Archive for assistantships

Life as a Program Assistant: It’s Pretty Sweet

Note from Admissions: Congratulations to the students that walked across the stage at SIPA’s graduation yesterday – including our program assistants! We’re extremely happy for, and proud of, the graduates of the SIPA Class of 2019.


Hello everyone! Congratulations to all our readers who were recently admitted to SIPA and welcome to those who are considering applying during the next cycle.

I am writing this post to shed some light on the work of Program Assistants and to talk about what you can expect if you receive an Assistantship while at SIPA!

First of all, program assistants (PAs) are SIPA students that work in SIPA affiliated offices to support full-time staff with daily operations, program management, event planning, etc.

Assistantships are only open to students during their second year; in Spring semester of your first year, you will receive an application form that will let you apply en masse to all open assistantship positions. These positions are competitive, so I encourage students to develop relationships with the people you are interested in working for.

So What Do PAs Do?

Again, it is very much dependent on where you end up working! At Admissions, I assist full-time Admissions staff with daily administrative tasks and the processing of student applications. I also help with communications, by documenting things on campus, writing for the Admissions Blog and occasionally featuring on Columbia SIPA social media accounts!

As an admissions representative, I also meet with prospective students and answer questions from applicants throughout the year.

If you attended Admitted Students Day, I also helped plan and staff the event!

Other friends of mine work for a variety of other offices on campus. For example, one of my good friends works for SIPA News and is a veritable journalist; his job is to attend SIPA events and to write reports for the website. Another one of my friends is the PA for the Urban and Social Policy concentration, and he works with USP faculty to plan events, speaker series and monthly happy hours/mixers.

In general, we all work about anywhere from 12-20 hours a week, depending on our time commitments and the demands of our work. Ultimately, it’s a great way to earn extra money and to connect with new students and staff here at SIPA. So if you’re about to attend SIPA or are considering applying, definitely start thinking about PAships!

L-R: Julia, Sam, Dylan, and Kier

Special shoutout to Fall 2019 PA Niara Valerio! You can see what she and another former PA, Rahel Tekola, are up to here.

Classes, a UN assistantship all in a semester’s work for Ashleigh Montgomery, MIA ’17

There are so many amazing opportunities for assistantships, internships, or other extra-curricular activities at SIPA. Many students will be elected to leadership positions with the various student-run groups at SIPA, work as Teaching Assistants, Program Assistants, or Departmental Research Assistants, or even have an internship during the semester. The classes at SIPA are often time-consuming, requiring a lot of work outside of class time to complete assignments, making it difficult to balance classwork with other responsibilities. It is not an easy task to manage both, so we thought it would be useful to get a student’s perspective on how to effectively manage your time if you choose to work in any capacity during the semester. Today we will highlight one of the many SIPA superstars that somehow find time to do it all.

Ashleigh Montgomery is pursuing her Master of International Affairs degree at SIPA with a concentration in Human Rights and a specialization in Gender and Public Policy. During her first year at SIPA, Ashleigh worked as the Program Assistant for SIPA’s Day at the UN initiative under Professor Lindenmayer, who served as the Assistant Secretary-General to Kofi Annan. She is the Community Outreach Officer for the Human Rights Working Group and is a Board Member for the Women in Peace and Security Working Group. This past summer, Ashleigh spent 10 weeks as a Women, Peace, and Security intern with UN Women in Timor-Leste, where she worked on the National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security. As a grantee for the Women’s International Leadership program at International House, she led a team that created a video, an exhibition, and a book that explores feminism in different cultural contexts. She was also awarded a Davis Projects for Peace grant to supervise Peacebuilding Workshops in Burundi this past summer, where she worked with local partner organizations to remotely project manage the workshops throughout Burundi. She has served as a volunteer for the non-profit Burundi Friends International (BFI) since 2014, and co-founded Women Vision Association, an organization working on women’s empowerment and English learning projects in Burundi. Before coming to SIPA Ashleigh worked at a group home for abused children, then served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana, where she taught life skills at the local primary school.

Ever busy, here’s how she says she manages it all.

This interview was lightly edited for brevity and/or clarity.

Where did you work and what were your responsibilities?
I was the Program Assistant for SIPA’s Day at the UN initiative, working under Professor Lindenmayer. Many students apply for the initiative and after review and selection of applications with Professor Lindenmayer, students are placed in one of their top three choices of UN departments. Students then shadow this department for 1-3 days, gaining an inside look at what it means to work at the UN. I coordinated each student’s visit, liaising among myself, Professor Lindenmayer, UN staff members, and the students. I then gathered all necessary follow-up documentation for each student’s visit. The initiative culminated in a panel I helped organize, in which the UN hosts and SIPA students shared their experiences with each other and with the initiative.

