Archive for Student Life

Apps on Apps on Apps on Apps

(*Disclaimer: The applications identified in this article are based personal recommendations, and SIPA is not receiving any form of compensation for mentioning them in this blog post.)

Alright incoming Seeples, because it’s 2019 and we use our mobiles for nearly everything I’ve compiled a list of useful Apps to download prior to your imminent arrival in NYC. Of course, none of them are a must-haves, however, many SIPA students find them useful especially if you’ve never lived in this city before (i.e.: students like me). I’ve got recs. on everything from rideshare Apps to money saving Apps. Hopefully, by the end of this article I’ll have you feeling App-solutely prepared to conquer this city!

Your Compass to Campus

Look, New York is a big place, and can be difficult to navigate if you are not familiar with your cardinal directions. Just in case you do not have this skill set, are unfamiliar with how a grid system works, or are just want to figure out how to get to that bespoke coffee shop in Brooklyn here are some Apps to help you get there:

Google Maps: This App will map out step-by-step instructions for your preferred route no matter where you are trying to go and in real-time. It will allow you to map it by car, transit, or walking. It also allows users to route maps offline and discover new places across the city. Personally, this is my go-to App for getting around NYC.

Apple Maps: If you’re an iPhone user, this App should already be somewhere on your Apple device. It does pretty much the same exact thing as Google Maps, but because of #BrandLoyalty, some prefer the trusty insights of this Apple-led navigation.

MTA: Many Trains Absent, but Here’s how to Know Your Train is Approaching

As you will come to learn, taking the MTA is by far the quickest and cheapest way to get anywhere in this city. However, it is also a somewhat unpredictable and illogical mode of transportation.

My MTA: This is a New York must have. It will allow you to plan your trips, provided you with updates on planned and unplanned services changes, as well as real ETA’s for you trains.

Transit: Very similar to the My MTA App, it allows you to plan your trip and provides you with real-time updates of your transit options. The App also allows users to compare their transit options in the App, and includes options for Bikeshare, Rideshare and walking routes.

Sharing that Ride is Caring AND Good for the Environment

Sometimes you find yourself out at 3 AM in the Lower East Side (LES) and the thought of taking public transportation is too much to bear.  This is where riding home to the Upper West Side (UWS) in the comfort of a strangers car is by far the most tantalizing option. Of course, you can take the classic NYC yellow taxi cabs, or you can use any of the below ridesharing options.

Uber: One of the most popular ridesharing options, Uber will get you a ride anywhere in the city. It provides users with price estimates before selecting rides so you can be assured you’re getting the best price for you. Uber offer wheelchair accessible rides, black SUV options for big groups, and UberPool where users who are going in the same direction can carpool for a discounted rate. The only downside to this App is that on holidays or days when big events are happening there can be surge pricing and long wait times.

Lyft: Is also one of the most popular ridesharing options in NYC.  Lyft offers pretty much the exact same services as Uber, such as a pool option, private car and SUV rides for larger groups. However, there are some differences, so here’s a New York Times article that weighs in on the millennial age-old debate: Uber v. Lyft.

Via: While it isn’t the most used ridesharing platform, do not discount it here in NYC. Via is all about the carpool. It allows passengers headed in the same direction to share their rides. For SIPA student’s conscious of their carbon footprint, carpooling with VIA is a great way to be a friend to our environment. Via also allows users to use commuter benefits to pay for rides on their platform, a feature neither Uber nor Lyft have.

Foodies Unite

I think most of us can agree food is life, and with over 24,000 restaurants in Manhattan alone, the options to dine out in NYC are endless. These Apps are perfectly curated to placate the palate, especially if you need to refuel during a late night study session or need to order a bagel and coffee ASAP after a night out. Don’t worry, you won’t get quizzed on this Cuisine, but you will have to decide on where to eat.

