Archive for A View From the Class

A View from the Class: Basbibi Kakar MIA ’20

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. In this issue, we feature current SIPA student, Basbibi Kakar MIA ’20. Basbibi is a KUMA/Kuznetsov Fellow and a first year Master of International Affairs candidate, concentrating in Economic and Political Development and specializing in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in business from Montclair State University in New Jersey, I worked as a finance and operations intern at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for a year. During that time, I also interned with the Malala Fund, focusing on grant writing, philanthropic outreach, and support to country representatives from Pakistan, India, Turkey, Nigeria, and Afghanistan in preparation for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London. I also managed language translations of the Girl Advocacy Guide, a help guide for advocating for girls education and human rights, and the Fund’s partnership with NaTakallam, a service which pairs Arabic-speaking displaced persons with learners around the world for language practice over Skype.

I also volunteered with the Rutgers Presbyterian Church to provide translation services for the Refugees Task Force, help to resettle Afghan refugee families, cultural orientation for volunteers working with refugees, and student tutoring.

What was your experience working at the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) in Kabul?

I was born in Afghanistan, but grew up in Pakistan as a refugee after my family fled the Taliban. I returned to Afghanistan in 2008. Before attending Montclair State, I worked full-time as Assistant Head of School at the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), the only secondary boarding school for girls in Afghanistan. At SOLA, I helped design a curriculum that included cross-cultural exchanges and distance learning via a virtual exchange program. In partnership with the Global Nomads Group, an organization leveraging technology to connect middle and high school students with peers from around the world, we connected SOLA students and teachers with U.S. classrooms to promote empathy, awareness, and agency to tackle pressing issues. It was a privilege working at SOLA, watching ambitious 12 to 19 year old girls have the opportunity to receive an education and listening to the remarkable stories of parents who, after living with forty years of war, finally had hope for the futures of their children.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree and attend SIPA?

Growing up and working in Afghanistan, I have experienced firsthand the need for better development policies and policymakers. I believe those who have lived in the country will be most effective in making those changes. I decided to attend graduate school so that I can be one of those changemakers, and I chose SIPA because of its international focus and policy concentrations and opportunities for practical as well as classroom experiences.

Why have you chosen to concentrate in Economic and Political Development? 

There is a dire need for educated people in all sectors in Afghanistan, and women play an important role in conflict and post-conflict recovery. However, women are underrepresented in Afghanistan’s economic and business sector. I want to be a positive force in improving Afghanistan’s economy, reducing the effects of war, and preventing further violence. Positive economic initiatives will provide job opportunities for younger generations, moving the country towards peace and prosperity.

What has been your experience thus far in your first semester at SIPA?

I have enjoyed my first semester and meeting students from all over the world. The professors are highly competent, delivering great lectures and providing support with assignments and constructive guidance. I have been challenged from the start, but am confident that the experience will help me develop both personally and professionally.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

It has been hard for me to leave my family and other loved ones back in Afghanistan, especially given the unrest and violence that occurs on a daily basis. However, I am determined to stay strong, completing my degree at SIPA and making the most of my experience.

A View from the Class: The 2018 Award-Winning Capstone Workshop Team

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share another installment of A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and SIPA faculty.

Here, we feature the Capstone workshop team that was awarded this year’s Dr. Susan Aurelia Gitelson Award for Human Values in International Affairs for their work with UN Women on the project “Using Twitter Data Combined with Traditional Survey Data to Measure Societal Dynamics Related to Violence Against Women in Brazil.” Awarded annually, the Gitelson award was created by SIPA alumna, Dr. Susan Gitelson to recognize outstanding work by SIPA students related to human values in international affairs.

For this project, six SIPA students were partnered with faculty advisor, David Dabscheck. UN Women was interested in the use of Big Data; specifically, to understand the potential of using Twitter data combined with traditional survey data to measure societal dynamics related to violence against women in Brazil, where the rates of homicide have continued to increase since 2007.

Alejandra Baez MIA’18: At SIPA, Alejandra concentrated in Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy with specializations in Latin America and Technology, Media, and Communications. A Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow, she will join the U.S. State Department in September 2018 as a Foreign Service Officer.

Wajeeha Bajwa MIA’18: Wajeeha grew up in Tokyo and Moscow and completed her undergraduate education in Germany before returning home to Pakistan to pursue a career in independent consulting. At SIPA, she specialized in Gender and Public Policy to complement her international field experience. She hopes to join an international organization working for women’s empowerment globally.

Gabriel Barrientos MPA-DP’18: At SIPA, Gabriel focused on quantitative analysis, education policies, and behavioral economics. Recently graduated, Gabriel is joining Concordia in New York City as a Partnership Development Manager, working with key partners, industry leaders, and other stakeholders to foster and strengthen public-private partnerships for social impact.

Veronique Ehamo MIA’18: At SIPA, Veronique concentrated in Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy with a dual specialization in Gender and Public Policy and Regional African Studies. From the Democratic Republic of Congo, she  will begin PhD studies in the United Kingdom this fall, focusing her research on the utilization of rape as a weapon of war in the North Kivu Region of Eastern DRC.