Why did you decide to take on extra work during the semester?
I wanted to work on something I believed in and was excited about. While I love learning (like nerdy sitting in the front of the classroom love), I am inspired by application outside of a classroom setting, which working on this initiative allowed me to do. One of the reasons I chose SIPA was because of its access to opportunities and proximity to the UN, and I really wanted to take advantage of this right from the start. Working on this initiative allowed me to build relationships with UN staff, and to connect other students with the UN.

What were the challenges you faced working during the semester?
For me, the workload was erratic. One week two UN departments would want to schedule student visits and the next week eight departments would. So my hours were never set and the time commitment was constantly in flux. As the visits were arranged around dates that worked for both the UN departments and the students, this was something that was out of my control. Of course, midterms, papers, and finals don’t shift just because you can’t anticipate your weekly workload, so the lack of control over my shifting hours was a challenge. Another challenge was that given the nature of UN work, there were many times when I went through the entire process of scheduling a student’s visit, only to have the UN staff go on mission or be called into an international meeting right before, thus forcing me to reschedule the visit. This happened several times, and there was one student who this kept happening to over and over!

How did you overcome them?
In many ways the lack of control over my schedule was just something I had to learn to deal with, as it wasn’t something I could change. Setting a schedule for myself in terms of what tasks needed to be done on which days of the week allowed me to create consistency and routine, which gave me a plan to stick to even when visits were shifted around last minute.

What was the most rewarding part of working during the semester?
One of the commitments asked of students participating in this initiative was to submit an account of their visit. Through these accounts and by speaking with students, I learned that some were offered internships and other possibilities because of the initiative. It was rewarding to read about their excitement about the various experiences they had (getting to sit in blue chairs in the Security Council, spending time on the 38th floor, where the Secretary-General’s office is, attending closed meetings they otherwise wouldn’t have attended, etc.) and to see what was demystified about working for the UN. Some students had dreams of working for the UN since childhood, so it was great to play a small role in them building relationships with UN staff.

How did you juggle classwork and the assistantship?
This might sound counter-intuitive, but I manage time better when I am involved in projects outside of just classwork. If I have ten hours to work on assignments, study, etc., chances are I will waste at least six of those hours and be productive for four (possibly even less). However, if I only have a two-hour gap in my day, I will be productive for the entire two hours, largely because if I waste the only time I have I won’t get anything done.

What would you recommend to other students considering taking on an internship or assistantship during the semester?
I would recommend that you have a clear vision of what you want to get out of your time at SIPA, and spend your time outside of the classroom pursuing this vision! Don’t take on an internship just to have an internship; make sure it aligns with your career aspirations, goals, and most importantly, with your passion. It is definitely manageable to do both during the semester but it will be challenging and there will be a time you question things like your sanity. This is normal for SIPA so embrace it! I would also recommend taking time to reflect on your successes and what you could have done better once the semester is over. Professor Lindenmayer asked me to share with her how many email exchanges I had during the initiative, and it was heartening to have concrete evidence of all the work I had put in!

 [Photo courtesy of Ashleigh Montgomery, MIA 2017]

Funding your SIPA education (as an international student) – part 8

If you are an international student (or will be), you may be faced with some challenges in identifying funding sources available for studying in the US.  But each year, approximately half of SIPA’s students are international, and each of them has found their own way to meet the costs associated with furthering their education overseas.

As you are probably aware, SIPA offers a number of scholarships for first year students, and scholarships and assistantships for students in their second year of study.  All of these awards are available to international students.  All applicants for admission are automatically considered for funding during their first year, and all interested students should apply for second year funding during the application period (typically early in the spring semester).  Some international students borrow students loans from private lenders while studying here (loans from the US Government are not available to international students).  For more information and a list of lenders that international students at Columbia University have had success with, click here.   Please note lenders require international students to have a US citizen or permanent resident as a co-signer.

We certainly recommend that students thoroughly investigate all forms of assistance from government or private sources in their own countries.  Many international students at SIPA have been supported by their governments, employers or other agencies while studying here.  There are also resources available from entities in the United States and elsewhere that may be helpful, and we have compiled a list of websites that contain information that may be of use to international students seeking funding:

http://www.foreignborn.com/study_in_us/8-paying4school.htm

http://www.intlstudent.org/scholarships.html

http://scholarships.berkeley.edu/main_content/schol_details/pdf/int_student_opportunities.pdf

http://www.iefa.org/

http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/the-scholarship-coach/2012/03/22/an-international-students-guide-to-us-scholarships

http://www.edupass.org/finaid/

http://www.fundingusstudy.org/StateSearch.asp

SIPA’s Financial Aid Office also has a database of external funding opportunities; although it is not specifically for international students (and admittedly has some dead links that we will soon be in the process of cleaning up as SIPA transitions to a new website), we encourage you to visit that site as well.  Click here for details.

"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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