Archive for cross registration

Peter Zheng MPA ’20 reflects on his first year at SIPA

Hi! I’m Peter Zheng, MPA Class of 2020 and concentrating in Economic and Political Development and triple specializing in East Asia, Management, and Technology, Media, and Communication Studies! I was part of the 5-10% accepted from undergrad so I did not have work experience prior to SIPA. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Pittsburgh Honors College with quadruple majors in Economics, Political Science & Government, Business Administration, and a Bachelor of Philosophy (master’s-level degree) in Psychology within 4 years.

What was your first year of policy school like?

Whenever people ask me about policy school, I always say, “It’s a choose your own adventure.” It’s not hard if you don’t want it to be hard, but it can be hard if you make it hard. You prioritize what is important to you.

To me, I value experimental and classroom learning. In my first year of graduate school I took 12 courses at SIPA, 2 courses at Columbia Business School (CBS), and 4 courses at a rigorous online business certificate program outside of Columbia University. Boy, OMG did I learn. It’s probably something I will never ever do again, but I learned a lot and met so many cool humans because of it. So, for that, I am super grateful.

During my first year, I created a startup (but decided to pause after talking to media executives because the media ecosystem is highly distorted, and barriers of entry are super high). I started an independent research project at Columbia Business School with a CBS PhD student, and did research in the management division at CBS, which was a continuation from my summer internship before SIPA. I applied and received five fellowships from CBS/SIPA, joined the board of SIPA’s Technology Student Association, learned how to live alone in Manhattan (Hell’s Kitchen is lit), and met some really cool people who have become dear friends!

What are your plans this summer?

I’ll be spending my summer working at UNICEF as a business operations analyst (networked from a SIPA professor). I was also accepted into a joint healthcare entrepreneurship program at Harvard Medical School and MIT in June. I’ll be TA-ing the Executive Ethics EMBA course at CBS (networked through a CBS professor). I’ll also be creating a new social impact startup, synthesizing both SIPA and CBS resources.

Do you have any regrets?

I used to question whether coming straight into an MPA program without full-time work experience was the right choice, and whether I should have pursued a different degree because my interests span across disciplines. I was considering a deferred MBA or a PhD in Management. I didn’t know if the MPA was worth the investment or whether this degree was right for me.

A year later, I learned it’s not the letters on the degree that matter (our graduates enter each sector at a proportional rate: private sector, public sector, and government) but the connections you make, which land you the opportunities.

As a SIPA student with access to all of Columbia University’s resources, I was able to spend my time pursuing interests at both SIPA and Columbia Business School. This created rare, intersectional opportunities that make this question easy to answer. It was most definitely worth it, and I don’t question it anymore!

Why did you choose SIPA?

Location, faculty, school brand, and job placements (median salary & industry) — These were the most important things to me! I was deciding between 9 schools (Cornell, Georgetown, Duke, Oxford, Brown, Carnegie Mellon, McGill, University of Chicago, and Columbia), but chose Columbia for the aforementioned reasons.

I approached my decision objectively by creating a grad school utility function and allocated criterion with separate weights and running it through Excel. I included additional personal reasons as well: I wanted to be in a progressive city; I’m a foodie so food options were a must; living and tuition costs; and a place where my parents and friends could easily visit me!

The location of SIPA is unbeatable and something you should consider heavily if you are a go-getter and want to network with people. It is so easy in Manhattan! The faculty is top-notch at SIPA and Columbia University as a whole. You have amazing guest speakers e.g., former Secretary of Education John King Jr., Hillary Clinton, Wendy Kopps, and talented adjunct faculty who are working in these fields that bring their work experience into the classroom settings. These are just to name a few!

What is your advice for student starting their first year?

  1. Stay true to your core values. If you don’t like drinking, ditch the happy hours and attend other events that don’t circulate around booze! I don’t drink so I invite people to coffee/tea/food outings and create meaningful connections there.
  2. Don’t lose confidence in yourself and ditch the imposter syndrome! You were admitted for a reason.
  3. Consider taking cross-registered courses for Pass/Fail if you don’t need the credits for a concentration or specialization. Grades can vary across classes, so if you cross register in other schools at Columbia, know that an “A” there may translate to an “A-/B+” at SIPA.
  4. Engage in intentional networking and relationship building.
  5. Taking all of your core curriculum courses during your first year can get exhausting. Frontloading your core can mean doing multiple problem sets and studying for exams every week. I took half the core my first year with interesting electives and will take the other half my second year with some fun electives. This makes the semesters more fun for me. This also gives ample opportunity to spread yourself across Columbia, engage with the greater NYC community, and do fun things.
  6. You’re here for a terminal degree: Spend less time in the library, take advantage of Columbia University’s resources and not just SIPA (you are only here for two years, so maximize the university’s resources while you can as a student), and create your own unique SIPA experience.

