Archive for curriculum

My Capstone experience with Barclays Capital

Capstone is a semester-long, mandatory project for Master of International Affairs (MIA) or Master of Public Affairs (MPA) candidates at SIPA. Like most of my peers, I have registered for my Capstone in the final semester. My client is the Public Finance Division of Barclays Capital and I have five other colleagues with me in the team. We are the consultants and our academic orientation at SIPA is either Finance (IFEP) or Energy (EE). We all have a background working for public-sector organizations or private entities that engage in public-sector financial management. I am an MPA candidate, concentrating on EE and my team members are Isaac Rauch (MPA, IFEP), Cathy Chen (MPA, EE), Yidai Zhao (MPA, IFEP), Aly Waleed El Salmi (MPA, IFEP), and Jay Shin (MIA, IFEP). My faculty adviser for the project is John C. Liu, former Comptroller of the City of New York (2010-2013) and former member of the New York City Council (2002-2009). He also teaches municipal finance and public policy in master’s programs at the City University of New York and Columbia University.

Spring 2017 Capstone typically go live a semester before the assignments begin. So I applied for and received my Capstone assignment last fall. This project was my first choice because of my previous professional experience in the sector and my interest in learning more about public-private partnerships in green infrastructure investment. The scope of my team’s Capstone is to conduct an agency-wide research on opportunities for Barclays to provide lending, underwriting, consulting, and advisory services for green bonds to finance public infrastructure in the state of New York. Our first meeting with the client occurred in December 2016, where they briefed us on what they are looking to get out of this project. Coming back from the winter break, my team met with our faculty adviser to assign roles and responsibilities so that we could delve into content research. Currently, we are doing a comprehensive study of federal, state and municipal level agencies and programs in New York, and are reviewing their previous borrowing trends and deals, while identifying opportunities for our client. The research part truly requires a lot of time and constant coordination between client and consultants. But due to the very practical nature of the project, this is a huge opportunity for us to design a deliverable that would add substantial value to our client’s business.

Before starting the project, I was concerned about the workload that a Capstone would entail, and I thought of it much like a part-time job. The final semester is often stressful for graduating students, with the added pressure of job search, in addition to most people having internships on top of everything else. What helped all of us this semester is having clearly defined roles and responsibilities and a monitoring framework to track outcomes and activities. But most importantly, I felt getting comfortable with my team members was crucial since we will be working closely with each other for a whole semester. In that regard, we had a lot of fun taking a personality test (I am supposedly the ‘Virtuoso’!) and sharing our results with each other over drinks on a weeknight. Who says Capstone is all work and no play?

[Photo courtesy of Professor John C. Li | Sadia (bottom right) takes a Seeples selfie with her Capstone team and Professor Liu.]

Tech and Policy Initiative pursues cutting-edge activities

What does policymaking look like in the 21st century? Now in its third year, SIPA’s Tech and Policy Initiative tries to answer that question by pursuing a variety of cutting-edge activities in the areas of cybersecurity, Internet governance, digital economy, and civic tech.

Professors and scholars like Jason Healey, Laura DeNardis, Hollie Russon Gilman, Eli Noam, and Dean Merit E. Janow are helping SIPA lead a lively—and ongoing—conversation around these issues. So is Research Fellow Hugo Zylberberg, who joined SIPA in fall 2016 to coordinate the Initiative.

The Tech and Policy Initiative launched in 2014 with critical support from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Since that time, SIPA has acted as a convener, using its position at Columbia and in New York City to engage young scholars and tenure-track professors and working to bridge the gap between policymakers, business leaders, and academics. In 2016, SIPA published its first Tech and Policy Working Paper Series, aggregating the work commissioned over the initiative’s first two years. Carnegie Corporation of New York has renewed its support for the initiative for two more years, beginning in January 2017, enabling SIPA to further consolidate and institutionalize its efforts.

“We created the Tech and Policy initiative because each of the core fields we engage at SIPA is being transformed by digital technology,” said Dean Merit E. Janow. “Our students are already seizing the policy, research and entrepreneurial opportunities created by digital technology, and we believe SIPA’s research on complex geopolitical and economic challenges must include consideration of digital policy developments around the world.”

