Archive for concentrations

Top 4 Reasons to Study Energy and Environment at SIPA

The Energy & Environment concentration (or lovingly, EE) shines the brightest and greenest at SIPA. If you turned a light on today or unplugged your phone from the charger this morning, YOU could be an EE student at SIPA. As a current EE student, I’m here to tell you with four reasons why studying EE will help you shine in your career (all puns intended).

  1. The Cohort: A Family Garden Growing at SIPA

EE hosts a slew of events that foster not only a strong professional network at SIPA in the EE sector, but also a warm community to come home to after a long day of watching the planet slowly warm. We start off in the September with an EE retreat with fellow students over a weekend of hiking, archery, rock climbing, boating, and breathing in the fresh air of New Jersey*. I made some of my best friends at SIPA during this weekend retreat and some even helped me find career opportunities. Throughout my time at SIPA, I found EE peers to really want to get to know me as a person – something I value as a graduate student who enjoys a close knit community.

  1. The Classes: Think in Systems and Gain Depth on EE Topics

The best metaphor I can give you for EE classes is a layered cake. In EE, you learn how to bake the cake, ice and decorate the cake, cut the cake, smell the cake, taste the cake, eat the cake, and BE the cake. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much Great British Baking Show, but essentially, EE gives you a systems perspective to all things in the EE sector – you learn about finance, energy systems, electricity markets, oil and gas, management, policy solutions, and what a carbon neutral future looks like.

At the same time, you can gain a lot of depth in a subject area by taking specific electives in EE. My favorite class at SIPA, Renewable Energy Project Finance Modeling, was the first EE class I took. Despite having very little background in EE prior to SIPA, I learned how to create a financial model for a wind farm and learned the barriers the industry faces. My knowledge on the topic later blew my bosses away at my summer internship.

  1. The Adventures!

As an EE student, I have had unique opportunities that other students at SIPA don’t get. During UN Climate Week, I served as a youth participant, along with 5 SIPA students, in the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative Conference, a forum for oil and gas companies to speak with stakeholders about lowering carbon footprints. We questioned oil and gas company CEOs on the impact of their work and building trust among stakeholders. The most important aspect of the forum was being a student voice in a room of decision makers and contributing real ideas to how the conversation on climate change in the oil and gas industry should be driven and where weak points still exist. As a SIPA student, it warmed my heart (the conference did, not the climate) to engage in conversations that will push the ball forward on climate change policy.

  1. Find a Job, Get Money, Get Paid

EE students realize the most important reason you’re here at SIPA is to get a job. Students at SIPA lead the SIPA Energy Association, a student organization that throws the largest graduate student job fair for energy and environment jobs in North America. In the morning, you can hear esteemed policy leaders and industry experts speak at the Energy Symposium. In the evening, you put on your best business professional gear to take part in an exclusive career fair on campus. Many of our students find jobs during this time, which is perfect for students who are new or veterans to the sector.

As future <insert dream future job title>s engaged in public policy, you can’t ignore energy and the environment! These four simple reasons should be enough to shine the light on why studying EE is the best at SIPA.

*As a New Jerseyian, I have to take a moment to vouch for my state. It does in fact have clean, fresh air in the vast pine tree forests. We have a bad reputation (thanks to New Yorkers and the show Jersey Shore), but really we’re nicknamed the Garden State. If you go to SIPA, there’s a high chance you will eat some tomatoes or blueberries grown in New Jersey!

So many concentrations, so little time

An alum once told me that the best and worst thing about being at SIPA is the amount of choice we have. Those words could not ring truer today. Seeples are spoilt for choice when it comes to courses on offer, even more so when we have the opportunity to cross-register (in layman terms: take classes from other Columbia University schools).

It’s easy and tempting to want to do everything, but that quickly becomes overwhelming when you’re trying to juggle school, internship/work, student organization, school events, sleep and wellness, and having a social life.