Seamless: This App has all the noms, and is extremely useful in Manhattan. It allows its users to order their food from over thousands of restaurants across Manhattan and will bring it right to your door. This App is excellent and the perfect option for a late night snack, or those who refuse to cook because grad school is hard enough.

GrubHub: Classic move here, and when Seamless doesn’t have your local artisanal handmade pasta available, you should really check out GrubHub. The platform is similar to Seamless and brings your food cravings to life. I highly recommend for any student who just can’t bring themselves to leave the couch after getting through a 20 page essay.

SIPA: Where the World Connects (Through Social Media)

For some of us luddites social media may seem like the bane of our existence, however, I assure you it is alive and well at SIPA.

WhatsApp: All I have to say is, in WhatsApp we Seeples, stan. If you don’t have this end-to-end encryption messaging App you need to get it. SIPA students use this platform to connect more than any other. The App lets you message 1 person, or start a group chat to firm up plans, and is considered the preferred method of communication for your average Seeple.

Facebook: This social media platform is where Seeples create events. Personally, I keep a light social media presence, but almost everyone creates events throughout their time at SIPA on this platform.  If you have FOMO, you need this App just to keep your social calendar in check.

Eventbrite: this App is utilized at almost every single SIPA function including the famous LASA parties (don’t worry you will soon know what these are).  I recommend getting it to make sure you have your tickets at the ready. It’s also a cool App because it will inform you of other events happening around NYC—a great way to explore the city.

Explorest: For all my Seeples out there doing it for the #gram. This App gives users the information they need to take the best photos in their city. The spots are listed by local photographers, and come with tips such as the best time to go and what to wear.  It’s great if you’re trying to live your best New York Life and want to show the Fam. back home.

Spotify: A classic music platform to perfectly curate that intense study playlist. While Spotify is free to download, Spotify Premium is just $5 a month for students and includes: no ads, offline playing, and a free subscription to Hulu and Showtime (who needs cable at this rate).

The Grad School Hustle is Real

Digit: This App allows users to unknowingly save money as they spend. It tracks your spending habits, helps you budget your spending, and saves a bit of your money without you knowing its being withheld. It truly is an App curbs your spending, and saves you money!

Acorns: With Acorns, users are able to use their spare change to micro-invest. This App allows users to track their spending, but also grow their funds by crafting a set of personalized strategies that allow them to invest at their discretion.

Honey: This App is one of my favorites, and also comes in Google Chrome Plugin form.  Its purpose is to find its users the best deals, coupon codes, and promo codes for whatever website they are looking to make a purchase on. Everyone loves a good discount, and Honey is your best virtual shopping friend. Trust me, your bank account will thank me.

“Because it’s Never too Early to Start that Job Hunt”- Every OCS Advisor

I know you’re just about to start SIPA, but to be honest it is never too early to start looking to your future. Trust me when I say your OCS advisors and your professors will all say this. So, if you’re interested in job hunting here are a few Apps to help.

LinkedIn: This is a must at SIPA, and your Professional Development professors will implore you to create a profile. It’s a great way to connect with SIPA alumni, and those whose industries you are looking to enter. Do yourself a favor and create a job profile—it’s a great networking tool.

ZipRecruiter: Another job App that gives you access to hundreds of job postings instantly.  It is rated the # job search App for Android and iOS, and will alert you when a job posting in your desired industry is released.

Well, thanks for bearing with me, and I hope you found a few of these Apps useful. I know there are plenty more out there that would be useful, but these are the most used at SIPA and the ones I think new students would find useful. Hope you enjoyed it, and are furiously checking the App store to learn more!

Finding Community at SIPA

Thanks to a former Admissions program assistant and SIPA ’18 graduate for this post!

One of the reasons why I chose to attend SIPA was because I wanted to engage with and learn from the large and diverse student body. That being said, I was also concerned about getting lost in a larger program – my fears were quickly assuaged given that SIPA provides numerous opportunities to build community from Day 1.  Activities ranging from orientation week to organization fairs are abundant. Below is a list of some places that I found strong community.