Lilah Greenberg MPA’19: A dual degree student at SIPA and the Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW), Lilah is pursuing her MPA, concentrating in Human Rights with a specialization in Gender and Public Policy. In fall 2018, she will continue her studies at CSSW, focusing on human rights and contemporary social issues in the U.S.

Marie Wavre MPA’18: An attorney and MPA graduate in Development and Gender Policy, Marie received a Master in Public International Law from Université Paris Assas and an LL.M. in International Law and Justice from Fordham University School of Law. Marie is currently legal counsel for an immigration law office representing Tibetan refugees seeking asylum in the United States.

A View the from the Class: Audrey Misquith

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share another installment of A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and SIPA faculty. In this issue, we feature recently graduated SIPA student Audrey Misquith MPA ’18, Master of Public Administration concentrating in Economic and Political Development (EDP) and specializing in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis. 

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

After graduating from Bangalore University with a bachelor’s degree in financial management and a minor in accounting and taxation, I worked as a deputy manager at a government-owned development bank in India. I led teams through entire credit cycles, specializing in the sectors of agriculture, education, medicine, and infrastructure. On the side, I designed initiatives and managed operations for two education non-profits that served low-income school children.

Why did you choose SIPA?

I chose SIPA for its widely-recognized reputation as a global public policy school. Since my regional interests lay in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle-East, SIPA was a good fit given its vast repertoire of courses tailored to this region.  I was particularly interested in transitioning to the non-profit sector and with my previous banking experience with small and medium enterprises and agriculturists, I hoped to gain solid academic training that would complement the practical skills I had picked up on the field.

Why did you choose your particular areas of study?

The EPD track offered what I was looking for. The workshop component meant applying important skills learned in the classroom on the ground with the opportunity to work with innovative social enterprises and multilateral organizations. I chose Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis as my specialization to further widen my data analytic skill-set.

Please describe some of your SIPA experiences.

My SIPA experience has been fabulous. Highlights include a class on “Global Inequality” with Professor Suresh Naidu, “Advanced Economic Development” with Professor Eric Verhoogen, and classes with political science and humanitarian industry experts, Dr. Lisa Anderson and Dr. Dirk Salomons. My summer internship at Plan International in Uganda was a fulfilling experience as well. My primary responsibility was to inform the operating model of a scale-up of Plan’s flagship economic empowerment program for youth farmers.

This semester, I travelled to Brazil to meet with government officials and the World Food Programme’s staff to assess the World Food Programme’s Center of Excellence(CoE)’s south-south cooperation strategy with the West African region. Recently, my team claimed the runners-up prize for the Dean’s Public Policy Challenge grant and won a $20,000 grant to fully launch a technological platform to raise HIV awareness in India’s rural district of Solapur.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I am most interested in roles that involve a combination of program design and implementation. I like to get my hands dirty, so roles that entail scaling up a development intervention or building an initiative from scratch are most appealing. I lean towards food security and livelihoods and public health.

A View from the Class: Ally Tang

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share another installment of A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and SIPA faculty. In this issue, we feature recently graduated SIPA student Ally Tang MPA ’18, concentrating in Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy with a specialization in International Conflict Resolution.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

I practiced commercial litigation in New Zealand for close to three years and also interned in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, working in the Office of the Prosecutor.

Why did you choose SIPA?

I liked its strong focus on global policy, the caliber of SIPA’s faculty with expertise that aligned with my areas of interest, and its location in New York City, a hub of international activity and organizations.

Why did you choose to focus your studies on Human Rights and International Conflict Resolution?

I wanted to build on my legal background to work on human rights policy, particularly in the area of atrocity prevention. The International Conflict Resolution specialization also provides a good mixture of practical skills and theoretical knowledge.

What are some highlights of your SIPA experience?

I have really enjoyed being part of a diverse cohort of students, which created a rich learning environment for sharing experiences and ideas through a comparative lens. I interned with the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch and was part of the Business and Human Rights Clinic for my capstone project. I have also been a teaching assistant for Professor Robert Jervis and Professor Vicky Murillo at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

How has SIPA impacted you?

SIPA has really broadened my skill set and allowed me to build on my legal training to work in policy areas I am passionate about. The intellectual environment at Columbia is excellent; events and talks on campus have exposed me to an array of ideas and policy discussions from high-level policymakers, heads of state, and leading academics. I’ve also made a number of exceptional friends over the two years.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I will be working as a Research Analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect here in New York.

A View From the Class: Shanna Crumley and Muhammad Alaa Ghanem

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share another installment of A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and SIPA faculty. In this issue, we feature current SIPA students, Shanna Crumley MIA ’18 and Mohammed Alaa Ghanem MIA ’19.

Shanna Crumley, MIA '18.Shanna is a second year Master of International Affairs candidate, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy with a specialization in Management.

Shanna is SIPA’s inaugural James Mead Stephenson Memorial Fellow. The James Mead Stephenson Memorial Fellowship was created by family and friends of the late James Stephenson MIA ’07 to support outstanding SIPA students who are returned Peace Corps Volunteers and exemplify James’s commitment to international development and humanitarian aid. ​

What brought you to SIPA?

