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Jumping from NYC to DC; My advice to students who want to work outside of NYC

Note from Admissions: Congratulations to the eight SIPA students selected to join the Presidential Management Fellows Class of 2019! Only ~8.7 percent of applicants were selected to become finalists in this prestigious U.S. government development program for 2019. We thought this would be a good opportunity to check in with other SIPA students who are heading to Washington D.C.


When I first considered applying to the State Department’s Pickering Fellowship, I was unsure whether it was worth my time. I assumed that students from D.C. studying International Affairs would have a considerable advantage, since I attended a small liberal arts college in Los Angeles where I studied History and Government. However, when speaking with alumni of the fellowship, I was told that my non-D.C. background could help my application for the State Department and other employers throughout my career. After receiving the fellowship, and having worked in D.C., I would agree with this sentiment.

Ultimately, I believe that employers look for talent and people with new and interesting ideas, regardless of where an applicant is from. Therefore, I would urge anyone considering SIPA to apply, even if they want to pursue a career in D.C. afterwards; here at SIPA, you’ll learn and grow in ways that will make you competitive for any job in any city.

SIPA’s greatest resource is New York City. As a student of policy, you will have endless opportunities to engage with experts and leading organizations in your field who are working in arguably the world’s most dynamic city. Because of SIPA’s location, you will also have access to world class faculty and students who are pursuing careers in everything from finance to humanitarian work.

SIPA also offers a very holistic curriculum and attracts students from the around the world who want to study in a global city. I can honestly say that I have learned as much from my peers as I have from my classes.

In turn, you may actually have an advantage over students who are in D.C. or any other city, partly because of everything that SIPA students are exposed to in New York.

Personally, I know of many students who are fully committed to working in D.C. after graduating, myself included. Many of these students use their summer in between their first and second year to pursue an internship in DC, as an opportunity to build a relationship with a potential employer and to get an idea of what they would ideally like to do full-time.

SIPA has relationships with almost every major organization in D.C. and therefore students are made aware of internship and full-time job opportunities available in D.C. all the time. Almost any employer in D.C. will recognize Columbia University and SIPA, and you will not be at a disadvantage during the recruiting process.

In terms of community in D.C., SIPA students end up all over; some work for the State Department, some work for think tanks like The Brookings Institution, and others end up at NGOs like Human Rights Campaign. Since SIPA’s Office of Career Services has strong relationships with alumni and organizations with heavy SIPA representation, it is easy to get in contact with alumni, who are always happy to offer advice or maybe even an opportunity at an interview.

I always tell people, living and studying in New York is never a bad choice. If you are interested in SIPA’s program offerings and think it is a good fit academically and socially, then consider applying/enrolling, even if you don’t plan to be here long-term!

Opinion: 4 ways to bring human rights into development work (via APSIA)

We’re resharing this post by the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA), originally posted here.

APSIA brings leading graduate schools around the world which specialize in international affairs – including SIPA! We’ll be at the APSIA graduate fairs in Madrid, Paris and London this week. If you’re in the area, come meet SIPA admissions and find out more about an advanced career in public policy and international affairs.

4 ways to bring human rights into development work

Seventy years ago, the world laid out a common standard of fundamental rights for all people, which they said should be universally defended.

Now, the global environment is shifting. Nations that once led the way in promoting cross-border protections are retrenching. Scandals undercut major international development agencies when they fail to uphold these sentiments. Meanwhile, corporations — once vilified for their behavior — are building human rights into their work.

“Human rights touches every aspect of a company’s operations,” Margaret Jungk, managing director for human rights at Business for Social Responsibility, said in 2016. Today, corporations such as Facebook see “the responsibility [they] have to respect the individual and human rights of the … global community” — and hire accordingly, as stated in a recent job vacancy at the social media network.

Incorporating human rights into development work may require you to consider national politics, social media, sexual discrimination, and everything in between. To successfully navigate a new public, private, and nonprofit development landscape, four traits will be critical.

1. Context is key

Just as in broader questions of global development, human rights considerations are rarely clear-cut. Context matters. Are you trained to understand the economic, political, social, cultural, and historical factors at play? Can you identify the forces influencing a situation? Are you qualified to perform proper due diligence?

“Human rights work has to be focused within the contexts where development is playing out,” said Francisco Bencosme, Asia-Pacific advocacy manager at Amnesty International.

