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Student Group Spotlight: UN Studies Working Group

Life at SIPA is more than just a rigorous and exciting curriculum. The SIPA community is greatly enriched by the numerous student organizations on campus. We thought it would be useful to spotlight some of these organizations to give you a more holistic view of the SIPA experience.

The UN Studies Program Working Group (UNSWG) is a student organization that works in close relation with the UN Studies Program at SIPA. It aims to connect students and the entire SIPA community to the United Nations, to its issues and agenda, and to the UN System as a whole. UNSWG members are dedicated to the UN’s main goals, including principles of worldwide cooperation for peace and prosperity.

◦The UNSWG serves as a platform for delivery and exchange of knowledge, ideas, thoughts and reflection, debates and discussion on issues related to the United Nations and the UN system.

◦The UNSWG works to foster a close relation between SIPA and the UN: to prepare conferences, seminars, discussion panels and groups; invite speakers and prepare presentations; organize student debates around relevant and current issues related to the UN.

◦The UNSWG aims to maximize opportunities for SIPA students to be involved with the UN and the greater UN family through meetings with officials; visits to the UN Secretariat and UN agency headquarters; inviting speakers to SIPA; organizing internships, career panels, and support for individual initiatives related to the UN.

Within the first month of the semester, the UNSWG has coordinated the following events:

  • “How to get a job at the UN” panel with a representative from the UN’s Human Resources department
  • UN Studies Retreat, “70 Years Later: The United Nations at a Crossroad in a Changing World”, which featured speakers from the UN Secretary-General, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the International Peace Institute, the UN Secretary-General in Africa, and the United Nations Foundation
  • Participation in an upcoming talk given by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on challenges for the UN in the 21st Century

Check out the UNSWG’s blog for a list of past events and its general page for more information.

In need of a retreat?

Each year, at the beginning of the fall semester, is what we here at SIPA like to call “retreat season”. Each concentration and specialization organizes a weekend-long retreat for students throughout the month of September. The retreat is an opportunity for first and second year students to get better acquainted in a fun and engaging environment. Students are able to share experiences and knowledge, such as the “do’s and don’ts” of SIPA student and academic life. Additionally, this is a great opportunity for students to get to know faculty members and professors in a less formal way.


International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) Retreat

Over 80 IFEP students attended the annual retreat in September held at Camp Kinder Ring in Hopewell Junction, New York. After traveling for two hours by bus, students arrived and had lunch together. Shortly after, Professor Richard Goldberg led an interactive discussion about the financial crisis with students. Professor Andrea Bubula, the IFEP Executive Director, also attended the retreat and gave students an overview of the concentration and its competitive advantages in the current job market. The rest of the afternoon was spent with students playing tennis and basketball at the camp. In the evening students enjoyed dinner followed by a dance party. Despite the near freezing temperatures, students enjoyed this opportunity to get to know each other and learn more about the IFEP concentration.

Energy and Environment (EE) Retreat

On the 28th of September, the EE concentration had its yearly retreat in the wonderful Kinder Camp as well. This was a great chance to escape from the city and enjoy a nice autumn landscape, lake included, but also a fantastic opportunity to get to know the new members of our SIPA community beyond the Columbia campus. There were several fun outdoor activities including the hilarious build and the what’s your shoe size/eye color grouping game. At one point, even some brave Seeples dived into the lake! The trip couldn’t be complete without a bonfire and s’mores, which of course quickly turned into a party that many will remember for the musical variety (yes, someone played reggaeton).

International Conflict Resolution (ICR) Retreat

The International Conflict Resolution retreat brought together 25 SIPA students as well as faculty and guest speakers for a weekend of inspiration and recreation. Saltzman Professor of Professional Practice and International Conflict Resolution specialization director Jean-Marie Guéhenno kicked off discussion on Syria, supported by adjunct faculty member Richard Gowan. Guest speakers David Haeri (MIA, 1997) and Sarah Cliffe (MIA, 1996), both senior United Nations officials in New York, shared insights on the field of conflict resolution and inspired students with their personal stories and experiences. The retreat closed with a conflict type exercise, where students assessed their personal approach to conflict using role play to demonstrate reactions under a variety of scenarios, both calm and stressful. In addition to some self-discovery, canoeing, and a lakeside bonfire, students left the retreat with new friendships and some intellectual stimulation to help them embark upon the new semester.

















