Archive for EPD

Program Assistant Introduction: Nabila Hassan MPA ’20

Nabila Hassan was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She is a second-year MPA student concentrating in Economic and Political Development and specializing in Technology, Media and Communications. After graduating from the University of Edinburgh with a MA in History and Politics, Nabila worked in communications in Malaysia focusing on social impact, public sector client communications and digital communications.

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?
Before SIPA, I spent three years at McKinsey & Company in Malaysia with the integrated communications team in Southeast Asia and then Asia. During my time there, I had the opportunity to work on client projects with public sector and government-linked companies which re-energized my ambition to contribute to change both in Malaysia and in the region.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
A former colleague attended SIPA a few years ago and encouraged me to apply. I dug deeper into SIPA’s curriculum, faculty and student profile and it quickly became my dream graduate school. Knowing that I would return to Southeast Asia, I wanted to attend a school with immense diversity – from its people and thinking to the breadth of classes and faculty expertise. SIPA also has a healthy balance of classes that teach practical skills, which is useful regardless of what industry you pursue after school. Location was most definitely a helpful deciding factor – there’s no other city like New York and the abundance of opportunities that exist here.

Did you choose to attend SIPA to change careers, or to gain experience in a career path you already had experience in?
I chose to attend SIPA to change careers or rather, to focus my career. My previous role was in communications and I would like to move towards a technology policy role which will both leverage my prior experience while at the same time be a shift towards a more specific policy career. So I guess it’s a little bit of both!

Do you feel like you have gotten to know some of the faculty members?
Yes! The faculty members that I have gotten to know at SIPA are incredible and extremely thoughtful! They have given me career and academic guidance and have proactively shared opportunities that fit my interest. As I completed my undergraduate degree in the UK, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the education system in the US. I find the approaches very different as the US takes a more hands-on approach to education, and there are efforts to link you into the broader college community.

What most surprised you about SIPA after you arrived?
How fast orientation ended and the first day of classes arrived! The first few weeks at SIPA was overwhelming because it took time to adjust to being a student again while at the same time juggling classes, add/drop period (this was not a thing in the UK!), attending socials and making friends. What surprised me the most are the incredible people here who constantly create an inclusive and welcoming environment.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? Why not? How did you perform in those classes? 
I applied to SIPA with very limited quantitative experience that I struggled with writing the quantitative resume, primarily because I did not use those skills after high school. Studying for the GRE helped build that confidence and I also took a college-level online introduction to micro- and macroeconomics which helped me better prepare for those classes at SIPA. While I was initially apprehensive about any quantitative class, they have all turned out to be very valuable and it will most definitely be useful regardless of what job you wish to pursue post-SIPA. Strangely enough, Quantitative I was my favourite class last year, and I hope to take Quantitative Analysis II in the Spring.

Program Assistant Introduction: George-Ann Ryan MIA ’20

George-Ann grew up on the island of Antigua in the West Indies with roots in the nearby island of Montserrat. After graduating from Pace University in New York with a BA in Economics focusing on quantitative research methods, George-Ann worked in research and administration roles for nonprofits and government organizations dedicated to economic and social equity. She was set to apply to PhD programs before SIPA caught her eye as a program where she could explore her passions for studying international economic inequality, maintain and develop quantitative skills, and supplement her work experience with solid public policy knowledge.

Alongside her academic exploits at SIPA, she is Steering Community Coordinator at RISE: Working Group on Race, Inequality, Solidarity, and Economics ( a student group) and is a founding member and Chief Financial Officer of The Sadie Collective — a nonprofit aimed at mentoring, empowering, and equipping Black women in economics, public policy, and related fields. 

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?

I was an Economic Scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and a Research and Administrative Associate at the Economic Security Project — a nonprofit with a mission to explore and advocate for cash-transfers as an important tool for fighting inequality. 

Did you choose to attend SIPA to change careers, or to gain experience in a career path you already had experience in?