Orientation Cohorts

Orientation week was a great way to meet fellow students was through my cohort (Seeples Group D!). Spending a week with a group of students, learning about SIPA, Columbia, and New York was both fun and allowed me to build a strong sense of community within my first several weeks on campus. My cohort still has reunions and some of my best friends at school were in that group!

Student Organizations

I was involved in a variety of student organizations at SIPA, which really added to my experience. It took me a semester to decide which ones I ultimately wanted to join. These groups range from SIPA Vets to Women in Leadership and are a fantastic way to not only learn about a wide array of topics but also provide extensive leadership opportunities. I also became involved in groups at both the Law and Business schools to gain a different perspective.

Regional Institutes

Columbia’s regional institutes are a tremendous asset to SIPA’s program. Ranging from the Weatherhead to the Harriman Institutes, these institutes are a fantastic place to find community both with fellow Seeples in addition to students from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The institutes provide a wide array of cultural activities throughout the year, book talks, discussion groups, and many other events and resources. They were a major part of my life and community throughout the past several years!

International Trips

I participated in multiple student-led international trips during my time at SIPA. They were the highlight of my time here, and there is nothing that builds community like wandering around ancient ruins or being stuck on a train for 15 hours straight with a group of fellow Seeples. The trips allow you to experience the best of what SIPA has to offer – learning about international relations, policies, and cultures. Try to take advantage of these experiences – you will come away with lifelong friends!

Columbia Community Service

There are a myriad of community service opportunities sponsored by the University. They are a fantastic way to serve with fellow students and faculty as well as get to know residents on the Upper West Side.

Opportunities for SIPA students’ writing to be published!

Besides the student trips, speaker panels, and networking events, there are also many opportunities for SIPA students to publish their work. Here is a list of a few student-led initiatives:

Picture taken by Shalaka Joshi at the launch of the most recent journal “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.” 

  1. Journal of International Affairs

Founded in 1947, the Journal of International Affairs is a leading peer-reviewed journal published by SIPA. It is the premier university-affiliated periodical in the field and has earned worldwide recognition for framing the heated debates that define global events and foreign policy. While submissions are written by academics and practitioners in international relations, political science, history and related fields, there is a student essay competition that SIPA students can enter. For more information about the Journal of International Affairs, view their website at jia.sipa.columbia.edu.

  1. Columbia Public Policy Review

Founded in 2015, the Columbia Public Policy Review (CPPR) is a student-run, free-of-charge, and independent forum that connects students and experts to the public policy debate in the United States and the world via online, events, and an annual print journal. You can visit the CPPR’s website at columbiapublicpolicyreview.org.

  1. APAC Journal

The APAC Journal is a periodical published by Columbia University’s Asia Pacific Affairs Council at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute. Released annually by Columbia students, the APAC Journal is dedicated to fostering an understanding of vital issues through the exchange of professional and personal experiences spanning the Asia Pacific region. You can find copies of the APAC journal here.

  1. The Morningside Post

The Morningside Post (TMP) isn’t a journal, but SIPA’s online news outlet. TMP is the SIPA platform for students to share their voice, experiences, news, and opinions. Articles by students on course reviews, background stories, SIPA-related news, and topical debates are published. Some of my favorite TMP articles are the ones about the best pizza around NYC. For more information visit their website at morningsidepost.com.

Check out the websites above and perhaps when you’re at SIPA, you’ll see your name in an article byline!

MIT D-Lab: Summer Fellows will support D-Lab’s efforts to measure the impact of its work around the world.

From MIT D-Lab: Three summer monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) fellows from SIPA – Fatema Alhashemi MPA-DP ’20, Iris Lau Castro MPA-DP ‘20, and Taylor Light MPA-DP ’20 – will support MIT D-Lab’s efforts to measure the impact of its work around the world.

