Archive for Student Life

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.

 

 

ISP, Will You Be Mine?

In honor of Galentine’s Day and as an International Security Policy (ISP) concentrator, I thought I would write a blog post that not only gives incoming students interested in ISP a glimpse in to the concentration, but also provides some perspective on being a woman in a field that is often thought of as a patriarchal space. To do this, I enlisted the help of Ana Guerrero, Brit Felsen-Parsons and Caitlin Strawder, three current ISP concentrator SIPA students to discuss the topic and give advice. But before I dive in, let me introduce you to these ISP women.

Ana Guerrero MIA’19 is a second year, MIA, ISP concentrator, specializing in International Conflict Resolution. Ana completed her undergraduate degree at Middlebury College with a Bachelors in Spanish and Italian literature, and a minor in Portuguese. Prior to SIPA, she worked for an Italian petroleum company where got to explore her interest in geopolitics.  Ana is interested in Middle East conflicts, and during her time at SIPA, she interned for the Global Security department at NBC Universal, and is currently a Terrorism Analyst where she is learning the hard skills necessary to supplement her Theoretical education.

Brit Felsen-Parsons MPA ’20 is a first year, MPA, ISP concentrator, specializing in International Conflict Resolution.  Before SIPA, Brit served for two years as a shooting instructor to the infantry and commander in the Shooting School of the Israeli Defense Forces.  Brit then went on to complete her Bachelor’s degree at the College at Columbia University, double-majoring in Political Science and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies.  She also held research assistantships at the National Defense University, the Institute of World Politics, the Columbia University Political Science Department, and the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.  While at SIPA, Brit supplements her studies as a research assistant at the Saltz man Institute of War and Peace Studies at SIPA.

Caitlin Strawder MPA ’19 is a second year, MPA, ISP concentrator, specializing in International Conflict Resolution. Caitlin completed her undergraduate degree at Florida State University where she earned a B.A. in Political Science.  Upon graduation in 2013, she received two consecutive Fulbright English Teaching grants to serve in Colombia and while teaching she studied romantic languages, economic development, the then-present negotiations with the FARC, and conducted research on indigenous rights in Silvia, Cauca.  While at SIPA, Caitlin interned on the Colombia Desk at the State Department 2018, and maintains a position as a conflict resolution practitioner and operations analyst at New York Peace Institute.

Now that you know a bit about these ladies, let’s jump in:

Why did you choose to apply to SIPA, and specifically the International Security Policy concentration?

Brit: I fell in love with SIPA, and specifically with ISP, when I took the infamous ISP core class – Professor Richard Betts’ “War, Peace and Strategy” (WPS) – as a sophomore in college.  Since I did my BA at Columbia as well, I had the opportunity to explore SIPA, and I found myself most drawn to ISP courses and events.  In my first year of undergrad I was still torn between studying political science and neuroscience, but with that first ISP course I was hooked. A few courses later, I had decided that for me it was SIPA or bust, so I applied to the MPA program. It’s been three years since WPS, and I can honestly say I keep loving SIPA – and ISP – more and more.

Caitlin: I applied to SIPA blindly following the Top Ten online rankings for international affairs degrees (like so many of my peers) and was delighted to get in. Joking aside, I had been living in New York for a few years and wanted to start the MPA adventure without sacrificing the family I found, my job, my apartment, or saying goodbye to the greatest city in the world. I was originally attracted to the program because of the International Conflict Resolution specialization, and I saw the ISP concentration as an ideal complement. I also thought it was important to study ISP particularly because I knew so little about it, while cognizant of its importance.

What are some misconceptions you have faced about the ISP concentration, in general, and as a woman in the ISP concentration at SIPA?

Ana: Students not in ISP think everyone in the concentration is either active or former military and male. They are very surprised I am neither of those, which always proves interesting.

Brit: I think some students might have the impression that ISP is very militaristic and masculine, and to a degree I can understand why. It’s true that many of SIPA’s military veterans (though certainly not all!) are studying ISP.  Additionally, I know a lot of women studying ISP, and we make a unique, significant, and highly valued contribution to our classes and to the ISP community.  I recognize that I might feel more at home in ISP because I’m a military veteran, but I think the non-vets in ISP have no trouble holding their own in the classroom or in conversation, because we all recognize that we bring different experiences and skills to the table. Although I may be biased, I think ISP is one of the most familial and welcoming concentrations at SIPA, in part because it is influenced by the military culture of camaraderie and toughing it out together.

Have there been any challenging aspects to being a woman going into the ISP field?  If so how did/do you address them?

Caitlin: In terms of diversity, so much of getting the opportunity to work in some environments is the compromise of waiting until you have experience and standing before being able to authoritatively question assumptions of gender and roles in the workplace. 

Ana: I think traditionally the ISP field has been seen as a “boy’s club”. To combat this, I am trying to learn as much as I can, both in classes and in internships, in order to compete. Additionally, I believe it’s important to foster a strong female network within ISP in order to help each other succeed in the field. For me it’s a double whammy: I knew being a first-generation woman of color in a traditionally white male field would be tough. But I also knew that would be the case regardless of the field.