A little bit of both. I have always loved economics for both its theory and mathematical elements, but before coming to SIPA I was dead-set on a path for a PhD in economics. However, my job experience in the nonprofit sector really showed me that value of a more well-rounded education that prizes both the quantitative and the more policy and communications oriented side of economics and economic research. I came to SIPA in order to get a bit more of that in my repertoire.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?

I’ve enjoyed the diversity of experiences I’ve encountered here and meeting people from countries I never thought I would such as Afghanistan and Mongolia. SIPA has really broadened my horizons and frames of reference when looking at international policy problems. Through student organizations (and some pretty fun parties) you will meet people who will become lifelong friends and hopefully have couches to surf all over the globe.

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

After graduation, I hope to return home to Antigua and work in the private sector for a bit before eventually establishing my own think tank focused on economic development and governmental accountability. 

What’s your internship experience been like?

My internship experience has been pretty interesting. I spent the summer in Washington D.C. at the Brookings Institution working in The Hamilton Project — an organization housed within Brookings’ Economic Studies Department — as a Summer Research Intern. There, I called on many of the skills I’ve honed both at SIPA and elsewhere through using STATA for data preparation and analysis to contributing to reports by compiling relevant literature for Fellows. It was challenging but I enjoyed it wholeheartedly. 

What do you think makes a good SIPA student? What qualities do stellar SIPA students typically possess?

To me, a good SIPA student is passionate about the world around them and is buzzing with ideas about how to make it better. For the most part, many of my colleagues are internationally focused with aspirations to work toward making the world a better place through sound policy, whatever the arena. 

Photo credit: Mathematica Policy Research

A View from the Class: Basbibi Kakar MIA ’20

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. In this issue, we feature current SIPA student, Basbibi Kakar MIA ’20. Basbibi is a KUMA/Kuznetsov Fellow and a first year Master of International Affairs candidate, concentrating in Economic and Political Development and specializing in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in business from Montclair State University in New Jersey, I worked as a finance and operations intern at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for a year. During that time, I also interned with the Malala Fund, focusing on grant writing, philanthropic outreach, and support to country representatives from Pakistan, India, Turkey, Nigeria, and Afghanistan in preparation for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London. I also managed language translations of the Girl Advocacy Guide, a help guide for advocating for girls education and human rights, and the Fund’s partnership with NaTakallam, a service which pairs Arabic-speaking displaced persons with learners around the world for language practice over Skype.

I also volunteered with the Rutgers Presbyterian Church to provide translation services for the Refugees Task Force, help to resettle Afghan refugee families, cultural orientation for volunteers working with refugees, and student tutoring.

What was your experience working at the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) in Kabul?

I was born in Afghanistan, but grew up in Pakistan as a refugee after my family fled the Taliban. I returned to Afghanistan in 2008. Before attending Montclair State, I worked full-time as Assistant Head of School at the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), the only secondary boarding school for girls in Afghanistan. At SOLA, I helped design a curriculum that included cross-cultural exchanges and distance learning via a virtual exchange program. In partnership with the Global Nomads Group, an organization leveraging technology to connect middle and high school students with peers from around the world, we connected SOLA students and teachers with U.S. classrooms to promote empathy, awareness, and agency to tackle pressing issues. It was a privilege working at SOLA, watching ambitious 12 to 19 year old girls have the opportunity to receive an education and listening to the remarkable stories of parents who, after living with forty years of war, finally had hope for the futures of their children.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree and attend SIPA?

Growing up and working in Afghanistan, I have experienced firsthand the need for better development policies and policymakers. I believe those who have lived in the country will be most effective in making those changes. I decided to attend graduate school so that I can be one of those changemakers, and I chose SIPA because of its international focus and policy concentrations and opportunities for practical as well as classroom experiences.

Why have you chosen to concentrate in Economic and Political Development? 

There is a dire need for educated people in all sectors in Afghanistan, and women play an important role in conflict and post-conflict recovery. However, women are underrepresented in Afghanistan’s economic and business sector. I want to be a positive force in improving Afghanistan’s economy, reducing the effects of war, and preventing further violence. Positive economic initiatives will provide job opportunities for younger generations, moving the country towards peace and prosperity.

