Archive for Student Life

Post-SIPA plans and wisdom from an (almost) alumna

I’ll be graduating this month, so I figured I should wrap up my time at SIPA with a blog post about my post-SIPA plans and some lessons I’ve learned from SIPA and NYC in general. After graduation, I’ll be joining the US Foreign Service as an entry level economic officer, representing the United States abroad. My time at SIPA has definitely been challenging, but I’ve been able to meet some of the most amazing things and have access to the most incredible experiences. I don’t miss it all quite yet, but I’m sure I will very soon. Here are the top five takeaways from my SIPA experience.

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
SIPA is hard and A LOT of work. If you’re a bit of a Type A person like I am (and you probably are if you follow the admissions blog), not getting my money’s worth out of SIPA was a serious point of anxiety. I wanted to make sure I did EVERY reading, took as many classes with as many different professors as I could, have an internship every semester, and be involved in as many student orgs as possible. After about a month of doing the absolute most (and essentially living in Lehman Library), I realized that I can’t maximize my experience if I’m missing the forest for the trees. It’s okay if you don’t do all the reading, or go to every event or happy hour. Sometimes it’s not physically possible to it all, and you’re better off picking what’s important to you and making the most of those experiences rather than trying to spread yourself so thin.

2. Challenge yourself to try new things
Many of us come into SIPA with a strong idea of our expertise and interests, which we, of course, planned to explore at SIPA. While it’s, of course, great to delve deeper into a strength, I would also recommend trying to work on your weaknesses as well as trying out some new things you’ve never considered. In my case, I came to school planning to study international conflict resolution and to become as close to an East Asia regional specialist as SIPA would allow, but while here I found myself gravitating toward the gender classes and focusing more on Southeast Asia—I region I knew very little about before coming here.  Taking those classes were definitely one of the best choices I made at SIPA because it allowed me to expand my horizons and my expertise.

3. Playing hard and having fun is just as important as good grades
This goes hand in hand with my first piece of advice. One of SIPA’s main selling points (for me at least) was its location in New York City and access to all the amazing things the city has to offer. Thus, if you’re constantly stressed about getting the “A+” in every class you’ll be missing out on not only great parts of your SIPA experience but the New York experience as well. Your SIPA classmates are some of the most accomplished and coolest people you’ll ever meet, so you should really take the time to get to know them outside of your macro problem-set group and Conceptual Foundations discussion section. Think of it this way, when you’ve finally graduated what will be more helpful in the long run: the A you got in quant, or the network you’ve made along the way? This is not to say that grades aren’t important (it goes without saying that they are) but again, don’t miss the big picture by focusing too hard on the details.

4. Use all the resources available to you, and ask for help when you need it
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, and you should never be embarrassed to do so. SIPA’s a tough school, and we each have different areas of expertise. Not everyone is an econ or quant whiz and not everyone can write ‘A’ quality 25-page papers in 24 hours. The key is to know your strengths AND your weaknesses, and how to supplement your weak points. If econ or quant isn’t your thing, make sure you go to your favorite TA’s office hours, tutoring sessions and recitation (you can also go directly to the professor). If your writing is a bit weak, make sure you check out the writing lab and get your papers proofread far in advance so you can make the necessary changes. Being too proud to ask for help hurts no one but yourself.

5. You’re not an imposter
You’ve earned the right to be here! Whether you’re straight from undergrad, a career changer, an older student or somewhere in between, your experiences are no better or worse than any other student’s. That’s what’s so great about SIPA— we get to hear from a broad range of experiences from different countries and sectors. There’s no “perfect” Seeple, because we’re ALL the perfect Seeple.

Join Seeple Groups for the camaraderie

The fall 2017 class has around 400 students (MPA/MIA) from around the world with different skills, ideas, and professional backgrounds. Do you appreciate the diversity of perspectives, but are concerned about becoming being just another a number? If that’s a “yes,” then that’s exactly why SIPA came up with Seeple Groups (SIPA + People = Seeple). As a Seeple Groups leader, I wanted to share with all of you the value of this initiative. Launched last year for the Class of 2018, the program is designed to do two things: provide incoming students with dedicated support and to foster interdisciplinary camaraderie that cuts across degree programs (MPA and MIA) and areas of study (concentrations and specializations).