When I first came to SIPA, I had no idea what my graduate school game plan was – what skills did I want to develop, what classes I wanted to take, what knowledge I wanted to get which would help me towards a meaningful career after graduation. I did the safe thing and opted for core classes in the first semester to buy myself some time. While you’re not locked into your concentration when you’re at school, it helps to have a clear idea of what direction you want to head in. Here are three tips to help you find what concentration/specialization works for you:

#1 Figure out your area of interest and choose a concentration that caters to it

AKA, why do you want to go to graduate school. By now, you may already be in the early stages of your personal statement, which has hopefully helped you think about what drives you and what your career goals are. There are six concentrations for both MIA & MPA degrees and each curricula has a different subject matter and focus. The focus of each concentration is quite self-explanatory as they are rather distinct – economic development, energy, human rights, international finance, international security, and urban & social policy.

Choosing a concentration does not restrict you from taking classes that might relate to other concentrations. Rather, it serves as a starting point to help you focus/tailor your graduate school academic life. One of the biggest concentrations is Economic and Political Development (EPD), which I belong to. I chose EPD (and stuck to it) because of the breadth of courses and the focus on development and emerging markets. As I hope to return to Southeast Asia, this emphasis on the developing world is important for me.

#2 Identify your specific interest or leverage your professional background to specialize

Choosing a specialization is SIPA’s way of helping you further focus your degree. Most people have one specialization but some do have two specializations, because why not. Specializations require less credits to fulfill the criteria compared to concentrations. But don’t fret because you only need one to graduate. If you’re unsure of how to choose, go with your gut because SIPA offers flexibility in changing your specialization. Management is a popular specialization because it offers a wide range of flexibility, especially if you’re looking to take classes outside SIPA. Some Seeples also specialize in a region. Some specializations such as Technology, Media and Communications (TMAC) are still broad and offer more breadth and further focus such as cybersecurity.

The tl;dr version is don’t stress because there is a lot of flexibility to explore and choose your specialization if you’re admitted. It might be more helpful to think about what geographic coverage you might prefer.

#3 Recognizing how much flexibility you want to pursue electives

Every concentration has different requirements and the amount of credits you need to take to fulfill that requirement. Concentrations such as EPD, Energy and Environment (EE) and the International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) may have more core requirements compared to others. This might limit your ability to take more electives and classes outside of SIPA, if that is what you are looking for, or if you’re not keen to take full 18 credit semesters. Some requirements may also be challenging to fulfill. For example, EPD has a second language requirement and language courses can be 4/5 credits. This might limit the number of electives you can take per semester if you are required to take language classes and cannot test out. Similarly, IFEP is a more quant-heavy concentration which requires satisfying more advanced economics and quantitative courses.

Think about the trade-offs of what experience you are looking for out of graduate school and how much flexibility you require for your own well-being.

Energy & Environment Concentration Q&A

We’re just about halfway through our SIPA Concentration Webinar Series, where each Concentration Director gives an overview of their area of study, what they look for in strong SIPA candidates, and answer questions about their concentration. Professor David Sandalow and Concentration Manager Elora Ditton took the time to answer some extra questions about the Energy & Environment concentration from prospective students:

Q: Do you think the policy nature of the program would be valuable to someone who does not want to commit to only in the public sector? Are there any components of the program that address business concepts in energy and how they interact with policy?
A: Absolutely. Our graduates are equally employed by the private and public sectors. Particularly when studying energy and environment, it’s important to consider policy, business, technology and science and the interactions of these sectors. As such, our curriculum focuses on giving students a comprehensive understanding of how all the key stakeholders interact, while giving students the flexibility to cater the curriculum to their specific interests.

A handful of EE students come into the program looking for employment in the private sector, specific to energy. These students tend to take courses on financial modeling and markets related to energy, and intern at financial institutions or consulting firms.

With this said, you can’t work in energy and not know the regulatory policies that affect business decisions, and similarly, you can’t work in policy and not consider markets or the financial tools needed to fund projects/infrastructure. Considering this, though we are a policy school, many courses apply concepts from business/finance to energy issues.

Q: What are some of the career outcomes of SIPA EE graduates? Especially some of the climate policy graduates – do you see the majority of them working in NGOs, industry, finance, directly in governments, or some combination of these post-graduation?
A: A mix, particularly since we offer a broad range of courses which allows students to tweak the curriculum based on their career objectives.