What has been your experience thus far in your first semester at SIPA?

I have enjoyed my first semester and meeting students from all over the world. The professors are highly competent, delivering great lectures and providing support with assignments and constructive guidance. I have been challenged from the start, but am confident that the experience will help me develop both personally and professionally.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

It has been hard for me to leave my family and other loved ones back in Afghanistan, especially given the unrest and violence that occurs on a daily basis. However, I am determined to stay strong, completing my degree at SIPA and making the most of my experience.

A Case for Urban and Social Policy

Like many prospective graduate school applicants, I had a hard time deciding exactly which school or program was right for me. It’s incredibly difficult to think about places, schools, and classes you’ve never taken in the abstract, let alone even trying to compare them. While being incredibly fortunate, my situation is also a little complicated; as a Pickering Fellow, I am required to serve in the U.S. Foreign Service for five years after graduating from SIPA. While applying, I was attempting to reconcile my interest in domestic politics and cities, with my career and general interest in international relations. I wanted a degree that would wholly prepare me for my time in the Service, while also providing me the skills and expertise to succeed if I ever decided to leave the organization.

SIPA made sense on a variety of baseline levels; it’s incredibly diverse, and very international, two things I value both personally and professionally. It is prestigious and known for producing top-end talent in almost every profession related to public service and government. When I got in, it was almost a no-brainer; I knew this is where I wanted to be.

However, I had a much harder time deciding which concentration was right for me. As someone who has worked with numerous organizations engaged in human rights and refugee-related work, Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy was appealing. Similarly, Economic and Political Development sounded like a natural fit with the work I’d be doing in the Service. Urban and Social Policy, with its focus on development and broad social issues, also piqued my interest.

As you can probably guess, I ultimately decided to concentrate in USP. Now let me tell you why.

An Excellent Urban Studies Education…in the Greatest City in the World

Ever since I moved to my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I have been in love with cities. I want to know their population density, the history behind their most famous landmarks, the backgrounds of the migrants that shaped them. I want to know what sports teams the locals support, and the rivalries that may exist between different parts of town. Understanding a city, and its working class people is something that gives me immense joy and a feeling of understanding and solidarity with others, even if I am an outsider.

It just so happens that SIPA is located in arguably the greatest, or at least the most culturally significant city in the world. USP concentrators have the unique opportunity to study their favorite policy issues with leaders in the field, who are often engaged in their work while teaching. If housing is your favorite issue, you can study with William Eimecke, the previous Secretary of Housing for New York State, and then witness every day how city and state leaders are attempting to solve the affordable housing crisis. If you’re interested in education, you can cross enroll in classes at Columbia’s prestigious Teachers College, and intern at the NY Department of Education, one of the biggest city agencies of its kind in the world. If you’re considering running for political office, you can take classes with ex-Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter, and the legendary New York City Mayor David Dinkins. In summary, SIPA and New York attract some of the best minds in urban governance, and for this reason alone, SIPA has a comparative advantage to other schools with urban studies programs.

It’s Broad but You Can Make It Your Own

If you say you study Urban and Social Policy, you inevitably have to tell someone what that actually means. That’s partly because it is so broad; almost every social issue is now inherently an urban issue and vice versa. That being said, SIPA’s requirements make it incredibly easy to find your niche within the concentration, while also providing students with a generalist background that will prepare them for any type of work in the field. I am personally passionate about anti-corruption and good governance initiatives, and have therefore taken numerous management and systems analysis oriented courses. One of my friends in the concentration has explored the growth of data and algorithms in public sector decision making, and its impact on communities of color. Another friend of mine is committed to understanding the intersection of gender and development in urban communities. As a future diplomat, I know I will be serving in some of the world’s truly global cities; therefore, my USP education will provide me with the skills and knowledge I need to understand the key challenges these cities face, while also allowing me to dive deeper into many of my domestic interests. In turn, by drawing upon the experiences and interests of your peers, and the expertise of USP’s great faculty, you too can find your own place in this passionate and driven community.