What do you recommend those students who are interested in International Security Policy consider before they attend SIPA?

Brit: I would recommend that students sit in on a few lectures or events if they can, and that they talk to current SIPA students to get an impression of the culture, the workload, and the opportunities here. Columbia University has a distinct culture, and SIPA has a culture-within-a-culture all its own, which you can only get a sense of by talking to people who are part of it. Also, reading course descriptions probably won’t be as informative as hearing a lecture or two, in terms of getting a feel for SIPA classes. For those for whom that’s not possible, I would recommend reading up on SIPA’s faculty and centers/institutes (Saltzman, Harriman, the Middle East Institute, etc.) to get a sense of the kind of research being done in-house.

Ana: Think about what you want to do after graduation and where you want to work—and work backwards from there. If you’re thinking of working for the government with some level of clearance you should start looking at those applications (if they’re available) even before you arrive on campus for orientation. Also look into fellowships for federal service and keep an eye on those deadlines!  Additionally, knowing where you want to end up will help you plan your course list so you get the most out of your precious two years at SIPA.

Are there any words of wisdom you have for women looking to go into the ISP field, and/or pursue the ISP concentration at SIPA?

Ana: As with anything we set out to accomplish — once you set out to achieve your goals, don’t take no BS!

Caitlin: Constantly look for networking events, career panels, and mentorship match-ups so that you have a chance to connect with different practitioners.  Especially for women—give prospective employers a preview that the nature of the field is changing and they should anticipate a high number of specialists in technology, geopolitical conflict, and analysis who happen to be women.

Brit: First and foremost, don’t be intimidated by security studies or by ISP. It’s not all machismo all the time, or all military lingo all the time. Some of my closest friends (and the best people I know) at SIPA study ISP, and the concentration draws a diverse crowd from all walks of life. I’ll be honest: the workload can be heavy. The readings can be loooooong and dense. But if you are passionate about security studies, and about studying them in an incredibly diverse and cosmopolitan setting, then the ISP concentration at SIPA is the place for you. And if you are a woman interested in security studies, then I highly encourage you to apply. ISP is a pretty close-knit and supportive community here at SIPA, and it’s a great place to challenge yourself academically in order to best prepare yourself professionally. I love it, and I hope you will too!

I want to give a big thanks to Ana, Brit and Caitlin for their advice, and I hope you found it useful. I’d like to leave you with one final thought:  ISPer’s at SIPA are diverse in nationality, experience, and gender; and while the ratio is not 100% perfect, it is evening out.

Madeleine Albright, a SIPA alum, once said, “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” I think this sentiment rings true for many of the women I know in the ISP concentration who continue to move the needle on women’s roles in ISP, and who are not deterred by the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding the field.

I hope you enjoyed this piece, and Happy Galentine’s Day!

Parks And Rec GIF by NBC

SKIPA: Fulfilling promises to myself as a soon-to-be graduate

Julia Chung is born and raised in New Jersey, but hopes to be considered an honorary New Yorker. She is a second year MPA student concentrating in Urban and Social Policy and specializing in Technology, Media, and Communications. After graduating from Vassar College with a BA in Sociology and a minor in Asian Studies, Julia worked at various nonprofits in New York City on issues including housing, immigration, education, and civic engagement.

As I enter my final semester, I promised myself that I would make the most of my last five months at SIPA. This semester is going to be the one when I take the classes in topics I haven’t explored before like impact investing, energy policy, and negotiations. I will go to all the talks that seem interesting (There’s an exciting one on the Green New Deal next week!). And I will take advantage of the resources that the Office of Career Services can provide (I signed up for a resume workshop and the public service networking event!).

But, SIPA is not only about academia and the job search. It’s also about living in NYC with some of my closest friends with the flexibility in our student schedules to truly enjoy the time we have together. And so I will go to all the restaurants and museums I haven’t been to yet. I will go to all my favorite SIPA events like the Publique parties and formal Gala thrown by our student government. And, not to sound corny, I will say yes to new experiences.

One of the new experiences I signed up for was this past weekend. I went to SKIPA, our student-run, three-day ski trip. I haven’t skied in over twenty years and all I remember is falling a lot and being cold. But, I knew it was going to be a great way to see my friends before the semester gets busy and a good memory before I graduate. Also, some of my classmates from warmer climates have never skied before, so I knew I’d have some company on the bunny slopes!

We drove up to Killington, Vermont, on Thursday night and us sixty Seeples stayed in condos just at the foot of the mountain. On Friday morning, my friend, who has been skiing since she was 2 years old, gave me with a much-needed lesson on how to pizza and control the skis. I stayed on that bunny slope the whole day but met up with everybody for lunch at the top of the mountain for some chili and mac ‘n cheese. The evenings were just good fun with classmates packing the hot tub with 20+ Seeples, hanging out around the fire and drinking hot chocolate, and going out to eat at local restaurants. We repeated the same Saturday — ski, hot tub, and food. I must say that I was quite proud that by the end of trip, I was able to go to on something other than the bunny slopes.