“In Myanmar, an entrenched system of apartheid can change the analysis of a seemingly positive housing project. [For example, under] the guise of development for Rakhine State, we have in the past seen new homes constructed for ethnic minorities on top old homes that used to belong to the Rohingya. It is these kind of development practices that need to take human rights contexts into account,” Bencosme said.

Seek out educational and professional opportunities that develop a flexible framework for evaluating decisions. One size will not fit all.

Mark Maloney, vice dean at the Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs, explained: “Adaptability is a key skill … [one] even more important in humanitarian work because the stakes can be considerably higher when things go wrong.”

“For that reason, understanding the context, including relationships within and between parties, is a fundamental skill we try to develop through our Master in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action” he added. “This skill also maximizes the likelihood that our graduates will make the ‘right decision at the right moment’ when undertaking action on the ground.”

2. Be ‘client-ready’

Development professionals must tailor their work to many constituencies.

Have you practiced framing a discussion to make sense to diverse groups? Have you learned to persuade people while recognizing their different needs? Do you have the credentials to make people listen to what you have to say?

Learn to write and present arguments in clear, concise, and compelling ways. Work to improve your cross-cultural competencies. Expand proficiency in different languages. Look for opportunities to get close to the communities you want to serve, as well as to the funders, governments, and companies working on the ground.

“The human rights framework brings a human-centered analysis to the work of development professionals,” said Barbara Frey, director of the human rights program at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

“This analysis starts with the question: Who is the rights bearer and who is the duty bearer in a situation? [It] tests how the consequences of actions can help or harm the clients [you] seek to serve.”

3. Develop connections

Access to individuals and information is critical to getting the job done.

With whom have you cultivated connections? From whom can you get critical information? Have you developed academic and professional networks to open doors?

Maintain relationships throughout your career via social media and in-person ties. Seek the counsel of former classmates, professors, or colleagues. Look for undergraduate or graduate schools with close ties to the field.

For example, students at the International Human Rights Center at Korea University’s Graduate School of International Studies incorporate concern for human rights into a wide range of activities. They build networks, workshops, and symposia in partnership with Human Asia, a human rights NGO in South Korea. According to the school, these opportunities prepare students to “serve as productive members of their organizations and to play leadership roles in the international community.”

4. Character is destiny

Easy answers do not always present themselves.

Are you bold enough to choose the difficult route? Can you withstand criticism from naysayers who cannot or will not envision anything beyond the status quo? Do you know how to rejuvenate your spirit when things look bleak?

“Forces larger than yourself will make you face some tough moral choices,” said Reuben Brigety, dean of George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. From his time at Human Rights Watch and the U.S. State Department, he has counseled young professionals to realize that “your character is your destiny. Have courage!”

To succeed at the intersection of human rights and development, you must ask good questions. Tailor your approach; build diverse networks; and, cultivate an internal moral compass to navigate the changing human rights and global development landscape.

SIPA’S SDG Fellows Team are Geneva Challenge Finalists!

Congrats to SIPA’s SDG Fellows team (Alonso Flores MPA-EPD ’19, Nigora Isamiddinova MPA-DP ’19, Jessica Arnold MIA ’19, Nitasha Nair MPA ’19, and Ji Qi MPA-DP ’19) who have advanced to the finals of the 2018 Geneva Challenge. Their project, DASH – Data Analytics for Sustainable Herding, aims to map and analyze the changes in migration patterns, seasonality, and urban and agricultural development using data from satellites, mobile telecommunications, and GPS- enabled systems. It will create a blueprint for utilizing big data and applying machine learning and AI for better policy-making under deep uncertainty.

Launched in 2014, the Advancing Development Goals International Students Contest, or more commonly known as the Geneva Challenge, is an international contest for graduate students that aims to find innovative and pragmatic solutions to a designated international development problem. Every year five finalist teams, one from each continent, is invited to an oral presentation in Geneva where they defend their solutions to a jury and the public. This year the subject is climate change.

SIPA students have a history of partaking in the Geneva Challenge. Previously, a team of recent SIPA graduates (Olga Abilova MIA ’15, David Braha MIA ’15, Isabela Cunha MIA ’15, and Jessica Dalton, a master’s degree candidate at Columbia’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights) were selected as finalists for the 2015 Geneva Challenge on migration.