For example, if a student knew they wanted to work in energy finance, we have a lot of courses specific to this (e.g. corporate finance, renewable energy project finance, international energy finance), so many of the students who go down this track end up in private sector jobs. If a student wants to focus in climate policy, we have equally the number of courses and opportunities here (e.g. climate change policy, environmental conflict resolution, environmental economics). These students might apply to be EDF fellows for an internship and may end up in local/federal government and/or NGO positions post-SIPA.

In other words, where students end up post-SIPA is largely determined by what their focus is during their time here. A benefit of SIPA EE is that we have the courses/curriculum to support a broad range of interests and outcomes. It also depends on if students are trying to stay in the U.S. or are going to work internationally (particularly for placement in government and the political landscape for climate policy).

Here are a few examples of recent employers: Rystad Energy, NYSERDA, International Finance Corporation, Connecticut Green Bank, Lazard, Bloomberg, Citibank, UNDP, The World Bank, Deloitte, Accenture, McKinsey & Company, ICF, ConEdison, GE, PG & E, EDF, the Earth Institute, the Nature Conservancy, WWF, ExxonMobil, CohnReznick Capital, Powerbridge, US DOE, USDS, and more…

Q: Hi there, can you talk about how the EE concentration would vary from the MPA-DP program? How does it break down within the MPA and MIA tracks? On a different note, I notice many policy professionals have a law degree. Please convince me that SIPA is a better option! Thanks so much!
A: The MPA-DP program is going to give you more exposure to hard sciences while EE focuses more on quantitative skills (e.g. economics, financial modeling, etc.). There will be more flexibility to fine-tune the curriculum to your interests in the MIA/MPA track whereas the DP curriculum is pretty set.

MIA/MPA gives you tools to design, incentivize, implement, and assess policies so you have more flexibility in application of the degree over a law degree, which is going to give you a very specific skill set. It really depends on your career goals and what you think makes the most sense for you.

Also, you can take law classes as a SIPA student! Environmental Law, for example, counts towards our EE policy requirement.

Q: Can you talk about SIPA Energy and Environment concentration as it relates specifically to energy in international development?
A: SIPA in general offers many courses in international economic and political development, and in EE, you will consider sustainability and other geopolitical and security issues related to energy and the environment.

Q: Is it difficult to catch up in SIPA for the Science and engineering part? I have not been exposed to professional undergraduate environment and energy knowledge.
A: Nope! We have many career switchers where this is their first exposure to energy and/or environment. Our classes are designed to give you the basic technical and topical foundation to address energy and environment with a policy and/or business application. With that said, since we are a policy school, though some of our courses expose you to science and technology, none of our courses are solely in the hard sciences or engineering (though you have access to these types of courses through the other schools at Columbia).


Two Admissions reminders for you Fall 2019 applicants:

1. It’s less than a month until the January 5th application deadline, and we have a few more admissions information sessions before then:

2. For those who want to hear straight from the Concentration Directors, here are the final webinars coming up:

A mid-November check-in: Snow, Virtual Info Sessions, Application Tips

Winter is Coming

It was the first snow of the season yesterday! Here’s a snapshot courtesy of first-year student @luzangil.

Unfortunately due to the snow causing transit issues, we did have to postpone the Diversity Spotlight event arranged with the SIPA Students of Color (SSOC). I’m so happy to see the level of interest in this event, and we’re so sorry for the inconvenience. Everyone will be notified once it’s rescheduled; in the meantime, learn a little more about SSOC’s most recent Identity @ SIPA panel.

Register for our Virtual Information Sessions

While we let everyone know about events on-campus here in NYC in case they’re able to attend, we’re aware that many of you are busy or live further away. With that, we have multiple virtual information sessions coming up that you should register for.

An exciting addition to these virtual events: SIPA’s Concentration Directors will be talking about their unique concentrations and what they look for in program candidates. There’ll be a chance for Q&A at the end, and this is a great way to get a detailed look at the nuances of what each concentration offers.

Application Tips

Finally, for those of you working on your Fall 2019 applications, here are blog posts addressing some common questions we’ve been receiving lately:

Why Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy concentration is the right “fit” for Jake Sprang MIA ’19

Thanks to SIPA student Jake Sprang MIA ’19, Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy concentration, for this guest post. You can read the case for the Urban and Social Policy concentration from Dylan Hoey MPA’19 here.

