Archive for Fall2017

Seeples Spotlight: Rahel Tekola

This semester the Office of Admissions welcomed four new Program Assistants (PAs) to the team. This week and next, I’m introducing you to each of them in the form of self-interviews. Up first, Rahel Tekola. She’s studying Urban and Social Policy, worked as Chief of Staff to the CEO of an organization focused on domestic violence and poverty, and served on the Mayor’s Star Council to revitalize Southern Dallas and the City of Dallas Domestic Violence Task Force. Here’s what she has to say about her time at SIPA.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

I had a lot of personally compelling reasons for why I chose SIPA, but here are a few of my top reasons:

  1. SIPA is quantitatively challenging and this is a skill-set I wanted to hone in and work on post-working in the real world for three years.
  2. The great thing about SIPA is it’s not a generalist program. This graduate school allows you to delve into an area of passion through concentration and specialization selections. I was incredibly interested in domestic urban development issues and also management and business like classes, and the good thing is SIPA has allowed me to do both.
  3. The professors are as impressive as they look online. I remember coming to visit Columbia the week of Student Admitted Day and sitting in on a class called Venture Capital for Entrepreneurs, and I was absolutely blown away by the practitioner who was teaching the class. The students taking the class were equally just as impressive and fully engaged in the discussion. I really enjoyed that experience and it was instrumental in me choosing SIPA.
  4. Location!! Being in the heart of New York City, SIPA students have access to so many businesses, multilateral organizations, local government and non-profits. I love having the opportunity to catch a train to midtown and network with practitioners in the field any time of the week. The world is truly your backyard here! 

What experiences do you think prepared you to attend SIPA?
When I graduated from my undergraduate institution in Texas I had always planned on going straight through and going to graduate school. Many mentors and people I had worked with gave some great advice, and told me to take time and work before pursuing my master’s degree. So, this is exactly what I did. This time off from school and working in the field allowed me to realize the things I really am passionate about and the things I want to learn to continue building my skill-set. Working at a domestic violence agency for three years imparted me with so much knowledge I was also able to bring this experience to the discussions within classes.   

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?
For the longest time I didn’t want to leave Texas, because it is my home, it is where my friends and family are, I was comfortable and had a great job I loved, however, once I made the plunge to move and attend grad school, I know I made one of the best decisions of my life. I have been able to meet phenomenal classmates and made friends who challenge me every day and allow me to not get comfortable. 

Can you comment on the quantitative rigor in the curriculum?
My head was definitely spinning the first week of school! I knew SIPA is known to be quantitatively challenging, but I, whew – I was not ready. The good thing is most of these classes ask you to do your homework in groups so you will not suffer alone.

How was your internship experience been like?
I worked with the John A. Reisenbach Foundation this summer. I absolutely loved my experience at the foundation, the mission and the people that we serve, and my boss was amazing. I was tasked with board of director development work, drafting their new strategic plan and conducting site visits to grantee non-profits all over NYC. We work with great companies like Facebook so it was neat getting to be in their office and working with their staff, as well. After the completion of my internship, they offered me a position as Program Officer. 

How did you obtain your internship?
SIPA has a jobs portal called SIPALink where employers will post jobs and internships to recruit SIPA students. I applied to directly through the link and the rest is history!


[Photo courtesy of Rahel Tekola | Rahel (left) working this summer ’17 at the Facebook New York Office]

SIPA Alumni Stories: Esther Waters-Crane MIA ’17

Esther Waters-Crane graduated in 2007 with an MIA degree and a concentration in Human Rights. She is currently Chief of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at UNICEF in Kenya.

Describe your background prior to attending SIPA.
I worked in private sector banking for five years in London. I found I wasn’t fulfilled by the private sector so, to supplement it, I did lots of volunteering – mainly with the British Red Cross refugee team.

What motivated you to choose SIPA?
I knew I wanted to study human rights and eventually work for the UN. I was compelled by the stories of the refugees I volunteered with in the UK and wanted to work on issues affecting people in flight, not just in the UK/Europe but more at a global policy level. I sought advice from the career service at my undergrad university (Cambridge, UK) and senior colleagues at the Red Cross – all avenues pointed towards SIPA. Then I visited the campus and SIPA faculty where I met Paul Martin and we discussed SIPA’s links with the UN. From that point onwards I knew SIPA was the right place for me.