We drove back on Sunday morning, in time to do some reading for my Monday class before the Superbowl! I must say that SKIPA trip, unexpectedly, has been MVP of the semester thus far.

To see the calendar of events at SIPA, visit the calendar here!

And now, we wait!

(Though with the SIPA application deadlines passed, it’s more like you wait — and we thank you for your patience.)

For those applying to the Fall 2019 term for the MIA and MPA programs, the February 5th deadline has passed. What happens on our end: The joy of reading applications, and putting together events for the spring! You can look forward to signing up for SIPA class visits, events for admitted students to meet the global SIPA community, and opportunities to chat with SIPA students and alumni about their experiences one-on-one. For those of you looking to apply in the future, keep an eye out! It’s good to spread out your research instead of cramming all the events into one.

In the meantime, the Spring 2019 semester is in full swing and we’ll continue updating you on the blog on events happening at Columbia University SIPA, scholarship opportunities, and more. If you want us to address something on the blog that you haven’t seen yet, please shoot us an email. We’ll have takes from SIPA students throughout the next few weeks about looking towards life after SIPA, how to decipher the numerous SIPA course offerings, and advice on learning languages for your future career.


For now, here’s a taste of what’s happening on the SIPA campus: Discussing entrepreneurship with a social missions with Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal.

One billion people in the world don’t have access to eyeglasses.

That’s the statistic that led Neil Blumenthal to co-found Warby Parker, the e-commerce eyeglasses retailer now valued at $1.2 billion.

Blumenthal, who today is the company’s CEO, visited SIPA on January 28 to explain “How We Turned $120,000 Into a Billion-Dollar Eyeglass Brand.” The lecture was sponsored by SIPA’s Management specialization; specialization director Sarah Holloway introduced Blumenthal, and Inés Dionis MPA ’19 mediated a Q&A session following his remarks.

After graduating from Tufts, where he studied conflict resolution, Blumenthal — a native of New York City — was connected to a doctor running a program that trained low-income women to give vision screenings and sell eyeglasses.

The next thing he knew, Blumenthal said, he was working with a foundation doing the same work in El Salvador, where he first learned that fashion matters.

“No matter where you live, you care about your appearance,” he said.

The idea to turn this nonprofit idea into a private company came while Blumenthal was enrolled in an MBA program at Penn’s Wharton School. His friend (and eventual co-founder) Dave Gilboa was complaining about losing a $700 pair of glasses on a plane. As a banker, before he attended business school, Gilboa could easily afford a new pair; as an ex-banker and current student, his circumstances were a little different.

As Blumenthal recounted, e-commerce was just beginning to take off at that time, but no one had tried selling glasses online yet. And so the idea cutting out the middleman — the distributor — in order to sell less expensive glasses was born.

The idea was tested for a year at Wharton, where the founders flooded their fellow students with focus groups.

“The ecosystem [at graduate school] is great for building a business,” said Blumenthal. “Entrepreneurship is about testing in a proactive way.”

Testing and experimentation became a core value of the company that would become Warby Parker, Blumenthal said.

In their first rounds of testing, the founders developed what became the central tenets of Warby Parker’s business model. They quickly discovered that prospective customers wanted to interact with the product before buying. This led to the practice for which Warby Parker became known — giving customers the chance to try on five pairs of glasses at home.

A mentor at Wharton suggested that customers would perceive their planned price of $45 as low-quality and cheap. After determining that people were equally willing to spend $100 for a pair of glasses, the team ultimately landed on $95.

But the founders also never forgot their nonprofit roots. From the beginning, for every pair of glasses Warby Parker sold, the company donated to those in need.

Almost immediately, Warby Parker’s social mission got attention. GQ and Vogue magazines came knocking, each seeking to do a piece on the internet e-tailer with a cause.

Blumenthal, Gilboa, and two other co-founders launched Warby Parker in 2010 amid a flurry of great press. Within 48 hours, they had run out of inventory of the try-on sets. They hit their first-year sales goal easily.

From there, Warby Parker only grew. The company expanded quickly to brick-and-mortar stores, opening up their first showroom in Blumenthal’s Philadelphia apartment, using his wife’s mirror. After discovering a shortage of optometrists, Warby Parker started offering screening done entirely on personal screens, phones, and computers.

By 2018, Warby Parker was valued at $1.2 billion.

To Blumenthal, the company’s social mission and profit goals have always been intrinsically linked. It was obvious, however, that to successfully scale both, they couldn’t do everything.

Instead of managing the a nonprofit and private company at the same time, Warby Parker started partnering with outside nonprofits, like VisionSpring, to provide funding. This took the fundraising burden off of the nonprofit partners and allows them to devote more time to the cause. At home in New York, where the company is headquartered, they have partnered with the office of the mayor to provide screenings and glasses to all New York City kindergarteners.

Blumenthal’s message to entrepreneurial SIPA students is to know their brand and customer base — to “test, test, test” and be driven by a clear purpose and mission.

“We believed in the power of brands to influence culture and society. Brands can stand for something much more than the individual product.”

— Claire Teitelman MPA ’19

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.

"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