Archive for career development

EPD Workshop – Ethiopia

Several students knee deep in their workshops have submitted posts to the blog recently.  This post was submitted by Sawako Sonoyama.


I just returned from an unforgettable two-week trip to Ethiopia as part of my SIPA curriculum. This program is called The Workshop in Development Practice with the Economic and Political Development (EPD) concentration. The workshop allows students to gain practical experience by engaging in on-going actual development projects with organizations that often involve traveling abroad for fieldwork.

My EPD Workshop is with Family Health International (FHI) in Ethiopia. FHI is a global health and development organization that focuses on providing interdisciplinary training programs related to HIV/Aids. My project was to assist in developing a measurement system and tools to monitor and evaluate the extent to which knowledge and skills transferred through training are applied in practice. After conducting an in-depth desk review, conducting several conference calls with Ethiopia, and creating preliminary evaluation tools, my teammate and I were ready to go.

Upon arriving to Addis Ababa, we were welcomed with a ride from the airport, traditional coffee ceremony, and a delicious Ethiopian feast. I have never been to a more welcoming and warm country in my life. Every day of our trip, our Ethiopian counterparts went out of the way to welcome us and ensured that we were able to get our work done.

Picture: Welcome lunch with FHI

During our two week visit, we were able to test out the evaluation tools we have created for two different trainings. The first training was the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) Refresher training in Addis Ababa. We were able to observe many of the training modules while conducting  focus group discussions and supervisor interviews. The nurses were shy at first, but gradually opened up to us and explained the main challenges involving pregnant women in Ethiopia – mainly the inability to open up to their male partners to involve them with family planning. Furthermore, to evaluate how the nurse practitioners who attended the PMTCT training were doing on-site, we visited health centers and spoke to the clients directly. Through an interpreter, I had my first experience of interviewing pregnant women who are getting ready for a new life of starting a family.

Photo: Interviewing Clients

The second training we attended was titled Family-Based Alternative Child Care (ACC). The ACC training covers various formal or informal arrangement whereby a child is looked after outside of the birth family. This program is aimed to better support those children who have lost their parents due to HIV/Aids. The ACC training is more complex to evaluate then the PMTCT, as the behavior change of individuals is less practical. In fact, the behavior of multiple organizations must change for any region to successfully adopt an Alternative Child Care mechanism. Trying to work with this training made me realize how complex working with children from an institutional level can be.

Apart from working on the two trainings, through the wonderful cultural exchange we had, I was able to formulate a close friendship with many of the FHI staff.  I met Estsegenet Asefa, a beautiful woman from the Southern region of Ethiopia. Estegenet is a Community Health and Social Development Officer of the Southern region that was here to coordinate the training and facilitate group discussions. While she works full time at FHI-Ethiopia, she is also pursuing her MPH as a part-time graduate student. She has already completed her courses and is working on finishing her thesis is on relationships among People Living with HIV/Aids who are going through antiretroviral therapy. We shared stories about the challenges of balancing both professional and academic life, and where we hope to be after we graduate. She is also a vibrant dancer and gave me some tips on Ethiopian dance moves. We formed such a wonderful friendship and it was sad to say good bye. I am confident that she will be successful in the field of public health in Ethiopia and I hope that we meet again.

My new friend, Estsegenet

My two weeks in Ethiopia was fulfilling in so many ways – new experiences in monitoring and evaluation at health centers, interesting realizations about the complexities of working with HIV/Aids, and countless moments of absorbing the rich and wonderful Ethiopian culture. I am so thankful that I was able to travel to Ethiopia on the EPD workshop. Our work is nowhere near complete, as we must prepare for my team’s second visit to Ethiopia and finish our final report. I hope that the work we present will be useful for FHI-Ethiopia’s training programs and that can provide a meaningful impact to their clients.

Addis Ababa

Workshops at SIPA

The following post was written by current SIPA student Lacey Ramirez.  Workshops are an exciting, practical, and professional part of the SIPA experience which provide an excellent way to merge classroom learning with real world involvement.


I know the Admissions Committee has started reading and I’ve been thinking about what advice I could give prospective students that would help them make a decision regarding schools. In other words, what makes SIPA different than the other graduate schools in international and public affairs?

One major component is the workshop requirement for all SIPA students.  Workshops require students apply the practical skills and analytical knowledge they have learned at SIPA to a real-world challenge. Students are organized into small consulting teams and assigned a substantive, policy-oriented project with an external client.  Clients include public agencies (from the local to national level), international NGOs and multi-national organizations, and major firms in the private sector.

Student teams, working under the supervision of a faculty expert, answer a carefully defined problem posed by the client.  Most of the teams will travel to the country in order to conduct the work necessary to produce an actionable report at the end of the workshop that will hopefully translate into real change on the ground.

Examples of MPA workshops can be found here.

Here you also find links to other concentration workshops, and please note to find examples of EPD workshops you’ll need to click here.

Okay, now on to my personal experience.  I am currently working on a randomized control trial measuring the effects of an education incentives program and parental involvement interventions on students’ performance and school attendance in Chiapas, Mexico. During my time at SIPA I’ve focused my studies on developing my quantitative analysis skills, and it is incredibly exciting to be able to apply what I’ve learned to a real world project.

Additionally, it is important to note that before we participate in the workshop it is mostly required that we prepare for it by taking an intensive Methods for Development Practice course that covers a wide variety of tools used by development practitioners. Tools are learned and applied in the Methods course through the use of case studies to give students an opportunity to practice before the workshop.  You can find a further description of the Methods course here.

In the last few weeks of the Methods course, the students (we) apply for the workshop we are interested in and they cover a wide variety of topics, including supply chain analysis, health, education and monitoring and evaluation.  Once we are assigned to our teams, we work very intensely to prepare a schedule that we will implement the following semester to meet our client’s objectives.