What are you doing now?
I am currently Chief of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at UNICEF Kenya, where I am responsible for ensuring that the millions of dollars UNICEF receives, are directed towards, and appropriately spent to address the needs of the most deprived children in Kenya. Prior to working for UNICEF in Kenya (and prior to having my own children), I spent 5 years working for UNICEF and UNDP Somalia where my work involved implementing public health programmes and designing and implementing interventions to engage, empower and protect conflict-affected communities. I also spent 3.5 years working for UNDP South Sudan and the DPKO Sudan, looking at issues affecting women and children in conflict.

How has your SIPA degree helped your career?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without SIPA. I use the skills and knowledge I acquired on an almost daily basis. The connections between SIPA faculty and the UN gave me the exposure I needed to get my foot in the door. It was the perfect segue for me and opened my eyes to the reality of working in the field I do.

What advice would you give a first-year SIPA student?
Network!!! Chat with all your professors about your career plans and ask them to keep their ears open for opportunities. Attend events at Columbia and the UN and talk to as many people as you can. Join professional networks on and off campus and attend conferences on countries of interest to you. The earlier you have an idea about what you want to do after SIPA, the smoother your transition to that reality will be – focus on what excites you and what you’re passionate about, and hone in on the international experts working on this. Adapt your papers and research to fit your future career interests. And, don’t get fixated on grades – they’re not as important in the whole scheme of things as you may think.

SIPA Alumni Stories: Philippe Dauba-Pantanacce MIA ’07

From France, Philippe Dauba-Pantanacce graduated in 2007 with an MIA degree focusing on International Finance and Business. He is now Senior Economist and Global Geopolitical Analyst with Standard Chartered Bank in London.

Describe your background prior to attending SIPA.
My education prior to SIPA was in econometrics, finance and international relations. I started my career in the public sector, working for the French embassy in Washington, DC and in the U.S. Congress. I moved to the private sector to work in finance with HSBC Asset Management where I worked for almost five years both in Paris and New York.

What are you doing now?
After SIPA, I went to work for Standard Charted Bank where I am currently responsible for global geopolitical economic analysis, assessing global risks and their economic implications. My role involves regular contact with policy makers and multilateral institutions and I often provide economic analysis in the global media. Previously, I covered the economies of the Middle East and North Africa for eight years for the Bank, based out of Dubai.

What motivated you to choose SIPA?
I chose SIPA because one of the most senior executives at HSBC Asset Management, the Global Head of Emerging Markets, had gone to SIPA, and I discovered that he was not the only one in our line of business. They all had only praise for SIPA.

How do you think SIPA helped you achieve your goals?
SIPA’s program is rich, diverse and addresses most of the challenges you will face in an international environment with constantly moving parameters. In an international career you have to be able to keep adapting to a changing environment, and the complexities of today’s world requires the ability to analyze various layers of information – whether contextual, political or financial – in order to come up with the right decision making process. In a nutshell, a holistic approach to the world’s problems today has become paramount. SIPA definitely addresses this better than any other program I know.

A View From the Class: Andres Ochoa Toasa & James Schalkwyk

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is excited to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series, featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and SIPA faculty.

Headshot of AndresAndres Ochoa Toasa

Andres graduated from SIPA in May 2017 with a Master in International Affairs, concentrating in Economic and Political Development (EPD) with a specialization in Advanced Economic and Policy Analysis. Here, Andres discusses his EPD workshop project and how it impacted his SIPA experience.

Why did you choose SIPA and the EPD Concentration?
I chose SIPA over four other graduate schools to which I was accepted because of SIPA’s international public policy focus and because SIPA has built a community that reflects global perspectives through its faculty and students. My interest in the EPD concentration grew more organically. I have a law degree specializing in human rights and my professional experience is mainly in international development. I was drawn to the EPD program, not only for the strength of its courses, but also for the depth of the workshop projects, which stand out as practical and impactful. 