Each Seeple Group consists of around 40 first-year MPA/MIA students, and they are led by select second-year students, known as SIPA Peer Advisors (SPA). Advising deans are also paired up with each group. SPAs, like me, provide wisdom from experience on university resources, course selection, and student life. In other words, we’ll tell you where the least-crowded libraries are; how to navigate the school bureaucracy; how tough a professor is; where to find free food; and where the best happy hours are at. (You know, the important stuff.) In all seriousness, if you’re running into issues as a student, the chances are high that someone else has been through it and resolved it. And if the SPA don’t have the answer, they’ll find someone that does.

For example, during orientation week, we had a first-year student from Asia who discovered that his initial housing plans fell through due to circumstances beyond his control. His family was also due to arrive two weeks later. I don’t think we would have learned how dire the situation was if we hadn’t approached him. Leveraging the network of the SPAs, we managed to find a unit that fit his needs. Result: crisis averted.

The groups as a whole build community within the unit through various events planned by SPAs and their group members. The events range from community service and house parties to ice skating in Midtown and secret Seeples gift exchanges. The ultimate goal of Seeple Groups is to provide a vector for students to build meaningful and life-long friendships. It’ll be one of the first networking platforms you’ll encounter at SIPA. You’ll likely form into problem set teams for Quant and Econ. And even if you feel like it’s not working out, there are countless other opportunities to build new relationships (concentration/specialization happy hours, student organizations events, and student-led cultural and policy excursions around the world to name a few).

I was in Seeples Group B aka “the Rumble Bees” (the groups are named after animals/insects). My favorite part about being a SPA is watching the bonds form within the group. I remember meeting the gang during orientation week and doing ice breakers to get everyone to loosen up. Now, I see them lounging together on campus and tagging each other on Facebook during late-night study sessions. When I was deciding between graduate schools, the strength of a school’s network was a key factor for me. SIPA created Seeple Groups to do exactly this.

[Photo courtesy of Gloria Oh (Seeple Group B Peer Advisor) | Andrew Liu (first row, left) attempting to buzz like a bee with Seeple Group B aka “the Rumble Bees”]

The best cafes on campus

If you are visiting SIPA next week for ASD and want to take a coffee break or grab a bite to eat, you have many choices. SIPA students Amir Safa, MIA, 2017, and Roxanne Moin-Safa, MIA, 2017, share their favorites.

Nous Espresso Bar at the Graduate Student Center, Philosophy Building

Hours:
M-Th 8:30 am – 8 pm
F 8:30 am – 6 pm
Sa 10 am – 5 pm
Su 12-5 pm

Nous Espresso Bar awaits you inside the Graduate Student Center of Philosophy Hall, just a few steps across the bridge from SIPA. The sophisticated grad student will appreciate the modern art, high ceilings, and quality coffee found within these walls. Don’t be shy; it’s common to share tables in this popular space. Nous proudly serves responsibly sourced Stumptown Coffee and as well as monthly features from Parlor and Coava. The brewed coffee connoisseur can choose between drip, pour over, or cold brew. Watch the sushi master make magic while you wait in line and ponder over what else you can order: a made-to-order Donburi (Japanese rice bowl), a soup, a salad, or pastries? And if you are wondering, “Nous” refers to Greek philosophical term for the intellect.

Recommended: Organic tea by Rishi especially Coconut Oolong for a light afternoon zing and a decadent brownie

UP Coffee Co. in Pulitzer Hall, School of Journalism

Hours:
M-F 7 am – 8 pm
Sa & Su 9 am – 6pm

If you are into local organic coffees, sustainable snacking, and watching the news, then make a pitstop at the newly opened UP Coffee nestled in the corner of the School of Journalism. The upscale and modern vibe here offers an assortment of sandwiches, made-to-order hot paninis, salads in Mason jars, baked goods, and snacks to go. In addition to espresso, you have your choice of drip, pour over, cold brew, and nitrogen infused cold brew. You will always get natural light from the glass roof, and if the weather is pleasant, you will get to chomp down al-fresco style when the glass patio doors open. If you need your daily fix of news, watch the overhead news ticker or the tv screens broadcasting CNN.