In addition to conducting evaluations of D-Lab’s programs, the MEL Fellows will also work with D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellows and D-Lab Innovation Ecosystem Builder Fellows to help these partners to improve their own impact measurement systems. Fatema, Iris, and Taylor are students in the MPA in Development Practice program at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs.

Fatema Alhashemi – Laâyoune Learning Center (Laâyoune) and Kyusa (Kampala, Uganda) — Fatema will travel to Laâyoune to assess the long-term effects of 2018 PIA Co-Design Summit on the participants, their institutions, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. She will also evaluate the Laâyoune Learning Center’s three-month entrepreneurship training pilot, capturing data on participants’ learning and feedback on the new curriculum. Finally, she travel to Kampala, Uganda to work with D-Lab Innovation Ecosystem Builder Fellow organization Kyusa Uganda to strengthen their team’s capacity in data analysis and data visualization.

Iris Lau Castro – EcoAct (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) — Iris will travel to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to work with D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellow venture EcoAct-Tanzania to help them measure the venture’s impact. In particular, she will help them develop an approach to measure the impact of their waste collection system as well as the medical insurance they provide to waste pickers. Iris will also lead this year’s annual survey of D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellows, tracking the long-term trajectory of alumni and their ventures.

Taylor Light – Ongoza (Nairobi, Kenya) — Taylor will travel to Nairobi, Kenya to work with D-Lab Innovation Ecosystem Builder Fellow organization Ongoza to refine their theory of change, design data collection instruments, and help them use their data to drive strategy discussions. Taylor will also lead the development of a theory of change and survey instruments for D-Lab’s innovation ecosystem convenings, mapping out an M&E framework for D-Lab’s newest strategy to catalyze entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Being a First-Generation Latina at Columbia SIPA

Thanks to Karla Henriquez MPA ’19 for this post, in response to a topic submitted by Adam B. Submit your idea for a blog post here.


“I got into Columbia!” I told my mom. She did not quite know what that meant. “Obama graduated from there.”

“Ah que bueno,” she said to me.

But she still did not understand what it meant for a first-generation Latina to be accepted into an Ivy League. And to be honest, neither did I.

I would break down the process of going to grad school into four steps: Goal setting, before applying, the application process, and your time in grad school.  Each have their own different sets of challenges. Let me break down what it meant to apply for grad school as a first-gen:

1) Goal setting: 

Write your goals down and they will manifest. It is a simple step, but one that helped me know what I needed to do to get where I wanted to. My goals were:

  1. Prepare for the GRE
  2. Take the GRE
  3. Apply for Grad School
  4. Move out of California

Those were the goals that got me to where I am today. I wrote them down and worked towards them.

2) Before Applying

While I would like to forget about the GRE, it is an important step in the process. Don’t let that stop you from trying.

One of my friends who was going through her first year of law school told me, “The GRE is just a number. Don’t let that define you, you have so much more to offer than just a number.” I took that to heart and prepared as best as I could for the GRE, but also did not limit my options because of a score.

There are affordable options to prepare for it. One thing that I would recommend is to identify what works for you. If you’re great at working on your own, Magoosh is a great option, it’s affordable and they provide you with a whole schedule you can follow. If you need more structure, a class might be best (that’s what I did, it took me some time to save but it helped me set time aside to dedicate to studying).

To figure out the program that fits more with your goals, I would recommend attending the Idealist graduate fairs . Not only are schools there to answer all your questions, but you can also get a feel of the different programs offered at the schools. Another great thing about fairs and attending a school’s open house is that some schools waive application fees. That can be extremely helpful when application fees can be from $50-100 each.

3) The Application Process

I relied on a lot of my friends for help. While no one in my family had attempted this, I did have mentors from undergrad and friends who had applied to graduate school. I asked them for help reviewing my essays, my applications, for help with recommendation letters, encouragement, etc.

I applied to five schools, each with a very different application process, and I tried to start early and knock them out one at a time. I know that sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, but this is the time that we cannot be shy. Find those around you that are willing and comfortable doing this, you will see that there will be those willing to edit your whole essay and help present your best self. Talk to those that know you, to help you identify those parts of your story and professional experience that you should definitely highlight.

