join the Foreign Service as a Political Foreign Service Officer.

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?
Before SIPA, I was in undergrad at the University of Georgia. Though I was studying rigorously, I made sure to also gain as much professional experience as possible. After studying abroad in London the summer before my junior year, I was accepted into a state-level legislative research fellowship. In this position, I met with dozens of NGOs in Northeast Georgia to learn how to create, study, and advocate for progressive policy changes in the Georgia State Legislature. Through this opportunity, I worked as legislative aide under a state representative. After being in the fellowship for a year, I was promoted to director and had the chance to lead my own team in policy research. In November of my senior year, I was selected as a 2017 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellow. As part of the Rangel Fellowship, I worked on Capitol Hill as a foreign policy fellow for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. From there, I came to SIPA.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
Two things really attracted me to SIPA and Columbia University: the large international student body and professor faculty. First, I wanted to attend a diverse grad school, not only in domestic populations but also international. As I am to join the Foreign Service after graduating, I wanted to be in a place where I was confronted by many different perspectives on global and regional issues to mimic the experiences I’ll have around the world as a diplomat. Second, Columbia University has some of the most renowned professors and practitioners in international affairs. To be able to learn from their research and experiences is such an invaluable honor that I couldn’t afford to miss out on.

SIPA features lots of events for students to attend. Is there any interesting presentation that you have attended that you could comment upon?
I attended a discussion on white nationalism in the past, present, and future. The discussion was lead by professors from schools all over campus – from SIPA to the School of Journalism to the Department of Sociology. It was incredibly interesting to hear from these scholars on where they believe this current uptick in white nationalism is coming from and where it is headed. Also, I’m glad that Columbia has opportunities to discuss current events with faculty.

What advice do you have for current applicants?
I think nailing a great statement of interest is incredibly important for the application. Given the concise nature of the essay, an applicant must be able to explain three things in very little words: their passion, their interest in Columbia, and why they believe a graduate degree from Columbia can aid them in their career. This can be very difficult. So I recommend starting the statement of interest very early. I started mine 4 months before the application deadline and had many professors and professionals review it. Then I also conducted a lot of research on SIPA, the MIA program, and the faculty so I could express what specifically in SIPA could aid me in my career. But overall, give yourself time to work on the statement. It’s incredibly important.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? Why or why not? How did you perform in those classes?
I had taken 5 quantitative classes in undergrad before SIPA: political economy, microeconomics, macroeconomics, research design and quantitative analysis, and algebra. The only requirements for my undergrad degrees were algebra and macroeconomics. But through a summer program with the State Department, I took political economy. When I was looking into grad schools though and saw that they wanted a higher level of quantitative experience, I made sure to take microeconomics and research design and quantitative analysis. I performed well in all of the classes, though it did take quite a lot of work since I’m not math-minded whatsoever.

What advice would you give a first-year student?
Many of the core courses have recitation sessions you must attend. A recitation session is an additional “class” you must attend to discuss the topic of the week in the lecture core course. This can add an additional 2 hours per recitation course to your weekly school schedule. Because of this, it’s imperative that you can manage your time well. I suggest getting a planner and filling it out at the beginning of the semester of all the class times, tests, homework, and recitations. This has helped me to visualize how much time I have available to work (and play) outside of class.

SIPA Wins 1st Prize in Columbia’s Solvathon

Congratulations to our Seeples! Alok S. Viswan (MPA, EPD ’19), Anjana Shyamnath (MPA-DP ’18) and Sachin Sharma (MPA, IFEP ’18) won first prize in the 36 hour long, Solvathon 2017, organized by Columbia Impact of Columbia Business School, an interdisciplinary competition which saw over 50 teams participate from different schools of the University. Citi Ventures, Bloc Power, and Viewpoint Health sponsored the competition. The event involved teamwork to provide technology-based solutions that would have high social impact in response to the real world problems. This team utilized a combination of sensor technology and cloud based platforms for data sharing and storage to conduct real time quality monitoring and tracking of critical liquid commodities in transit in areas of natural disasters.

A View From the Class: Alana Plaus

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share another installment of A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series, featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and SIPA faculty.
Alana PlausIn the September issue, we featured current SIPA student, Alana Plaus MPA ’18. Alana is a SIPA Fund Fellow and a second-year student pursuing her Master of Public Administration, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy (USP) and specializing in Gender and Public Policy (GPPS). Here, Alana discusses why she chose her particular areas of study, her internship and capstone experiences, and the importance of her fellowship.


Why did you choose to concentrate in Urban and Social Policy and specialize in Gender and Public Policy?
I selected USP and GPPS because I am interested in the societal power dynamics and limitations that exist for people of color, women, those who identify as LGBTQ, etc. Within my Social Policy courses, I am able to see how this marginalization translates into problems within social welfare, education policies, housing access, infrastructure, healthcare, etc. I ultimately hope to enter state level politics (perhaps even national someday!) in my home state of Colorado, where many of these issues are particularly relevant with a rapidly increasing urban population. Because of this, I feel as though my USP and GPPS courses have created a solid foundation from which I can jump into my professional path.


