Archive for Student Life

Welcome to our Fall 2017 Program Assistants

I’m excited to welcome our new program assistants to the admissions’ team! I’ll be sharing their stories in the coming days, so keep an eye out. In the meantime, they’ll be here in the office to help answer any questions you may have about SIPA in general – our programs, student life, extracurricular activities, etc. They’ve all been where you are now and are the best resources for learning more about our SIPA family.

Nick Calbos was born and raised abroad as the son of a US Army Officer and Diplomat. He earned his undergraduate degree at the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 2009. After commissioning as an Infantry Officer in the United States Army, Nick was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. He had the honor to lead Soldiers in a variety of dynamic and challenging assignments forward deployed on the Korean Peninsula. Following Korea, Nick was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. From 2012-2013 he was deployed to Afghanistan as a combat advisor to an Afghan National Army infantry battalion in Kandahar province, leading to his involvement in the founding leadership team of AFG2USA, a nonprofit with a mission to assist in the resettlement of former interpreters seeking political asylum in the United States. Following his service in the military, Nick participated in a specialized internship at Goldman Sachs, working primarily in sales and trading. In the summer of 2017 he interned at Moody’s Investors Service, working on the Public Finance team. Nick is currently pursuing his Masters of International Affairs at Columbia University, concentrating on Economic Policy.  In his free time he enjoys traveling, hiking, skiing and shooting.

Mark Jamias is a second-year student concentrating in Economic and Political Development (EPD) with a specialization in International Conflict Resolution (ICR). As a five-year student between Columbia College and SIPA, Mark will be graduating in May 2018. Before SIPA, Mark worked at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations during the annual sessions of the UN General Assembly. For three years, Mark also worked for a major U.S. airline, and most recently gained experience in the maritime shipping industry.

Erin Lue-Hing is a 2nd-year MPA student in the USP concentration/Management & US Regional specializations. Prior to SIPA, Erin worked as a Data Analyst and Project Manager for the New Jersey Homeless Management Information System under the Department of Community Affairs. She graduated from Brandeis University with a Bachelor of Arts in Health Policy and a minor in Legal Studies, and served as the Future Leader for the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board, Northeast USA. Her background comprises law, health policy, social policy, advocacy for under-served communities and government administration.

Rahel Tekola is a native of Dallas, Texas and advocate of racial and gender equality. She has spent the past seven years working across government, non-profit and community organizing to advance marginalized communities. Before going to graduate school, Rahel spent three years in Dallas working at the intersection of domestic violence and poverty. In her role as Chief of Staff to the CEO and advocate for women and children who have been victims of violence, she worked to make sure clients received full services, counseling and education to a stable life free of violence. In this time, Rahel worked on the organization’s largest capital campaign project and also helped launch Texas’ first men’s domestic violence shelter. She also served on the Mayor’s Star Council to revitalize Southern Dallas and the City of Dallas Domestic Violence Task Force. In June 2017, Rahel joined the Reisenbach Foundation and is now currently working as the foundation’s grant Program Officer. Rahel is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Administration at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs with a concentration in Urban Development and Policy. In her free time she enjoys cooking and rollerblading.

Common SIPA stresses and their cures

From 2016:

When we talk about graduate school, especially at elite institutions, we inevitably talk about stress. But Seeples are unique, and so are their sources of stress. Read-on for some of the most common ones, and their cures:

  1. Not having enough money: Refer to my “Managing A Student Budget” post back in February 2016. You may feel poor now, but you won’t for long, and there are ways to deal with the costs of a SIPA education and life in New York. Take advantage of cost-managing resources (campus and off-campus), try finding additional sources of income, and manage your expectations.
  2. Being homesick: See my post on conquering homesickness. From immersing yourself in work, to making new friends and exploring New York, to connecting with your roots and taking trips home when you can, there are countless ways to mitigate the painful effects of being away from home.
  3. Feeling overwhelmed: Take it easy, or rather, take it one activity/task/day at a time. SIPA can be a lot to swallow, between the academic, the professional and the social, but you wouldn’t have gotten in if we hadn’t believed you could do it, and thrive! There are campus resources available for help, from academic support in OSA, to counseling at Columbia Health. Reach out if you feel like you’re drowning, there’s always a solution!
  4. Having your order messed up at (insert café): Be it Alice’s, Artopolis, Nous, etc., we have all had our share of “I asked for a pistachio muffin and a hot latte, not a cold pistachio latte and a coffee-flavored muffin!” moments. It can be particularly stressful when you’re rushing to class, or have a long line of people behind you. Be nice (try! I don’t always succeed, especially in the face of repeated “offenses”), explain your order again, and be patient while the staff gets it together. Or, if you’re truly at wits’ end (like me), ask for your money back and leave empty-handed. Sometimes it’s a relief to just step away.
  5. Administration Woes: Sometimes it’s the student worker in OSA who doesn’t know the answer to your question, or a mistype in an official document you had requested. Mistakes happen, it’s life, and nobody (not even Ivy League schools) is perfect! So take a deep breath, and go through the same steps as for # 4 above. Since leaving empty-handed is less realistic than for # 4, try your best to work with the administration to resolve your issue. Help them help you! Not only will they be grateful for your professionalism, patience and resourcefulness, you will also likely get the problem solved faster!
  6. Professor Woes: The professor didn’t clarify an assignment, or didn’t provide resources to find course readings, or instituted a policy you disagree with/which has the potential to harm your academic performance (such as the dreaded “no laptops” policy). Dialogue is your best friend! Talk to the professor, in person, if possible. Explain your needs, and your position (sometimes professors can be unaware of these), and ask if they can either 1. Change the policy or 2. Make an exception. For e.g., someone in my classes had a documented disability, but, due to miscommunication from the appropriate office, the professor never found out about it, and banned laptop use in class. After the student explained that he was unable to take notes by hand, the professor made an exception in their case. Likewise, when I told one of my professors a book on the syllabus was not available in the library (and was quite expensive to buy), she lent me her copy, and later put it on Reserves in the library for the course. Speaking out can sometimes help your peers, and generations of students who come after you.
  7. Having to buy things you can get for free: This applies to many items, from your graduation caps and gowns (my undergraduate loaned them to us for free, for the graduation ceremony, and at SIPA, I am borrowing them from a SIPA alumna who bought them), to books (professors may recommend that you buy them, but you are in no way obligated to! You can also borrow them, read them at the library, or find them online, if they are available), to materials (such as the guide for Professional Development course – it is really just an introductory guide on how to write resumes, cover letters and the likes, and you can either find that information online, or borrow the guide from a second-year SIPA student. You are required to bring it to one session of the class, but it is barely used).
  8. Housing Woes: You have rats. You roommate plays the saxophone at 3 AM. There is no hot water. The elevator is broken. Talk to Columbia Housing, and seek other resources within Columbia and SIPA. Even if resources are not immediately available, people may have information that can help you. Another SIPA friend of mine had to move out from her apartment in a matter of weeks because her landlady was apparently renting out the apartment illegally. She was casually talking to one of the Deans about it, and they happened to know someone who was looking to sublet their apartment for the year, so she moved into a new building that same week. SIPA/Columbia are a vast network, and this network can offer a multitude of solutions if you reach out.
  9. Stressing about unnecessary things: If # 4 is a genuine source of stress, and you nodded in agreement, instead of just rolling your eyes and scrolling down, then, in Ron Weasley’s words, you need to reassess your priorities! :))
[Image by Kaitlyn Wells | Yes, that’s a SIPA stress ball!]

Meryl Streep was on campus last week and I totally missed it

Last week I was walking like a lighting bug across campus in between meetings. I silently cursed my luck as a traffic jam of pedestrians appeared up ahead along College Walk (the main drag off 116th Street). But the really the large group of students stopping to take selfies and apply Snapchat filters weren’t the normal parade of sight seekers. In fact, there was a special event on campus that day.