As I write this, my workshop team has members in Mexico conducting interviews, focus groups and observational studies to gather data that will prepare a team to go back in a couple of months to pilot a final survey.  It is very, very exciting and we hope that ultimately all our hard work will be used to serve the people of Chiapas to improve education programs and communities.

D.C. Connections

I know that the location of a graduate school is an item on the minds of those applying, but I wanted to offer a bit of perspective. Many applicants for example might think that if they want to get a job at the United Nations, SIPA would be the best choice because the U.N. and SIPA are both in New York City.

While it is true that SIPA and U.N. are both in NYC and that many SIPA students do take advantage of this, it is also true that many of those who hold positions at the U.N. hold degrees from schools located outside of New York City.

Why am I bringing this up? Well it came to my mind when I received this email from our Career Services Office recently:

Stay Connected with Columbia During Your Summer in Washington, D.C.

Columbia’s Office of Government and Community Affairs will sponsor several events for Columbia students spending the summer break in Washington DC. In addition, they will maintain a listserv to help get the word out about these and other events and opportunities of interest.

An interesting item of note is that Washington, D.C. ranks second in terms of cities with the most SIPA alumni. It is probably not surprising that NYC is ranked first. Just like it is possible for students that graduate from schools outside of NYC to work at the U.N. (or any of the multitude of organizations in NYC) it is possible, and actually highly likely, that many of our graduates will work in Washington, D.C.

Last summer when I finished a recruiting event being held in D.C. I randomly ran into three current SIPA students that were doing internships in D.C. and two students that have worked in my office this year are both moving to D.C. shortly to start working full time.

D.C. is just one example of course, we have over 16,000 graduates living in over 150 countries across the globe. But as I stated in my pro-con entry a while back, NYC is a great place to spend two years of your life. I will warn you though, you might end up addicted to NYC like me.

Capstone Workshops at SIPA

The following was composed by John Hughes, a second year MIA student studying Political and Economic Risk Analysis.  Please note that in the past, only MPA students were required to complete a workshop.  Starting with the fall of 2010, all MPA and MIA students will be required to complete a workshop to graduate.


This year SIPA has doubled the number of Capstone workshops available to students to 32, assuring that a wide range of students will be able to take a workshop this spring.    MPA students are required to take a workshop as part of their degree, as are concentrators in Economic and Political Development and Energy and Environmental Policy.  With so many workshops on offer this year, however, many students not in one of these groups should also have a chance to participate.

The workshops range from one implementing global food security priorities with Booz Allen Hamilton to one looking at how America should deal with non-state terrorist groups for the Center for American Progress.  Each workshop gives students the chance to work directly with a real-world client, is limited to six students, and is assigned a faculty advisor to help facilitate interaction between the group and the client.  Thus, students have an amazing opportunity to work on a real project for a client in an intimate setting, ensuring that each has a chance to interact with the sponsor.  For a list of this year’s workshops check out this link:

The Economic and Political Development (EPD) and Energy and Environmental Policy (EEP) concentrations, as mentioned, have their own set of workshops, separate from the list above.   This gives students in these concentrations the opportunity to choose from a number of workshops directly related to their field.

The EPD workshops, in particular, are always highly regarded, as they give EPD students the opportunity to go abroad for a couple weeks to work in the field.  Many EPD students cite the workshop as the highlight of their SIPA education, providing them with valuable field experience that gives them a leg up when applying for development positions.  For more information on the EPD workshops check out this link:

Winter Break and Career Development in D.C.

The following was composed by John Hughes, a second year MIA student studying Political and Economic Risk Analysis.


With the semester winding down and finals looming, most students are looking forward to a nice, long winter break.  Though many students will return home for the holidays, many also have big plans.  These include trips all over the world, some self-initiated and others as part of the travel component of a workshop.  Wherever the break takes students, however, many will come together at the end for a career trip to Washington, D.C.  This year’s conference will take place from January 13-15, and is the 34th annual trip.  Unlike previous years, which have featured a two-day trip, this year’s conference is packed with three full days of events.

On Wednesday, alumni working in industries including trade, development, energy and security will participate in informational career panels throughout the day, with students able to choose four to attend.  The alumni will discuss their positions, how they found them, and give students general insights on the field.   It is a great way to gain knowledge on a specific field students are interested in, or to explore a completely new one.  On Thursday SIPA has arranged site visits to a range of employers in the D.C. area, including the State Department, Treasury Department and USAID.  These visits will give students an additional opportunity to learn about organizations that interest them, while meeting with more SIPA alums at each employer who will be available to answer any student questions.

After going around the city during the day, the conference participants will come together that evening at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown for a cocktail networking reception.  More than 150 alumni are expected to attend this swanky event, giving students the perfect opportunity to schmooze with them over a glass of wine.  Finally, if students haven’t gone into a networking-induced daze by then, they have the opportunity on Friday to conduct one-on-one or group informational interviews with alumni.  The Office of Career Services has provided each participant with a list of willing alumni, who students can then contact to set up meetings.  Though ambitious, it’s not unheard of for students to set up as many as five such meetings over the course of the day.

The DC conference gives students a great chance to learn about potential future fields of interest and meet wonderful alumni.  More importantly, for many students it provides a crucial first step on their way to gainful employment in Washington.  Many students keep in contact with the alumni they meet at the conference as the semester moves forward, with some of these connections leading to internship and job referrals or even offers.  Of course, at the end of the day it is up to students to put in the effort to find a job, but the Office of Career Services D.C. career event certainly helps students interested in Washington along this path!

"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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