Recommended: Organic coffee roasted locally in Brooklyn; hot Reuben panini.


Publique, School of International and Public Affairs

Hours:
M-Th 8:30 am – 7 pm
F 8:30 am – 5 pm
Sa & Su – Closed

Get a real taste of SIPA life at the newly opened Publique cafe on the 6th floor.  This large lounge space offers students a place to unwind between classes. Publique offers a variety of salads, sandwiches, coffee, tea, baked goods, and snacks for the student on the go.  

Recommended: Sandwich to go

Brownie’s Cafe in Avery Hall, Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation

Hours:
M – Th 8 am – 6:30 pm
F 8 am – 5 pm

Is your coffee rendezvous a covert operation? We’ve got you covered. Step into Avery Hall next to the chapel, swing a left down the spiral staircase, through the architecture gallery room, and down another staircase into the tucked away secret of Brownie’s Cafe. This underground hideaway features modern, minimalist furniture with plenty of seating. Brownie’s Cafe features a wide selection of made-to-order and ready-made sandwiches, soups, Mediterranean side dishes, snack packs, baked goods, Toby’s Estate coffee, and Harney & Sons assorted teas.

Recommended: Grilled vegetable sandwich with Havarti cheese and Basil pesto on toasted focaccia bread.

 

Joe Coffee, NW Corner Science Building

Hours:
M – F 8 am – 8 pm
Sa & Su 9 am – 6 pm

Quite possibly the brightest cafe on campus, Joe Coffee is a coveted corner usually buzzing with professors, students, and locals. It’s located on the second floor of the NW Corner Science Building overlooking the gothic beauty of the Union Theological Seminary and the splendor of Teacher’s College. Enjoy the ambiance of ultra-modern, bright white furnishings and stunning marble flooring to boot. Light music spices things up here. Joe Coffee offers a variety of house-roasted coffees, espresso, and teas as well as lite fare including baked goods.

Recommended: Any of the house coffees, cappuccino.

[Photos by Amir Safa]

SIPA welcomes a domestic policy magazine about universal truths

Being a part of a school that is always buzzing with discussions of and debates over pressing policy issues, it is hard not to get excited when some of your peers work hard to add another channel to do so. The school and the student body provides numerous platforms for this but the newest addition to the list is the print version of Columbia Public Policy Review (CPPR). CPPR started as a student-lead blog that has been publishing thoughtful and timely policy pieces on pressing US domestic issues. It was founded at the beginning of Spring 2015 with Jen Kim, Caitlin LaCroix, William Colegrave, Thomas Gaffeney, John Olderman and Audrey Yu as the founding board. The inaugural print edition of the magazine was published in November 2016 and features nine articles by SIPA students and faculty.

cppr-presidentExperience Publishing Inaugural Issue

I had a chance to chat with former CPPR board President Erin Kathleen Dostal, who is a second-year Master of Public Administration candidate at SIPA, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy (USP).

I asked Erin how the initial experience of gathering articles was like since this was the first print edition of the magazine: “We started looking for authors in May 2016. When you start from the grassroots level, you tap the people you know personally.” Although this was the reason why most students involved with the magazine ended up being USP concentrators, Erin clarified that they had very different backgrounds and interests. “Will Jordan, the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, has experience working for YouGov and a strong quantitative background and chose to write about polling. Camille Gray, on the other hand, is a lawyer and her article focused on the dispute between Apple and the FBI [over the San Bernardino shooting and the contention over U.S. communications laws].”