How did you decide on your EPD Workshop? What was the process like?
It was a difficult decision because there were so many choices. My development background is in youth engagement; however, at SIPA, I chose to focus my studies on courses related to monitoring and evaluation, the United Nations, and management. I applied for projects that combined these topics and were outside of my regional area of Latin America. I applied for projects based in Kosovo, Nepal, Cote d’Ivoire, and Myanmar; ultimately, choosing the project based in Kosovo. In the end, it was a very fun process because it showed me how much I had grown in two years and what continues to drive me as a development professional.

How did you spend your time in Kosovo? What were some highlight experiences?
In Kosovo, I worked very hard with another SIPA student on a project mobilizing young Kosovars to pursue sustainable development goals (SDGs).  We conducted all of the stakeholder analysis and interview processes, laying the groundwork for a second student group. We reached out to ministers, ambassadors, NGOs, youth movements, human right activists, journalists, and even artists to see how youth could begin mainstreaming the SDGs. One highlight experience occurred during our last meeting with an official who complimented us on our impressive understanding of youth engagement in Kosovo.

In what direction do you see your career moving? How do you think the EPD Workshop contributed to your future goals?
My career is now moving rapidly into international development. Through the workshop, I developed many tools and greater experience that complement my development background and professional experience and will allow me to address and take on global challenges.

 James Schalkwyk

James is a SIPA Fund Fellow and a second year student pursuing his Master of Public Administration, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy (USP) and specializing in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis (APEA) and the U.S. Region. Here, James discusses his motivation for attending SIPA and his SIPA experience thus far.

What did you do prior to attending SIPA?
I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and studied music and English literature at the University of Cape Town. After interning with DARPA in Washington, DC, which focused on how to encourage private investment in interstellar space travel, I became interested in how governments and the private sector can work together to achieve technological and social breakthroughs. This led me to NASA Ames in Silicon Valley, where I worked in public-private partnerships and public and governmental affairs. In addition to putting together agreements touching all aspects of NASA’s work, my group focused on encouraging the emerging “NewSpace” industry in and around Silicon Valley. My office devised the innovative funding mechanism that gave rise to SpaceX and the Orbital Sciences Corporation, which helped renew the ability of the U.S. to service the International Space Station. The summer before coming to SIPA, I worked for the former director of NASA Ames on The Breakthrough Initiatives, a new program funded by Silicon Valley billionaire Yuri Milner, aimed at sending a probe to Alpha Centauri within a generation.

Why did you choose SIPA?
Several things influenced my decision to attend SIPA: I spoke to an alumnus who was extremely enthusiastic about his time at SIPA; I attended an event in San Francisco where Nobel Laureate and Columbia University Professor Joseph Stiglitz spoke to a small group about his work and our interests; and finally, and probably most importantly, I received a fellowship offer. Graduate school is a huge investment, and I cannot understate the importance of any level of financial assistance. This assistance made SIPA possible for me.

How did you choose the Urban and Social Policy (USP) Concentration?
Despite my experience in aerospace, I was becoming increasingly interested in domestic policy. I originally applied to the Economic and Political Development concentration; however, during my first semester, I found myself drawn to topics related to local governance. The outcome of the November U.S. elections also helped guide my decision, highlighting the importance of ensuring that government provides services and protections to the people who need them most. After choosing my classes for the spring semester, I found that almost all of them were in the USP concentration, cementing my decision to switch.

What has been your experience at SIPA so far?
I’ve made friends from all over the world and discovered a love for economics and statistics. This past summer, I worked with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation on city partnership programs with private companies and startups, which allowed me to get to know city government from the inside and increased my interest in “Smart Cities” and the “GovTech” space. Thanks to an opportunity through USP, this fall I will begin working part-time with the Citizen’s Budget Commission, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic organization that attempts to influence change in the finances and services of New York City and New York State government. SIPA has both deepened my existing interests and opened up brand new vistas, and I feel more confident, engaged, and excited about the future.