“Filming in Progress” signs were posted at each entry point and large sections of walkways were chained off. In the far distance at the top of Low Library steps I squinted and saw a film crew doing something flim-y. I nodded, felt slightly interested but not enough to stick around, and went on my way. It wasn’t until I got home that night I decided to use my detective skills to figure out what project was being shot. It turns out The Papers, a film directed by Steven Spielberg and staring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep was on the docket. It’s a retelling of the real-life drama faced by The Washington Post when it was challenging the federal government for the right to publish classified information from 1971. You and I know this as “the Pentagon Papers.”

Don’t believe me at least one of America’s biggest stars was on campus? Our sister school Teachers College tweeted out the evidence:

Forget about New York City — Columbia University is the place to be for some real star sightings. Throughout the summer the block bordering the Admissions Office is always filming scenes for locally-based television series and major-motion pictures featuring faux faculty — they like to use our classrooms and campus grounds as backdrops for their character’s lesson plans. For an exhaustive list, here’s a Wikipedia page on CU in popular culture. Outside of television and film, President Barack Obama gave the commencement address at Barnard College in 2012, former first lady Michelle and daughter Malia were spotted visiting the campus back in 2015, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the keynote address at SIPA’s annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum. And let’s not forget Affan Javed’s, MPA ’16, groupie moment when he met various policy superstars while studying at SIPA.

If I were you, the next time you’re in town make sure you pack an extra celebrity sighting signature booklet just for your visits to Columbia’s campus. 🙂

Sites to see across Morningside Heights

Visiting Upper Manhattan and unsure where to go? There are plenty of stops within walking distance — by NYC standards — to explore nearby Columbia University. Here are a few of my favorites.

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine (West 112th & Amsterdam)
Across the street from SIPA Admissions and Financial Aid you will find the largest cathedral in the world. In fact, you really can’t miss it. The building, which began construction in 1892 and remains partly unfinished, runs the entire a full avenue block to Morningside Drive. In addition to more than 30 worship services a week and a soup kitchen that feeds 25,000 annually, this spiritual space offers serene gardens where you can breathe in a bit of nature. If you are lucky, you can get a peak of the live peacocks Jim, Harry, and Phil who even has his own Twitter account. They’ve taken up residence on grounds since the 1980s. The church also has regular music, art, guided tour, and educational workshop events throughout the year. If you are around during the summer, be sure to check out free performances in the cathedral by the New York Philharmonic. If you want to really make it an extra spiritual day, you can also check out the historic Riverside Church close by on 120th and Riverside Drive.

The Cathedral. Photo by Amir Safa.


Resident peacock at the Cathedral. Photo by Roxanne Moin-Safa.


Riverside Park & Morningside Park
Take a stroll either west or east of the SIPA campus and you will escape into the splendor of Riverside Park or Morningside Park. Riverside Park, which runs across 330 acres from 59th to 155th, offers picturesque views of the Hudson River where you can also catch a glimpse of the sunset under the natural canopy. In the spring season, you will be surprised to find some of the best cherry blossoms in the city along Cherry Walk which runs alongside the water from 100th to 125th. Some of these trees date back to 1909 when the Committee of Japanese Residents of New York presented as a gift to the City. Consider renting a bike from one of the recently opened Citibike stations, including the one at 104th and Riverside Drive, and whiz whimsically along the expansive bike path.

Morningside Park occupies a modest but enchanting 30-acre area running from 110th to 123rd from Morningside Avenue to Morningside Drive. This recently renovated park combines the natural 300 million-year-old rock geology of Manhattan, grassy open athletic fields, a dog park, and a man-made lake with cascading waterfalls where geese and turtles roam. You will often see families playing sports or feasting on barbecues. On Saturdays, you can shop some local pastries and fresh produce at the Down to Earth Farmer’s Market located at the corner of 110th and Manhattan Avenue. On a snowy day, bring your sled and then sing into spring through the fields of March Daffodils.

Serene springtime view of Morningside Park. Photo by Amir Safa.


Sledders enjoying the winter hills of Morningside Park. Photo by Amir Safa.