 What are some highlights from your first year at SIPA?
I have greatly enjoyed my SIPA experience thus far. I am constantly amazed by the expertise and approachability of my professors. They all have an incredible humility when it comes to meeting with, and mentoring students. They are experts in their fields, have accomplished incredible achievements throughout their careers, are decorated scholars, and yet they are willing to drop everything to meet with a student.  I have been blown away by each and every professor I have had. Beyond my academic experiences, I have also had rewarding internship experiences. This past summer, I pursued two internships simultaneously. To gain a deeper understanding of legislative processes in Colorado, I worked for a national advocacy organization that focuses on policy and legislation related to workplace equity and economic sustainability for women, especially women of color. To gain on-the-ground experience and learn more of the existing public services outside of the capital, I also interned with one of the largest refugee resettlement agencies in the country.  This was a fascinating experience not only because of the people I was able to meet, but it was also a chance for me to see the trickle-down effect of federal policies on direct-service NGOs.


Tell us about your internship or capstone plans for your second year?
In the coming year, I will be interning with two political campaigns: a City Council candidate in NYC, and for a candidate running for Governor in Colorado. I am excited to take what I have learned about governance and policymaking, and see how it relates to the political process. I will also be working on my capstone this upcoming fall with The Brookings Institution. The capstone project will analyze the mechanics, processes, metrics, and outcomes of girls’ life skills programs that aim to encourage girls in the developing world to pursue higher levels of education.


Is there anything else you’d like to add?
 The fellowship I received due to the generosity of SIPA donors has allowed me to attend this fantastic institution and to pursue a career to serve others. Fellowships are so important because for many like me, the idea of living in a city like New York and attending a private institution like Columbia, would have been an impossibility otherwise. SIPA is known for its international diversity, but because of fellowships, socioeconomic diversity can also enhance class discussions. This better prepares students to understand the role that public service can play in the lives of many.

Seeples Spotlight: Nick Calbos

And finally, our fourth new PA for this semester is Nick Calbos. He is studying Energy and Environment/International Security Policy. After commissioning as an Infantry Officer in the United States Army, Nick was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, leading soldiers in a variety of challenging assignments on the Korean Peninsula. From 2012-2013 he was deployed to Afghanistan as a combat advisor to an Afghan National Army infantry battalion in Kandahar province. Following his service in the military, Nick participated in a specialized internship at Goldman Sachs, working primarily in sales and trading. He earned his undergraduate degree at the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 2009.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
I first visited Columbia while I was completing my undergraduate degree at West Point. The vibrant academic community in the heart of New York City was a stark change from the cloistered military environment in the Hudson River Valley. I always had in the back of my mind that I might one day be lucky enough to attend Columbia for graduate school. Fast forward several years, and I was completing an internship in New York, a few months from leaving the Army. I came back to the campus for a visit and was not only struck with the same feeling I had years prior, but discovered the uniquely international student body at SIPA. As a “third culture kid” I knew that it was the right fit for me.

What experiences do you think prepared you to attend SIPA?
The academic rigor of SIPA is not to be taken lightly. Certainly the rigors of my undergraduate and the Army helped prepare me for SIPA. Additionally, growing up overseas and attending international schools gave me the right perspective to appreciate the varied backgrounds of the student body which makes our school so special.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?
I remember a specific day my first year at SIPA in which I started the day by listening to a world renowned economist lecture, followed by a lively academic debate on the future of the energy industry in one of my smaller seminar classes, and then ended the day telling the best stories from summers around the world with some of my SIPA classmates. I remember walking home along Morningside Park, looking out across one of the greatest cities in the world, and feeling like my time at SIPA was set to be an amazing experience.

Can you comment on the quantitative rigor in the curriculum?

I attended a school for my undergrad that was traditionally an engineering school. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of quantitatively heavy courses involved. SIPA is as much, or more quantitatively focused. To be honest, it is not enjoyable if you are not quantitatively inclined. However I feel as though it is necessary to give SIPA graduates the reputation for technical skill that is so desirable in the work force.

What’s your internship experience been like?
I interned this summer at Moody’s Investors Service here in New York. It was exhilarating to be at the cross roads of International Affairs and Finance, and to see the workings of a critical piece of the global capital markets.

How did you obtain your internship?
I went through the traditional channels at the SIPA Office of Career Services. I have found that if utilized effectively, OCS is a fantastic resource, with dedicated professionals who are committed to finding you employment and furthering the SIPA reputation in the work force. I think it also helped that Moody’s is FILLED with SIPA graduates, further affirmation of the quality and desirability of SIPA grads.

Photo Courtesy of Nick Calbos

"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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