Guess what? I got in… to all of my schools!

It was an exciting time, but then came the time to decide. I relied on friends and family to make this decision again. One big part of this process was also money. I had saved some money from working, but I also asked my family and friends for support. My aunts and cousins helped me plan a fundraiser to get enough to cover my moving expenses and the deposit to come to school. Family and friends came over my Tia’s house one day and bought “Panes Rellenos,” a Salvadoran favorite, to help me raise money for the move. We raised around $2,000 that day and created a GoFundMe to raise more.

4) Grad School

I decided on Columbia SIPA because I felt that it would provide me with the opportunities that I did not have prior to this. While I got a chance to visit during Admitted Students’ Day, I didn’t quite know what to expect when I got here. In my mind, it would be a mix between Gossip Girl and Legally Blonde, where everyone was going to be preppy and question how a girl from a state school made it to Columbia.

I was soooo wrong. While, yes there is some of that, I was also able to find a community of people who I relied on for support and encouragement. Through SIPA Students of Color, I found classmates like me who were also first-generation, who also identified with my immigrant background, and who I did not have to explain myself to. We continued building this community by gathering over the weekends for our Women of Color brunches — a community that continued growing as the year went on.

While sometimes you will find yourself in spaces where people ask a thousand questions about what you did before school (which to be honest gets exhausting really fast), finding a community of women where it was not only about our professional goals but of who we are as people was so refreshing.

Through Columbia’s University Life – First Generation Graduate Student initiative, I was able to attend a panel of first-gen faculty where I not only felt seen, and cried as I never had, but it also felt like validation of what I was feeling. From imposter syndrome to not only doing this for yourself but also bringing your whole family with you, to sometimes not having enough money to pay rent or food — These were all things I had faced.

Going to Columbia was a whole experience, and I am not going to tell you it will be easy. As a first-generation student sometimes it’s hard to ask for help because many times you are the one person your family relies on. When things got really hard I wanted to find a way to solve things on my own, until my mom found out and asked me why I did not ask her for help. She then got my aunts together, everyone pitched in $100 or so and they helped me make sure that I had enough to cover rent.

I always thought, “She has a lot going on, I don’t want to be a burden,” but sometimes you need to let go of those thoughts and ask for help. My biggest recommendation would be to seek and ask for help. It’s okay not to have the answers to everything especially when you are used to having them in the past.

I took advantage of tutoring and the many office hours offered for Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Quantitative Analysis. When I did not do that great in my first exam, I spent more hours at the library.

When anxiety and sleepless nights kicked in, I took advantage of the counseling services, with many counselors being available for first-generation students. Other resources I should have taken advantage of were

  • The Food Pantry at Columbia with a mission to reduce food insecurity among students.
  • Emergency funding provided by SIPA’s Office of Student Affairs.

Last Thoughts

Never allow yourself to feel that your first-generation experience is a disadvantage. Many times in class, experiences that either my family or I have gone through were discussed. As policymakers, our unique perspectives bring a valuable point to the conversations. We have lived through things that many just read in case studies, and who is better than the people who have experienced them to solve the issues faced by our communities? I stopped seeing my experience, being a first-generation student, as a disadvantage and instead saw how my lived experience can create more inclusive policies for all.

My mom was excited to come to New York for the first time to celebrate my graduation this May. She said her coworkers all congratulated her because her daughter was graduating from Columbia. She made the trip here and I thanked her because it took her, my tias, and my friends to get me here. From pitching in $20 to help me move or pay rent, to proofreading my essays, to sending me texts of encouragement, I cannot emphasize enough that even though our families might not have a fancy Ivy League degree, they provide their support in other ways.

I hope that if you decide on Columbia, or whichever school you decide to attend, you are surrounded by a community of people who will cheer you and support you along the way.

"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