Historic Harlem Walking Tour
Take a walking tour in Harlem and dive into the many layers forming some of the greatest chapters of American history. From the beginning of Harlem as a Dutch community in the 17th century to its transition under the Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th century that brought to life African-American artists, musicians, and literary talents including Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Langston Hughes as well as the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights group. We highly recommend Big Onion Walking Tours. Tours usually cost $15 for students and are often led by PhD students from around the City who paint you a picture of the past with a chock-full of trivia.

Wall art in Harlem. Photo by Roxanne Moin-Safa.


General Grant National Memorial (West 122nd & Riverside Drive)
Visit the final resting place of the 18th President of the United States of America and General of the Union Army Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia Dent Grant. Often known as “Grant’s Tomb,” the building stands tall with 150 foot soaring domed ceilings and 8,000 tons of grand marble and granite. The memorial honors his military service. If you are in town during the summer months, be sure to check the memorial calendar for concert events.

Paying respect at the General Grant National Memorial. Photo by Amir Safa.


Columbia’s New Manhattanville Campus (125th-133rd & Broadway)
Did you know that Columbia is expanding its reach onto a brand new, modern and sustainably designed campus? Some of the buildings are already open at the university’s Manhattanville Campus, including the Wallach Art Gallery free and open to the public located at the Lenfest Center for the Arts as well as retail space in the Jerome L. Greene Science Center with a rock-climbing wall. The campus will continue to open in stages, with plans to house the Columbia Business School by 2021. Stop by and see the future of Columbia.

Courtyard of the Manhattanville Campus. Photo by Amir Safa.


Inside the Wallach Art Gallery at the Lenfest Center for the Arts. Photo by Roxanne Moin-Safa.


Working Seeples: Yasmina Dardari MIA ’17

In addition to taking 14 to 16 credits a semester and participating in student groups, some SIPA students also work part-time jobs or internships. Earlier this semester, SIPA News spoke with Yasmina Dardari MIA ’17 to discuss how she manages the demands of school, her social life, and her internship at Unbendable Media.

What did you do before coming to SIPA?

I worked in D.C. for a few years at public-interest communications firm that did work for nonprofits and governments. I decided to attend SIPA to dig deeper into my own interests in media and human rights and also explore some of the the policy issues my clients were working on.

I’m really into media, politics, public relations, strategic campaigning, and human rights. My specialization in Technology, Media, and Communications and my concentration in Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy allows me to combine all of these interests.

What do you do at Unbendable Media?

Unbendable Media is a team of communications practitioners that do campaign strategy and public relations work for organizations that aim to build a better, more progressive world. A former colleague started the company and and reached out to me to join his team. I do much of the same work I did with the firm in D.C.—providing campaign strategy and public relations works for organizations working for the public interest.

Having this particular part-time job has really informed my SIPA education. My clients work on the same policy problems that we work on at SIPA, so my work informs school and school informs my work. It’s like a two-way symbiotic relationship that makes me a better employee and student.

Why Unbendable Media?

I wanted to keep myself sharp in the field that I care about, so I started interning at the organization last summer. They liked my work and asked me to stay on as a part-time worker. I enjoy the work, so it was a no-brainer to accept the offer. It will allow me to work in media and politics, which is where my heart is.

How do you balance your school and work commitments?

It’s not easy. It’s give and take. Ideally I wouldn’t have to work while attending school, but financially I can’t afford not to.

I didn’t work my first semester, which allowed me to throw myself into my studies. I was able to go to lectures and fully dedicate myself to schoolwork. It became difficult after that because I was the co-president for the Middle East Dialogue Group and had an assistantship in addition to my part-time work at Unbendable Media. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on the full SIPA experience.

My schedule is exhausting but it’s taught me the value of self-care. I know now how important it is to keep my stamina up, so I’m smarter about taking breaks and making efforts to spend time on my hobbies and see friends. Also, my time management skills have improved so much because of this experience. I make sure I’m on track and hit my benchmarks. My life would be a lot less stressful [if I didn’t work outside SIPA], but you can make it work if you have structure.

This interview, conducted by Serina Bellamy MIA ’17, has been condensed and edited.

"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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