When I was applying to graduate school, I focused above all on finding the right “fit.” I was looking for a school and a program that merged my interests in human rights, international development and humanitarian response. When I came to Admitted Students’ Day, I had been accepted into SIPA to study Economic and Political Development, and was torn between three different universities. By the end of the day, I knew I would be going to SIPA and that I would be studying human rights and humanitarian policy.

During Admitted Students’ Day, I had the privilege of hearing from the directors of several of the concentrations. But, when I sat down in the information session with Professor Elazar Barkan and Susannah Friedman, Directors for the Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy concentration, everything clicked. Professor Barkan told the room that, when deciding which program to study, we needed to focus on what we wanted our professional identity to be. It was at that moment, I knew that being “development professional” wasn’t what I wanted. If I wanted to work in humanitarian response, I needed to study humanitarian response. That night, I switched to humanitarian policy, accepted my offer letter, and haven’t looked back. Since I made that decision, I have constantly been validated that I made the right choice for me. While there are many reasons why I’m proud to be in the HRHP concentration, there are three that stand out above the rest.

1. Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy gives students a more cohesive analytical framework that other concentrations. In HRHP, we learn about approaching human rights and humanitarian response from a rights-based approach. Simply put, when we study humanitarian response, we start by focusing on ensuring and upholding the human rights and dignity of people affected by complex emergencies. We focus on the rights they are denied and how we as responders must work with them to ensure their rights as individuals and a community are protected throughout all phases of response. This approach is incredibly unique at SIPA. While many concentrations, especially Economic and Political Development and the MPA in Development Practice, focus on building practical skills, they do not provide the cohesive strategy for analyzing problems that will be faced in human rights careers. It’s like have a bunch of tools without a toolbox. On the other hand, the HRHP program gives students both: the tools to implement humanitarian response, and the toolbox: the analytical framework of a rights-based approach.

2. Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy is the most flexible concentration at SIPA, allowing students to customize the program to their needs. One thing I love about the human rights and humanitarian policy concentration is the fact that I can build experience in the areas that most interest me. For example, if I want to learn about Water and Sanitation in Complex Emergencies, that class is an HRHP elective, cross-listed at the Mailman School of Public Health. Or, if I want to learn about the rights of Refugees, Forced Migration, and Displacement, I can take that course through the Institute for the Study of Human Rights. I can do the same with the Law School, studying Transitional Justice, or Gender Justice. And if I want to take a non-HRHP course, I have the space in my schedule, due to the flexibility offered by the program, which has less core requirements than other concentrations. HRHP gives me the opportunity to seek out the courses that interest me and develop the practical skills that I want to obtain. The program lets me choose the tools that I want in my toolbox.

3. I want my professional identity to be firmly grounded in Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy. At the end of the day, you need to pick the SIPA concentration that fits best for you. For me, I want to identify as someone working in the humanitarian field coming with a strong grounding in human rights. Designing humanitarian response programming is vastly different from development programming. To be a humanitarian, I realized that I needed to study humanitarian response. I’ve seen the importance of this professional identity through some of my cross-listed courses, with both development and humanitarian students. My colleagues have built an amazing set of skills for analyzing and designing international development programs. However, these skills don’t quite fit with the humanitarian field. It’s like asking a plumber to fix your roof. If you want to seek a career in human rights or humanitarian response, you need to make sure that you have the right tools and toolbox for the job. You can only get those through the HRHP concentration.

In closing, I want to make a small plea. When looking at the world today, it’s clear that human rights are under attack. The foundations of the human rights order developed after the Second World War is being eroded by the rise of nationalistic regimes across the globe. While this human rights system was and remains deeply, deeply flawed, it was the only system we had to protect vulnerable people from oppression and the deprivation of their rights and dignity. On the humanitarian side, things are equally grim. Mass displacement of people, driven by conflict, climate change, natural disasters and poverty is leaving millions of people in need of humanitarian relief. With the global North becoming increasingly unwilling to act, lower and middle-income countries are largely footing the bill. The need for humanitarian relief is greater than ever, and will only grow more and more pressing.

We need future policymakers who are passionate, intelligent and dedicated to addressing these growing challenges. Pick the concentration that fits best for you, but I know that I wouldn’t feel as fulfilled studying anywhere – or anything – else.

"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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