As an undergraduate, I focused on developing language skills and gaining international experience through study abroad and internship programs. After graduating, I spent a year interning at the U.S. State Department’s refugee bureau and then at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. In 2013, I moved to Barranquilla, Colombia, to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years, where I focused on education and girls’ empowerment.  I ultimately chose SIPA because it has an unparalleled network of world leaders and thinkers and the name carries a legacy of smart, capable, and well-connected alumni.

Can you describe a little about your Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant project?

I feel so honored to be a semi-finalist in the Dean’s Challenge along with my classmate and co-founder, Gemma Torras Vives. We believe that education is key in creating a more equitable world, especially in a world twisted by conflict and displacement. Our enterprise, A4ED, aims to make learning and livelihood accessible for refugees and vulnerable populations regardless of their status or country of origin. We’re using blockchain technology to help learners document their progress and credentials so that they don’t fall behind as a lost generation.

We just returned from two weeks in Jordan, where we conducted stakeholder interviews, built a network of partners, and immersed ourselves in learning as much as possible about aid and development response to refugees in the region. It was so gratifying to know that we were in the Middle East because the Dean’s Challenge judges believe in our hard work and our vision to prevent a lost generation of Syrian refugee learners and at-risk youth.

Are there particular SIPA experiences that stand out? 

There are incredible professors here who will go above and beyond to invest in your learning and your future. Sarah Holloway’s mentorship has been so meaningful as I’ve developed a passion for social entrepreneurship and put that learning into A4ED.

Another important experience was being chosen as the inaugural recipient of the James Mead Stephenson Memorial Fellowship. James was an incredible alumnus who was passionate about human rights and service, and I am honored to be the first student to carry on his legacy at SIPA and beyond. When I read about James’s life and work, it led me to reflect on my own passion to live as fully and commit to improving the world with dignity like he did.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I look forward to applying what I’ve learned about management and innovation to my passion for humanitarian affairs and development. I will be looking for opportunities to do this at the UN, in development consulting, or in social enterprise. Gemma and I plan to move forward with our social enterprise, A4ED, and I’m excited to see where this year takes us as we develop our idea and prototype the blockchain technology in Jordan.

Mohammed Alaa Ghanem MIA '19A first year Master of International Affairs candidate, Mohammed is concentrating in International Security Policy with a specialization in International Organizations.

Mohammed is SIPA’s SJS Charitable Trust Fellow. The recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, he holds a Master of Arts in Conflict Transformation from the Center of Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University and a postgraduate degree and a bachelor’s degree from Damascus University. He is also an Atlantic Council Millennium Fellow. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News Opinion, Foreign Policy, Politico, The Hill, The New York Post, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, The Washington Examiner, Syria Deeply, and the Atlantic Council’s MENASource and FutureNATO blogs.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

I was Government Relations Director and Senior Political Adviser for the Syrian American Council in Washington D.C., where my portfolio included a wide array of responsibilities ranging from briefing senior U.S. officials and law-makers on Syria to monitoring elections in Aleppo. When the Arab Spring began, I drew on my conflict studies to advise leading Syrian pro-democracy activists on nonviolent resistance strategies, and I quickly found myself dedicating the bulk of my time to helping communities on the ground.

Why did you choose to attend SIPA?

SIPA is part of my journey towards earning a PhD. As an Assistant Professor at the University of Damascus, my professional life was never confined to lecture halls; I am an academic-practitioner. SIPA has a vast menu of options to choose from, and once here, one can also branch out and take courses at other schools. I’m hoping that my time here will not only bring me into contact with formidable Ivy League academics but with practitioners who have grappled with real-life issues around the world as well.

I also came to SIPA to take a step back and reflect on everything I have done over the past seven years before charging ahead again. SIPA will help my interest in examining multilateral affairs and international organizations at the seat of the United Nations in New York, similar to how I learned the ins and outs of policy and politics in Washington, D.C. Also, some of my favorite academics like Will Durant and Edward Said went or taught here, so Columbia is hallowed ground for me, and I remind myself of this great honor every single morning.

What has been your experience at SIPA so far?

Columbia has a lot to offer so you have to quickly figure out your priorities and firmly stick to them. We have received tremendous assistance from our Peer Advisors, who were a great help as I learned my way around SIPA. I should also note that the Admissions Office’s professionalism and unfailing courtesy have far exceeded my expectations. I also greatly enjoyed Professor Richard Betts’s War, Peace, and Strategy course.

I am really looking forward to taking international relations courses with Professors Jack Snyder and Robert Jervis, two stellar academics who I feel quite privileged to have access to as a Columbia student.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I might take a sabbatical for a year to do some fieldwork but the plan is to press ahead until I have earned a PhD. Being a Syrian, though, nothing is certain. Duty might call again anytime, and the needs of my fellow Syrians come first.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Yes, take time to meet and get to know your fellow Seeples. You will meet some of the most amazing people here. Learning about your colleagues and their unique journeys is an education in and of itself. Good fellowship will also help you carry through and meet your academic obligations.

"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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