Fall 2017 New Students Series: Katy Swartz

In today’s installment of our New Students Series, wave your virtual hand at Katy Swartz. Katy is a Texan (ditto!) who moved to the frigid north in Massachusetts to attend Smith College. She has a degree in Jewish Studies, and taught English in Bulgaria for a year. Today, she lives in Brooklyn and works for the NYC Department of Education as a data specialist. Overall, she’s lived in five U.S. states and three different countries. I’m sure her experience abroad will serve her well in a future career as a Foreign Service Officer. Hook ’em, Katy!

Full Name: Katy Swartz
Age: 26
Degree Program: Master of International Affairs
Concentration: Economic and Political Development
Hometown: Colleyville, Texas, United States

Undergraduate University: Smith College
Undergraduate Major: Jewish Studies
Undergraduate Graduation Year: 2013

What’s your professional background?
My professional background thus far has been in education and operations. I lived in Bulgaria for a year after graduating from Smith College, where I was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the capital city, Sofia. After this experience, I moved to Brooklyn, NY where I have been working at a NYC Dept of Education high school for 3 years. I am currently the School Business Manager and Data Specialist, which translates to the director of operations. I oversee all operational aspects of the school including budget, purchasing, student and teacher scheduling, technology, data collection, and compliance.

Did you apply to SIPA to change careers or to gain experience in a career path you already have experience in?
I think it is a little bit of both. I realized while living in Bulgaria that I wanted to go into the field of international affairs, but I could not imagine what exact position or job duties most excited me. Over the last two years in my current role, I have been able to realize that my true talents lie in operations and management. Therefore, while I will be changing from the field of education to international affairs, I hope to remain in positions that allow for similar roles as my current job. I am excited that SIPA offers many management courses which will give me the academic background I need to continue in this career path.

What was your reaction when you found out you were accepted to SIPA?
For the two weeks leading up to learning I was accepted, I stalked the SIPA blog and application portal daily. The morning I found out was a Friday, and I had concluded (earlier that morning) that decisions would not come out until the following week, based on the timeline the previous year. I was sitting at my desk at work when I suddenly saw the email from SIPA saying my decision was ready to be viewed. Thank goodness I had saved all my passwords in the application portal already, because I was too nervous to remember anything that was happening. I screamed quite audibly when I saw the confetti coming down the screen and definitely scared my office-mate!

Why did you say “yes” to SIPA?
I was either incredibly bold or incredibly naïve in applying to graduate school, as I chose to only apply to SIPA. SIPA was the only school that had such a robust institute dedicated to the study of Eastern Europe (and specifically allowed for study of the Balkans), as well as rigorous coursework alongside practical hands-on experience through the Capstone workshop & internship opportunities. Therefore, my decision to attend was natural upon finding out I was accepted!

What do you most look forward to as a graduate student at SIPA?
I am most excited to gain an academic background in what has been a personal interest for so long. While I have done much independent learning and reading, I can’t wait to gain a deeper understanding in political development within the field of international affairs. Specifically, I can’t wait to student more about my regions of interest– East Central Europe and Russia/Former Soviet States.

Do you have any apprehensions about starting graduate school?
Of course! Any change comes with many apprehensions, but my excitement far outweighs them. I am most nervous about being back in school and keeping up with the rigorous coursework. I am also worried about balancing the life I’ve established already here in New York with my new life at SIPA.

What are your goals after SIPA?
After SIPA, I hope to join the US Department of State and work as a Foreign Service Officer in the Management Track.

If you could change one small thing about your community, country or the world, what would it be?
It’s hard to name just one! I think it would be nice if more people were willing to take a break from their various mobile devices and spend some time just talking to others the old-fashioned way. I think that so much of the way we interact with others stems from our constant distractions, as well as the fact that we can now structure so much of our lives in a way that prevents interacting with those who are different than us. Perhaps if more people took the time to talk to those outside their immediate communities, we would see less of the xenophobia emerging across the world.

Tell us something interesting about yourself:
I’ve lived in 5 US States, 3 different countries, and, by my last count, a total of 17 different apartments/homes (not including many dorm moves during college!). Perhaps my desire to join the Foreign Service stems from the many moves I’ve made in my life.

[Photos courtesy of Katy Swartz | In the hallways of the school where I work, Brooklyn, NY, May 2017]
*Note: This series is published in its original form with no editing.

"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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