Adding another important dimension to the Initiative, SIPA has received a grant from the Nasdaq Educational Foundation to support new initiatives in entrepreneurship and public policy. The series of initiatives funded by the grant will emphasize entrepreneurship and innovation stemming from both information and communications technology (ICT) and digital technology, along with their intersection with public policy globally. Programming began in fall 2016 and will last for three years through spring 2019.

Among major events planned for the spring semester are visits by Toomas Ilves, former president of Estonia, a collaboration with Sidewalk Labs on tech and governance, and a new series of “Uptown Cyber Dialogues,” which aim to convene cyber talent across New York City around action-oriented discussions. A major conference on the geopolitical consequences of Internet fragmentation will take place at Columbia on May 5, while another planned conference will revisit the state of the field of cyber conflict.

Interest in tech and policy topics has continued to increase at SIPA and throughout Columbia’s campus. In the last two years, SIPA has added classes that deal with cyber issues and seen the formation of student clubs such as the Digital and Cyber Group at SIPA. The School has also intensified its collaboration with the law, business, engineering and journalism schools in this area.

“Ten to fifteen years ago, no one was talking about cyber conflict. Now nearly every newspaper—not just in their technology sections but on the front page—is talking about cybersecurity on a weekly basis.” said Healey, a senior research scholar at SIPA. “The field is unique because it is so fast moving… We want SIPA to be a big player and positioned as an expert in this field.”

The grant also allows SIPA to bring on research fellows like Gilman, Healey and Zylberberg.

“Tech and policy isn’t just about international security. It can be just as meaningful to students studying economic governance, trade, development or human rights,” said Zylberberg. “We want to help make those connections.”

Ginger Whitesell MPA ’17 contributed to this story.

What the Fall 2016 curriculum plan looks like

This time of year we receive several requests from incoming students asking for an idea of what their education will look like starting in September. As the image above previews (drag the arrows), your course load will be packed in classes in quantitative preparation, policy development, and international topics of interest. Then as things progress, your schedule will focus more on courses in your concentration and specialization. The good news is the course offerings vary and rotate per semester so there’s always something interesting to discover—SIPA’s even added some new courses this year!

Browse the Curriculum pages to delve deeper into the current lineup and the sample pictured above. But don’t let the more than 300 course listings stress you out. You’ll have plenty of time to plan and register for classes during orientation week. We just wanted to give you a sneak peek of what’s to come. (Keep in mind course requirements will vary if you pursue a dual-degree program, so contact the Office of Student Affairs with specific questions.) Later this summer you’ll be assigned an advisor and s/he will fill you in on all of the details in August. Until then, enjoy your break.

Oh, and heed some course-selection advice from a recent graduate, Sriram Gutta, MPA ’15. Not sure where to get started with your course search? Take a look at “Our PAs’ favorite courses at SIPA.”

Seeple Snapshot: Oscar Pocasangre, MPA

Oscar Pocasangre

Master of Public Administration (MPA)
Concentration: Economic and Political Development (EPD)
Specialization: Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis (APEA)
Oscar speaking at a panel on emerging markets at the OECD as a representative for SIPA’s Center on Economic and Global Governance (CGEG)

Oscar speaking at a panel on emerging markets at the OECD as a representative for SIPA’s Center on Economic and Global Governance (CGEG)

 

What did you do before SIPA?

Prior to SIPA, I worked for two years at the MIT Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) as a policy and training analyst in their Chile office. I focused on creating courses on randomized trials for policymakers and also worked with governments and NGOs throughout the region in promoting the use of good evidence when crafting public policies. I was also able to write up various policy publications, including a book chapter on conditional cash transfers.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?

There have been many highlights! Academically, I think the highlight has been taking a class with Andrés Velasco, a former finance minister of Chile and former presidential candidate during the Chilean primaries in 2013. He was very accessible as a professor and he was able to combine rigorous theories from political economy and game theory with his personal experience in politics to explore issues that policymakers face in practice. Another highlight was being able to represent SIPA at two conferences in Paris sponsored by the Center on Global Economic Governance. There were many distinguished speakers at the conferences, including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the Minister of Finance of France, representatives from the UN and the OECD, among many others. It was a great opportunity to hear what these experts think about the world’s current problems and how to solve them.

What kind of work do you hope to do when you graduate?

I want to be a university professor and do research on the political economy of development, governance, and ways of using experimental methods to answer questions of political science. So, that’s a cool way of saying that I hope to stay in school after I graduate.