All good things must come to an end

Last week left a web of tangled, sweet and sour feelings in me. It was incredibly happy and emotional, but certainly sad, as we, class of 2013, leave behind our beloved International Affairs Building to conquer our dreams around the world. Loving family members flew from places as Japan, Chile, New Jersey and California to proudly see their sons and daughters, their sisters, nephews, brothers and spouses walk down the graduation aisle and shake Dean Robert Lieberman’s hand to receive a degree from one of the best educational institutions in the world. But much beyond that, they came to cheer for us, to share with their friends our great accomplishments, and to take a small peak of what SIPA and Columbia leave us with. Their satisfaction, I dare to say, was immense.

mcgrad13Seeing all those smiles around campus, all those proud faces, and even the picture-taking-mania made me realize once again how lucky I am.  I’ve had some of the best years of my life during my time at SIPA. I’ve build truly rewarding friendships; with people dear to my heart that I know will remain part of it in the years to come.  I have worked in Kenya, traveled for research to Peru, and discovered the endless, fascinating corners of New York. I’ve had innumerable amounts of beer, all shared with people I feel somehow I was destined to meet. I’ve learned countless new things from the most talented academics in their field. From how to implement a public health nutrition intervention to the impact of colonialism in African development, I have learned to better understand and address the complex development challenges of our world. And this might sound as the typical cheesy phrase us development nerds might be tempted to include on our LinkedIn profiles, but I truly mean it. Today, even those long nights in the library, reading and writing frenetically before a midnight deadline, have lost their sour taste.

mcgrad13cThey say our minds are wise enough to recolor our memories and keep more of the good ones on the surface. Maybe I am under this colorblind effect right now, but I just feel immensely happy and grateful to this school, this university, and above all, to those that so proudly cheered for us last Thursday. Today, sitting among boxes while I pack up my university-housing apartment, the only thing I can say is thank you SIPA, you will be deeply missed. And for those of you getting ready to start this new adventure soon, (with a little bit of envy), rest, take care of your liver and your brains, and prepare to truly enjoy the years to come.

Mariana Costa Checa


Myth Busters! 5 Common Misconceptions that Should NOT keep you from Applying

After my last post on who shouldn’t  apply to SIPA, I started to feel a little bit like a negative Nancy (get it?) so I thought I would share some misconceptions that people bring up during the application process that should absolutely not keep otherwise qualified students from applying.  Some of the misconceptions are about SIPA, but most are about the students themselves.  I hope this gives you a little more confidence as we near our application deadline.

Myth 1: I need a background in Econ to apply to SIPA.  SIPA is a quantitative heavy school and it’s a good idea to have some sort of math, statistics or economics background.  However, you don’t need to have economics courses on your transcript in order to apply.  If you are worried about your quantitative background you can show through professional experience or test scores that you are good with numbers and address the gap elsewhere in your application.  Once you are at SIPA we offer math camp and tutorials to help bring you up to speed.  If you have any sort of quantitative background and are willing to work hard once you get here, don’t let a lack of econ stop you.

Myth 2: SIPA is not for students focused on United States domestic policy and administration.  Because of SIPA’s stellar reputation as an international affairs school (it was built a year after the United Nations to serve as a feeder school to the UN), I was intimidated when I first considered SIPA for domestic policy.  The truth is that SIPA boasts some of the preeminent faculty and alumni in all fields of domestic policy as well as a close relationship with Columbia Law School, Business School, Journalism, Public Health, Social Work and Teachers College, all of which offer domestic based programs at the top of their fields.  Our New York City location means that thousands of domestic policy experts are within reach.  Last year I took a class in race statistics with Professor Ken Prewitt, the former director of the United States’ Census Bureau and our most popular urban policy class is taught by David Dinkins, the former mayor of New York.   SIPA alums run Habitat for Humanity New York City, Newsweek, and SIPA alum Bill DeBlasio is New York City Public Advocate and a leading 2013 mayoral candidate.