Wish Alonso, Nigora, Jessica, Nitasha, and Ji luck as they defend their project on November 27!

Current Events Roundup, September

We are currently in week four of the Fall 2018 semester, and its already been a busy four weeks for fellow Seeple students. Between the General Assembly this week, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visiting Columbia to speak with Professor Joseph Stiglitz and SIPA’s Director of the Technologies Specialization, Anya Schiffrin, and the “Rise of the Rest” – Entrepreneurship Across America event, there have been plenty of things to discuss and attend.

Below is a roundup of some notable September events:

The UN General Assembly

The UN General Assembly is certainly an eventful time in New York. Aside from the bumper to bumper traffic and multiple street closures that take over Midtown East, it is one of the few instances where there is such a high concentration of world leaders in New York City at once. This is, of course, a significant point of interest for SIPA students, who in addition to taking geographic advantage are able to participate in the many intersections of SIPA and the United Nations, including classes and events. This year, the General Assembly has been an especially notable one, much of the conversations will center around three key issues: the Rohingya crisis, Syria, and the Iran Nuclear Deal. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for an implementation of the Paris climate change agreement. Coverage of the UN General Assembly has varied, but a few key moments have stood out, in particular, the President of The United States’ decision to not meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, among other things. Either way, SIPA students have been busy discussing the General Assembly and keeping a close eye as it will continue to be a key topic in classrooms through the semester.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visits Columbia University 

On June 26th, 2018 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became a household name as a Congressional candidate who won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District and beat the incumbent Congressman, Joe Crowley. On September 24th, 2018 she joined Columbia Business School Professor and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and SIPA’s Director of the Technologies Specialization, Anya Schiffrin at the Roone Arledge Auditorium at the Riverside Church for a discussion panel. Students were able to attend and ask questions. Much of the conversation centered around grassroots efforts and Ocasio-Cortez spoke of an increasingly mobilized progressive base and encouraged students to engage in on-campus activism. She also spoke to the Democratic party’s increasing isolation of marginalized communities. She stated that it was important for Democrats to engage minority voters through a renewed commitment to their communities. SIPA students were also in attendance.

“The Rise of the Rest” – Entrepreneurship Across America 

On September 12th, 2018 Dean Merit E. Janow, Steve Case, and Secretary Jacob J. Lew sat down for a fireside-chat discussion on entrepreneurship in America. Case, Chairman, and CEO of Revolution and the Co-founder of AOL talked about his “Rise of the Rest” initiative to support entrepreneurship across America. Secretary Lew spoke of policy changes to encourage entrepreneurship, improving immigration policies, for example, can promote entrepreneurship given the high percentage of immigrant founders. They also touched on the impact of a healthy economy on the development of ideas — as long as ideas are strong and people are motivated, the health of the economy becomes less important. The fireside chat ended with a discussion on the regulation of online businesses — is it possible to apply the same levels of regulations that are applied to brick and mortar businesses?

The 2019 Columbia SIPA Application is Open

Exciting news: SIPA’s 2019 Application Portal is officially live!

The admission application is definitely a whole process, and before you start your application, we recommend the following steps to stay organized and efficient.

  1. Subscribe to the Admissions Blog. (Yup, this one.) We’ll have information from admissions staff, students, alumni, and financial aid that you won’t want to miss.
  2. Add the Application Deadlines to your calendar. All materials must be submitted by the deadline to be eligible for the entry term.

MIA, MPA, MPA-DP Program Deadlines
Spring 2019 (MIA/MPA only)
October 15, 2018 at 11:50pm EST

Fall 2019
Early Action Deadline: November 1, 2018 at 11:59pm EST
Fellowship Consideration Deadline: January 5, 2019 at 11:59pm EST

Final Application Deadline: February 5, 2019 at 11:59pm EST

  1. Register and attend an in-person or virtual information session. Along with getting your questions answered by admissions staff, these sessions include application tips. We’ll add more throughout the year, so be sure to check back.
  2. Practice your Video Essay response. We’ve met many applicants utterly anxious about this step, which won’t help in the essay at all. Practicing will help you feel more comfortable and less jittery.

If you want more advice or need some guidance, email us at sipa_admission@columbia.edu with any questions about the application process. (Just be sure to read up on the basic information before emailing to ask  us an already-answered question – it’ll help speed up the response times!)

And if you just want to get your application started, click here. We wish you all the best of luck.

"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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