She also elaborated on the publication process: “Putting together the articles was easy in comparison to the other things that needed to be done, like coming up with the layout for the cover. Natasha Avanessians, the Vice President and Treasurer, and I went through piles of New Yorker, Wire, Cosmopolitan to come up with the cover for the magazine.” She also mentioned how her experience of working for a magazine before helped with the process. But while we discussed these challenges, she did not forget to acknowledge the amazing efforts put forward by the board members and admired their competency on the job. “The people involved are amazing. Will made sure that everything fit together, going back and forth to the writers with questions and getting the best out of them. Natasha had to make sure all the financial operations ran smoothly. I knew Cathleen Gates from before, who works for Gates Sister Studio, and she gracefully offered to do the cover for the magazine for free.”

Policy Focus

I was curious to know more how the board selected specific topics to feature in the magazine. It was also interesting to note that the focus of CPPR is solely domestic policies, despite the fact the school has such a diverse and international crowd. Erin shared her view on the matter and I realized how CPPR was different from similar initiatives at SIPA. She said, “We are not exclusionary. The policy areas chosen are very broad and have an impact on a wide range of people, both international and domestic. Besides going to school here, we also live in New York, which in itself is a very international city and it is important for us to know about the domestic policy-making process. Given the fact that other similar platforms, like the Journal of International Affairs, focus more on international policy, and that the majority of SIPA students are international, CPPR is a unique platform to talk about domestic policies.” The content of the magazine, ranging from Obama’s racial legacy to an aging LGBT population in New York City, attest to the truth in that statement.

Events

CPPR has partnered with student organizations to host policy dialogues. Erin excitedly highlighted one event from last year where CPPR collaborated with Women in Leadership (WIL) to host “Women Shaping New York’s Policy and Politics.” The event focused on the crucially important topic of female participation in grassroots politics and housed a panel of women serving in a leadership role in the city’s government.

Moving Forward

The magazine has a new board that has already assumed responsibilities, and Erin hopes that they will publish twice every year. Talking about challenges Erin mentioned, “One of the major hurdles faced by the previous board was financing the publication cost. SIPA Student Association (SIPASA) allocated funds for hosting the events, while we had to fundraise to finance the publication of the magazine itself.” She is hopeful that fundraising will go smoothly this semester and in the future. In the meantime, the online platform is open and active for any domestic policy related discussion.

If you are interested in writing for the Columbia Public Policy Review as a new student next year, send them an email at cppr@gmail.com.

 

Seeples Spotlight: Amir Safa

This semester the Office of Admissions welcomed three new Program Assistants (PAs) to the team. This week I’m introducing you to each of them in the form of self-interviews. Our last addition to the team is Amir Safa, and he’s concentrating in Economic and Political Development and specializing in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University College London in archaeology and comes to SIPA with over 10 years experience in the financial industry including investment banking and asset management. For his interview, he elected to write a mini blog post about what SIPA means to him. Here’s what he had to share:

In my final semester here at SIPA studying Economic and Political Development, I offer some thoughts out there about what this experience has meant to me. SIPA has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to refresh myself intellectually after a decade of work experience. The program opened the door for me to meet so many people from all over the world; from countries I only knew from far far away. You can travel the world by walking the corridors of SIPA where you will hear so many languages and stories from people’s lives. The journey continues in the classroom. I decided to take courses that focused on regional economies, including ones examining China, Japan, Latin America and Europe. I am currently learning the nuances of Japanese Economy, not only from Professor Takatoshi Ito but also from my classmates who are visiting from Japan’s Ministry of Finance.

One of my favorite experiences at SIPA was working in an instructional capacity for “Global Energy Policy” with Professor Manuel Pinho, a former IMF Economist and Minister of Economy of Portugal. The students came from all disciplines and departments within the whole university including, SIPA, the Law School, School of Engineering, and the Earth institute. Lectures focused on energy economics, policy, and global trends in renewables. Students learned outside the classroom through problem sets and weekly guest lectures. It was a great opportunity to meet different students from different places and work through the course material together.

I will save the best part for last: I had a pretty unique experience at SIPA. My wife is very understanding of all the time I spend in the library completing group projects, going to class and writing papers into the night. She understands because 90 percent of the time she is right there next me completing her assignments (she is also a student at SIPA!).   

So what is my advice for new students? Break out of your comfort zone, have a coffee with someone from a place you have never been to, and take a class on something you don’t know anything about.

"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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