If you have more questions about SIPA or want to chat, please reach out! I’m on Instagram at @peteey27 and SIPA Admissions can connect us by email. I’ll show you my favorite food and coffee spots! 🙂

Pictured at the top: Peter hosting a housewarming party with SIPA classmates.

SIPA Students Compete in the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge

On May 1st, a team of five SIPA graduate students represented Columbia University in Philadelphia for the inaugural Total Impact Portfolio Challenge, organized by the Wharton Social Impact Initiative and the Good Capital Project. After months of preparation, the Columbia team was one of five out of 25 teams who earned advancement through two initial rounds to the final presentation round of the competition, which began in August 2018. The final presentation was made during the 2nd annual Total Impact Conference.

The Columbia team members are Alecia Hill MPA ’19, Ji Qi MPA-DP ’19, Marc Tannous MPA ’19, Kingsly Wang MIA ’19, and Mingyi Xu MIA ’19 (pictured above). They were very proud to represent Columbia and to have been selected for the final round. They would like to thank the many advisors who helped them throughout the process, including Anna Ginzberg (U.S. Trust), Cary Hanosek (Merrill Lynch), Ethan Powell (Impact Shares), Andrew Hornung (Brookmont Global Eguity), Professor Inna Okounkova, Professor Deborah McLean, and Professor Colm O’Cinneide.

The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge is designed to train students to construct and execute a 100% impact portfolio, incorporating publicly traded securities and private investments to achieve a market rate of return and specific impact targets according to the mandate of a hypothetical client.

The Good Capital Project (GCP) is a collaboration to drive more capital towards purpose-driven investments. Founded in 2017, GCP is an Intentional Media Company. Sharadiya Dasgupta is the Managing Director of GCP and is a SIPA alumna (MPA ’17, Economic Policy).

Interested in Learning about Impact Investing?

We asked the team what advice they would give for incoming and prospective students if they want to learn about impact investing:

Join the Columbia Impact Investing Initiative (CI3) and apply to be a CI3 consultant or a MIINT team member.

If you are interested in the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge (TIPC), consider applying your second year. The process begins in August and is greatly benefited by experience – including in CI3 – connections, and relevant coursework. It would be helpful for your TIPC team to have at least one person with substantial investment / portfolio optimization experience (and ideally a CFA charter holder).

For students interested in impact investing, explore courses in the following areas:

  • Courses focused on the implementation of impact, such as: Community economic development; social value investing; PPP.
  • Courses focused on the measuring and evaluation of impact, like: Impact investing courses; impact frameworks and tools like the GIIN’S IRIS, GIIRS, Toniic; and ESG standards like MSCI, Arabeque, Sustainalytics, and Bloomberg.
  • Courses focused on traditional finance and quantitative skills, including Statistics, International Capital Markets, Multi-Asset Portfolio Management, and non-SIPA courses. (SIPA students can cross-register at other Columbia University graduate schools, including Columbia Business School.)

Your Frequently Asked Questions, Answered by Current SIPA Students!

Hello! The Admissions team would like to say congratulations to all Admitted Students! We have been receiving a lot of questions on a variety of topics, from housing options to SIPA’s quantitative coursework. We decided to compile our answers to some of your most frequently asked questions. Feel free to drop other questions in the comment!

What is SIPA’s quantitative coursework like? Will I be able to pass macro/micro economics?

Samantha: The quantitative coursework for the core courses at SIPA consist of three courses: Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Quantitative Analysis (statistics). Usually students take Micro in the fall semester, and Macro in the spring semester. However, Quant can be taken in any of the four semesters, but most students complete it in either of their first two. The workload is going to be a bit heavy, as you have homework, recitation, lecture and exams for all of these quantitative courses, but it’s all doable. You don’t need to be an expert in either of the three areas in order to do well in them, but getting in some practice before hand can’t hurt. In order to prepare yourself for the coursework I recommend completing the summer math tutorial SIPA provides, as well as attending the Math Boot-camp during orientation. However, If you’re still panicked about the fact that you’re going to see numbers and have instantaneously forgotten all the math(s) you’ve ever learned, remember you are going to be ok and I guarantee you will pass.

Julia: I would also say that the weekly homework are done in groups so some of the stress is shared. Many students don’t have an economics or statistics background (like me!) so you won’t be alone! The professors are also very approachable and helpful if you are struggling.

What is the SIPA community like as a whole? Or for a specific concentration?
Dylan: The SIPA community is generally very open and welcoming. Before arriving at SIPA, I assumed that most people would be very competitive and serious. While everyone here cares about their academics and career, I have found the opposite to be true; in general, people are very supportive and friendly. I think one of the other benefits of having such huge incoming classes is that you are always meeting new students. So on top of it being a friendly, collaborative environment, I’ve never really felt like I lacked opportunities to meet new people.