Myth 3: My test scores are too low to apply to SIPA.  GRE or GMAT scores are but one facet of your application.  SIPA does not have a “minimum” score to apply because we employ a holistic application process.  While our applicant pool is very competitive and we encourage you to do the best you can, if you have stellar work experience, solid undergraduate GPA, taken some quant courses, and supportive recommendations, you should not let less than perfect test scores hold you back.  If you are concerned about your test scores or any other aspect of your application, this is a great issue to address in your second personal essay.

Myth 4: I can’t afford it.  Graduate school is an investment.  If I told you I didn’t have to make sacrifices to be here, I would be low on funds and a liar.  At the same time, I’ve never doubted that it was worth it.  I’ve learned skills and had experiences during my time at Columbia that I simply would not have gotten any other way—or from any other school.  For example, next semester for my capstone project I will be part of a consultancy for UN Women focusing on political participation. (That means when I graduate and apply to jobs I will be able to list “consultant to the United Nations” on my resume!)  In addition, a SIPA education carries a stellar reputation and connects you to thousands of alumni and employers who will be eager to hire you upon graduation.

During their time at SIPA, most students take out loans, apply for external funding or work on campus (which is how I get to connect with you fine folks through the admissions office) to help defray costs. For United States citizens the government offers a student loan forgiveness program for graduates who make a career in the public or non-profit sector, as many SIPA graduates ultimately do.

Myth 5:  SIPA is too big! I’ll get lost!  While it’s true that SIPA is the biggest public policy/international affairs school in the world, this is a blessing, not a curse!  A bigger school means more resources.  SIPA’s size enables us to offer courses in every policy area from international security policy to United States arts education.  If you’re worried about finding your niche consider the fact that SIPA offers over 40 student driven clubs to choose from, a student newspaper, the country’s oldest Journal of International Affairs and policy and concentration based retreats.  Despite our overall size, our class size is small (two of my classes this semester have only 8 students) and our professors are incredibly accessible-and due to the school’s size there is more likely to be one you’ll want to connect with.  Although we are big for a public policy school, we are smaller than most undergraduate institutions and our campus really feels more like a community.


Graduation 2009

Two times of year always get me really pumped up: orientation and graduation.  For all but a few months of my entire life I have either been in school or worked for a school.  Orientation is particularly great for me because I get the rush of starting school, but I do not actually have to go to class and do the work.  Graduation is a rush for obvious reasons.

SIPA students participate in two ceremonies.  The first is a school specific ceremony and the second is a combined graduation ceremony for all of the schools at the university.  At the SIPA graduation on Monday I was reminded of how close SIPA students become.  Recently I was contacted by an applicant who had a question about the atmosphere at SIPA.  The question was something along the lines of, “Is SIPA more competitive or more community oriented.”

I posed this question to a graduating student and she said, “I think SIPA can best be described as collaborative.”  As she elaborated she talked about the fact that students at SIPA typically represent close to 100 different countries, do a great deal of group work, and share many common goals.  She talked about the fact that since so many students are from so many different places, it is likely you will find someone who has lived or done something very similar to what you wish to do.  Through group work, student groups, and workshops, friendships are formed that will last for a lifetime.  The opportunity to study in one of the most diverse cities in the world with a community of diverse students is a unique attribute that is hard to duplicate.

I am still in close touch with several of the people I went to graduate school with and I witnessed the same type of bond at graduation this week.  Yes, a strong sense of community does exist at SIPA and it is clear to see it.  It binds people through subject matter, career goals, sense of purpose, and genuine friendship.

The main Columbia graduation takes place in the campus quad and from the top of the SIPA building there is a great view.  The picture I took with my Blackberry is not the best, but it gives you an idea of what a unique ceremony it is.  And the weather was fabulous!

"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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