The People

USP is a relatively small concentration, compared to some of the others available at SIPA. However, I consider this one of its greatest strengths. USP attracts bright, motivated and culturally savvy people from around the world, with many hailing from the world’s fastest growing and important urban centers. On an intellectual level, this is incredibly rewarding; often, you will find yourself in the halls or off-campus at a small meet up, casually discussing an urban policy issue with people from entirely separate countries and cities, each one providing their perspectives and experiences. Socially, you are surrounded by people who also love the city, and all that it has to offer. Personally, I have felt that my education has extended well beyond the walls of SIPA, as my network of USPers continues to challenge me, and introduce me to new concepts and ideas on a daily basis.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…

No matter where you are in the admissions process, I encourage all prospective or recently admitted students to think critically about what they want out of their graduate school experience and how every concentration or program may advance your personal and professional growth. Nonetheless, if you are passionate about cities and social issues, I suggest that you take a look at the concentration’s requirements and electives which are available on the SIPA website. It will give you a better idea of the type of coursework you can expect, while also hopefully inspiring some excitement at the prospect of being a USP concentrator!

Seeple snapshot: Katherine McGehee

Katherine McGehee_SIPA photo

Katherine McGehee
Master of International Affairs
Concentration: Economic and Political Development
Specialization: Management

Katherine McGehee is a native New Yorker, Katherine attended the United Nations International School through high school, which most definitely sparked her interest in international affairs. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 2012 with a dual degree in Foreign Affairs and French and a minor in history. During college, she studied abroad at Sciences Po Paris where she pursued courses on development in Africa. Before joining SIPA, she worked for the New York City Mayor’s Office for International Affairs on urban-level research and at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières on advocacy work. Since studying at SIPA, she has interned for a UN-related agency, served as an editorial assistant at the school’s Journal of International Affairs, and interned in public sector consulting.

What attracted you most to SIPA?

What attracted me most to SIPA are two things: New York City and the Capstone component. SIPA is unique in the fact that it has a strong network internationally, domestically, and especially in New York. I wanted a school where I would have a strong network of alumni, professors, and contacts in New York City as my immediate career goal is to remain in New York following graduation. I do want the opportunity to have a strong resume anywhere else in the world too and SIPA carries a strong reputation globally. The Capstone is another unique element of SIPA’s curriculum as it gives SIPA students the opportunity to translate theory into practice through fieldwork experience. I am really excited about the opportunity to work as a consultant for a top organization over the course of my second year.

Have you taken classes at other Columbia Schools?

At SIPA, I am continuing to develop my interest in international affairs with a particular focus on private sector development of public services. Most notably, I am concentrating on the broad issues of food security, public health, and infrastructure. The beauty of SIPA is that it is possible to explore a range of issues in the classroom, through internships, and through consulting projects organized by the school. This is also made possible through the opportunity to take courses at other Columbia schools. Last semester, I took a class called, “International Development and the Private Sector,” which gave me a different perspective on ways to create successful development projects.

Can you comment on the quantitative rigor in the curriculum?

One of my biggest concerns coming into SIPA was the quantitative requirement in the curriculum. I had never studied economics, statistics, or financial management before and I was really anxious about stacking up next to other SIPA classmates. While SIPA’s core quantitative courses are certainly rigorous, the school ensures that its students receive the support they need to learn and succeed in these classes. Tutors, review sessions, recitations, and team activities are available to work through problem sets. Multiple course levels are available to ensure that students can choose to what extent they would like to be challenged.

What advice would you give a first-year student?

Before answering this question, I consulted with my SIPA peers (most notably Adero Miwo, MIA 2015) to get their perspectives. The dominant advice: be open, be focused, and be disciplined. SIPA can be overwhelming because of the seemingly infinite number of course options, student activities, and volunteer opportunities. By having an objective of what you want when you start at SIPA, you can get the most from the curriculum and from the school community. Remaining open to new possibilities and staying disciplined, especially when it comes to time management, can ensure that you succeed at SIPA.

 

"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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