I’d say most people end up befriending people within their concentration. Makes sense right? You take a lot of classes with them, you probably end up at the same events, and you naturally share a lot of similar interests. As a USP concentrator, I met most of my USP friends my first semester and we’ve remained close since then.

What is the recruitment/job-hunt like at SIPA? Does the Office of Career Services, or SIPA in general, support students?

Julia: SIPA students have very diverse interests, so there isn’t a standard way students go through the internship or job search. When I was looking for my summer internship last year, I used the Office of Career Services internship database, which is a detailed account of all the internships previous students have done, to give me an idea what I could be interested in doing. I then applied for internships through the job/internship portal on SIPAlink. I would also say the info sessions that OCS organize are helpful as well. I just went to an ACLU panel discussion last week that was inspiring and exactly I needed to motivate me in my current job search!

What is something you wish you knew about SIPA before attending?
Dylan: I wish I knew more about cross-registration and dual-degree options at SIPA. That was more me not doing my due diligence on researching SIPA’s program offerings before attending, but it is something all students can do if they prepare in advance.

What has been the best/worst part of your time at SIPA?
Dylan: The best part has been developing my interest in anti-corruption policy and journalism. I came from a very theory focused Political Science background, and SIPA was the first place where I was able to really dive into policy.

Worst time has definitely been the quantitative coursework. I appreciate it and I begrudgingly recognize its importance. But it can be an enormous pain! That being said, everyone who comes to SIPA will pass the core quantitative classes. Do not fear!!

Julia: My best time was traveling with other Seeples on student trips. Last summer I went to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and this winter break I went to Israel. It’s a great way to learn more about the politics and history of the region, but also spend quality time with your fellow Seeples.

What are the housing options like in the Columbia area? How much can I expect to pay and where should I generally look?

Samantha: I would say that most students who do not get Columbia student housing generally live near or north of campus. Most of us live in shared apartments in Morningside Heights, Harlem, and Washington Heights. Living with roommates helps keep the cost down, and living near or north of campus is 1. Convenient and 2. More affordable. While rents vary, I say students usually pay anywhere from $900-$1500 a month in rent. The farther north you go from campus the less expensive apartments become, so if you’re looking to cut costs I recommend looking uptown. The benefit of living near campus is that it is close enough for you to walk to, so you wouldn’t have to pay for transit expenses to get to school like you might need to if you live further north.

How do you manage time between classes and internships/work?

Dylan: This is a hard question to answer because it really depends on the classes I’m taking and the way assignments are structured for each class. Some weeks, I’ll have no assignments due besides reading for class. During those weeks, I obviously attend classes, work around 15 hours at SIPA Admissions as a program assistant, and do my readings either in the afternoon after classes or in between classes while I’m still on campus.

Other weeks, it’ll feel like my professors conspired to absolutely slam me with assignments. In those cases, I’ll usually plan on working 11am – 5/6pm-ish on weekends (at least) and then work in the afternoons after classes are finished and in between classes. If I’m particularly stressed with my program assistantship work, I may ask to take a few hours off and make them up at a later date. Most SIPA jobs are understanding and flexible with students.

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.

My Experience with Cross Registration

One of the great things about SIPA are the many course offerings across concentrations and specializations. Although the majority of students spend their first year focusing on the core curriculum, by your second year there are plenty of opportunities to branch out and take electives. One of the great things about SIPA is that it allows you to cross register at other schools within Columbia University. This is a really great add in because it allows you to mix and match across a variety of fields and courses. The process itself is fairly straightforward and varies between each individual school. For example, Columbia Business School offers two cross registration phases during the semester. There are a limited number of seats available for SIPA students in specific business school courses; however, there are a lot of courses to choose from. In my experience, you will generally get your first choice if you apply. SIPA students are able to cross register at several schools at Columbia University, including Teachers College, Columbia Law School, and the Mailman School of Public Health.

Overall, my experience with cross registration has been very positive. I’ve taken courses at the Mailman School of Public Health, the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) and Columbia Business School. At IRAAS, I took “Gender, Labor and Sexuality in the Caribbean” with Dr. Pinnock. The course explored the concepts of gender, sexuality and labor and the historical and contemporary perspectives of work in an increasingly globalized society. Taking the course in my second year was really beneficial, as I’d spent my first year at SIPA focusing on the core curriculum and taking classes in my concentration, International Finance and Economic Policy, which gave me a strong background in macroeconomic theory and analysis. The course allowed me to combine my two interests, gender and economic policy and apply my coursework from SIPA in my final paper in the class, which was on Sex Work and the Dollarization of the Economy in Contemporary Cuba.

I highly recommend cross registration and taking advantage of the many courses across Columbia. It is especially important for those of us who are interested in public policy to gain a breadth of experience across a variety of sectors.

Note from Admissions: Graduate school is a big commitment and “fit” is hugely important. Take advantage of SIPA class visits and register here.

"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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