Can you describe the nature of the SIPA curriculum?

The SIPA curriculum is flexible enough that you can choose to focus on the areas that interest you the most and approach these areas from both theoretical and practical perspectives. SIPA does tend to emphasize practical experience. One of the big values and strengths of the SIPA curriculum is that it requires students to take a series of economics and statistics courses, which I think, are vital for anyone involved in policymaking.

Do you feel like you have gotten to know some of the faculty members?

Yes! This has been one of the other highlights of my time at SIPA. I find that professors here are very accessible and willing to help and offer advice. Many students don’t take much advantage of the office hours of the faculty, but these are great opportunities to get to know professors. I’ve been able to work closely with one faculty member on a research project. As an aspiring academic, this has been an incredible experience and opportunity.

 

Wish I had known

Congratulations! If you’re reading this you are almost ready to start your SIPA adventure! (And I ,God-willing, have a high paying job recruiting and training women in American politics.) This is not going to be one of those graduation-speech type posts where I talk in general terms about life advice I wish I had two years ago. (Take risks! Follow your passion! Put potato chips in a sandwich!)  These are five pieces of practical advice for SIPA navigation, the blunt truth tips that would have made my experience slightly smoother sailing.

 

1) Make sure the University has your immunization records before you get here.  I spent my first registration period freaking out because there was a hold that kept me from signing up for classes.  It turned out I, and a lot of my classmates, had not updated our immunizations and the university had placed a hold on our accounts.  It took an extra 36 hours before I could sort it out and get registered. Don’t let it happen to you!

2) Buy your books on Amazon, from 2nd Years, or not at all.  Two of my professors this year didn’t even bother ordering books through the bookstore because books are so much more expensive there. You can find almost all the books you are assigned in class used on the Internet. In addition a lot of second years will wind up selling their used books especially for popular classes. Finally before you go out and pay for a book, take a look at how often it appears on your reading list. Some professors assign only one or two chapters per semester out of a 900-page tome. If this is the case you might be better off sucking it up and borrowing the book from the library or sharing it with a classmate.  I have even found excerpts I needed to read for class available for free on the Internet.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying, “don’t do the reading” (this isn’t undergrad), I’m just saying do it for free.

3) Makes your classes what you want them to be about. One of the things I really love about SIPA is the flexibility of the curriculum. That said, there will still be classes you are required to take for the core or your concentration, or just that you want to have on your resume that are not exactly your cup of tea.  In most classes that require a final paper or project, your professor will be fairly flexible in allowing you to choose your topic.  Even if it deviates slightly from the suggested topics on the syllabus, if you can make a case for why it is relevant to the course, your Professor is likely to allow you to write it.  Professors want you to be interested in your work and they don’t want to read 30 of the same thing anyway.  This semester I wrote three different papers on gender quotas in legislatures for three very different classes. I still had to do original research for each but it allowed me to delve in and really become an expert on the topic.

4) Always show up for the class, even if it’s full.  If you are really passionate about taking something don’t take “course is full” for an answer.  A lot of Professors will make an exception and people are likely to drop out on the first day anyway. If you’re there, you’re the one who gets to take their spot. Even if you can’t make it in the course that semester, you’ll be able to make a connection with the professor and s/he is all but guaranteed to give you preference next time.

5) This is who Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz are. My Admitted Students Day everyone was freaking out about Jeff Sachs speaking at the plenary session and I was like “who?” Sachs and Stiglitz are two big name Professors and their names get bandied about a lot especially in the first two weeks of school.  I was able to take classes with equally accomplished and notable faculty in subjects in which I was interested, but still it will help you to know who these two are.

According to Wikipedia:

Joseph Stiglitz is an American economist and a professor at Columbia University. He is a recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2001) and the John Bates Clark Medal (1979). He is a former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank, and is a former member, and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.[1][2] He is known for his critical view of the management of globalization, free-market economists (whom he calls “free market fundamentalists“), and some international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Jeffrey Sachs is an American economist and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. One of the youngest economics professors in the history of Harvard University. He has been known for his work on the challenges of economic development, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, debt cancellation, and globalization He is Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals, having held the same position under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He is co-founder and Chief Strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and hunger.

 

You’re Welcome!

Nancy

 

"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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