Archive for community service

Finding Community at SIPA

Thanks to a former Admissions program assistant and SIPA ’18 graduate for this post!

One of the reasons why I chose to attend SIPA was because I wanted to engage with and learn from the large and diverse student body. That being said, I was also concerned about getting lost in a larger program – my fears were quickly assuaged given that SIPA provides numerous opportunities to build community from Day 1.  Activities ranging from orientation week to organization fairs are abundant. Below is a list of some places that I found strong community.

Orientation Cohorts

Orientation week was a great way to meet fellow students was through my cohort (Seeples Group D!). Spending a week with a group of students, learning about SIPA, Columbia, and New York was both fun and allowed me to build a strong sense of community within my first several weeks on campus. My cohort still has reunions and some of my best friends at school were in that group!

Student Organizations

I was involved in a variety of student organizations at SIPA, which really added to my experience. It took me a semester to decide which ones I ultimately wanted to join. These groups range from SIPA Vets to Women in Leadership and are a fantastic way to not only learn about a wide array of topics but also provide extensive leadership opportunities. I also became involved in groups at both the Law and Business schools to gain a different perspective.

Regional Institutes

Columbia’s regional institutes are a tremendous asset to SIPA’s program. Ranging from the Weatherhead to the Harriman Institutes, these institutes are a fantastic place to find community both with fellow Seeples in addition to students from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The institutes provide a wide array of cultural activities throughout the year, book talks, discussion groups, and many other events and resources. They were a major part of my life and community throughout the past several years!

International Trips

I participated in multiple student-led international trips during my time at SIPA. They were the highlight of my time here, and there is nothing that builds community like wandering around ancient ruins or being stuck on a train for 15 hours straight with a group of fellow Seeples. The trips allow you to experience the best of what SIPA has to offer – learning about international relations, policies, and cultures. Try to take advantage of these experiences – you will come away with lifelong friends!

Columbia Community Service

There are a myriad of community service opportunities sponsored by the University. They are a fantastic way to serve with fellow students and faculty as well as get to know residents on the Upper West Side.

Alternative Spring Break – Building Bottle Schools

SIPA students are an adventurous bunch.  As proof of this, some decided to spend their spring break to assist with a community development project in Guatemala.  Mynor Godoy was one of the students and he put together a great summary of their time.

To whet your appetite, here is the introduction:

Eight hours north of Guatemala’s capital city, we finally reached a plateau in Cuchumatan.  We were hit with a barren landscape; It was a far cry from the lush, green tropical scenes  promoted in the Guatemalan ecotourism pamphlet. We began the descent into the clouds in our van. The bumpy dirt road made us bounce around inside as our van hugged the turns on the winding cliff road. Finally, we came to a stop in a valley nestled by towering mountains. We had arrived in Todos Santos.

For the full write up on the trip, with many great pictures, click here.

Service and SIPA

The following was contributed by Anesa Diaz-Uda, a second-year MPA student.


What makes SIPA so special is the fact that there’s really something here for everyone.  In what is arguably the greatest city in the world, SIPA naturally offers a living laboratory in which students can refine their academic and professional interests.  Refining these interests happens inside and outside the classroom.

Most of the students here hope to evoke a positive impact within our communities, and I’ve tried to do just that.  In January of 2009 I started a new student group of peers interested in mentoring high school students.  We forged a partnership with the International Community High School (ICHS) in the Bronx largely because of my connection at the school, but also because the school was an ideal fit for most SIPA students.  All of the high school students enrolled at ICHS are recent immigrants to the US.  They’ve been living in the US for less than five years, and are all English Language Learners.

SIPA students began our work by first meeting with ICHS administrators, and soon began directly working with the school’s social worker.  We then met a few prospective high school students (students who wanted a mentor, and were likely college bound but needed a bit of extra attention).  After this initial meeting with the students, the social worker formally paired us with 1-3 high school students. We were paired based on interests (both academic and extracurricular), languages spoken, and general congeniality.  Since then, we’ve been meeting with our kids about once a week for tutoring or just to hang out.  We also go on group outings – namely to museums and dinners.

In August, I recruited some of the first-year students to the program, and with a few new mentors we’ve been able to work with more of the high school students.  It sounds cheesy, but all of these kids really are representative of the American dream.  They’re the first generation in their families to attend high school in the US, and the first generation to hopefully attend college.

It was busy in the fall helping them prepare for the SATs and with their applications to colleges, but it was also very exciting.


"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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