Archive for international

Life Beyond the Classroom: Student Organizations

If you’re thinking about coming to SIPA, you might also be thinking: Is the school only about studying? How else can I get involved in student life? Where can I meet friends that have similar interests to me?

Don’t worry, there is life beyond the classroom! Once at SIPA, there is an astonishing number of student groups at your fingertips. 40+ student organizations provide social, professional, and educational activities to meet your diverse interests. You can take part in a policy group, a regional focus group, or the annual SIPA Follies — there’s something for everyone. The student-run organizations offer the freedom to explore Columbia’s and New York City’s resources in a relaxed setting. Some groups invite visiting dignitaries to campus for informal discussions, while others coordinate research-focused Spring Break trips abroad. No matter your interests, there are ways to get involved at SIPA without getting lost in a sea of textbooks and policy memos.

I want to share my personal experience in one of these organizations. I’m Sebastian Osorio, a second-year MPA student from Colombia. I was the president of one of the largest, most active and coolest (😎) organizations at SIPA, the Latin American Student Association, known as LASA. When I started school over a year ago, I never imagined I would play an active role in a student group. I had just begun life at SIPA and was still navigating my way through class schedules and the nuances of grad school.

After getting settled in New York and adjusting to student life, I found myself with some free time, especially after being used to working 12+ hour days. With that, I decided to research and participate in more student organizations. While I wanted to be busier, I didn’t realize then the commitment and responsibility required to lead one of these groups. I ended up running for president of LASA (and in a very old school Latin American way, I was the only candidate (but it doesn’t diminish my victory!)).

Being a part of LASA has been the highlight of my graduate school experience. There, I met an incredible team and made amazing friends. The board was composed of thirteen members from eight different countries. The board’s diversity in experience and background helped us overcome obstacles and accomplish many ambitious initiatives. In the beginning, I barely knew any of the board members. But as the semester went on, we collaborated well together, creating a platform for discussions on national, regional and international public affairs of Latin America, while also sharing our broad and diverse cultures with the SIPA student body.

LASA became one of the many prominent student organization at SIPA, and we led multiple activities and events like academic brown bag lunches with professors, cultural walks around El Barrio (East Harlem), movie nights, Spanish and Portuguese language sessions, fundraising events and welcome parties. At LASA, we tried to model our agenda after the age-old motto: work hard, play hard. Students came to depend on LASA as their one-stop shop for both professional and educational seminars as well as celebratory after-exam events.

Overall, I gained a lot from being a part of LASA. Personally speaking, the lessons I learned from my time with LASA paralleled the knowledge I gained from classes. I was given the opportunity to test my leadership and managerial skills, while also coordinating a team with shared goals but different skill sets and interests. I had the chance to network and build relationships with notable speakers, esteemed faculty, and accomplished students from across Latin America. But mainly, I gained a family.

With that said, I strongly encourage you to research the student organizations when you arrive at SIPA and find a place where you can contribute to student life and create an experience that you will carry with you long after you graduate.

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.


Looking for money to pursue an international and language study program?

Make sure the Boren Fellowship is on your radarThe Boren Fellowships provide funding to U.S. citizens who are pursuing international and language study in world regions critical to U.S. interests, such as Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East.  Boren Fellowships for graduate students provide up to $30,000 for language study and international research.  Boren Fellowship awards are made for a minimum of 12 weeks and maximum of 24 months.

Recipients of a Boren Fellowship accept a Service Requirement to work for the federal government in the national security arena. Award recipients are not guaranteed a federal job after graduation – they must secure a position themselves.

The 2015-16 application deadline is January 27, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. EST.  Boren Fellowship applicants will be notified of their status by mail in late April.

For more information about the application process, click here.


SIPA Summer Internships Abroad

One of the greatest things about SIPA is the opportunity to do a summer internship abroad. And with abroad, I mean almost any corner in the planet. From Bhutan to Brazil or Cambodia to Bolivia, hundreds of SIPA students say goodbye to New York City every May to embark on fascinating adventures.

This past summer I decided to go to Kenya. Before coming to SIPA, I worked for four years in development projects at the Organization of American States, but my experience was centered in Latin America and the Caribbean. The idea of living and working in East Africa has always been appealing to me; my summer internship was a great way to get a taste of what this amazing region has to offer.

My internship, like most students in the MPA in Development Practice program, was with an Earth Institute project. A fellow student and I worked with Millennium Cities Initiatives, a project that provides technical assistance to over 10 cities across Africa to advance urban development.

We were based in Kisumu, a warm and relatively small city in Western Kenya, on the shores of the mystic Lake Victoria. Our mission was to support the District Health Office in identifying all health providers in the District, and carry out a survey to find out more about their infrastructure conditions and the services they provide. In a city where only a handful of streets have a name, we also carried out a geo-mapping of all clinics, hospitals and dispensaries, plotting them in a Google Map that will hopefully help local authorities to better manage health delivery.

Driving around Kisumu slums in a motorbike in search of clinics constantly reminded me of the importance of doing field work to give sense to what we study at SIPA. The challenges governments face to provide quality services and the many obstacles low-income people confront to access them are some of the most present discussions we have in class. Every summer, SIPA students have the opportunity to see these problems first hand, greatly enriching our understanding of the complexities behind development.

Blog post submitted by Mariana Costa.  Mariana is a second year student in the MPA in Development Practice program at SIPA. 

New Student Photo Series 2012 – Post #7

We took a brief Blog hiatus but we’re back with some more photo submissions.  We received a few in the past few weeks so we will post them in the next week or so before the class arrives for Orientation on August 27th.


Today’s first set of photographs were submitted by Elisa Dumitrescu, an incoming MPA student.


All photo’s submitted were taken in various locations in Kenya.

A tailor working on the roadside at one of the busiest junctions in Nairobi

A bicycle belonging to a security guard. Most people in Kenya either walk or cycle to work – or take a minibus (matatu) at some point in their commute

Photo was taken at one of the major used clothing markets in Nairobi – Mutumba/Toy Market. Clothes are often sold in large bundles for 50 shillings a piece (less than a dollar).

Some local children in Lamu, Kenya on Shela beach


The second set of photos were submitted by Nancy Widjaja, an incoming MPA-DP student.


My best friend Liyana visited me in Bangkok in 2011 and we decided to take a detour from the usual shopping & spa routine to drive about 2.5 hours out of the city to Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, more famously known as the Tiger Temple, in Kanchaburi province. The Theravada Buddhist temple cares for about 100 tigers and tiger cubs (most roam freely or with a simple leash!). We had the awesome opportunity of playing with about ten cute tiger cubs and we even got to bottle-feed them. They were really cute, but don’t be fooled by their innocent looks…they do bite and scratch hard!


I was really excited when I was sent to Beirut, Lebanon, to attend an OECD conference in October 2010. I had heard that Beirut is a very pretty city, but all my expectations were surpassed! The people were also very nice and warm (and beautiful!). This picture is one of my favorite from my Beirut photo set. Here the gorgeous Mohammad Al-Amin mosque, an Ottoman-style mosque established by the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and inaugurated in 2008, sits side by side with Saint George Maronite Cathedral, established in late 19th century. You can also see ruins of ancient Roman structures in the foreground. For me, it offers a taste of how beautifully diverse and rich in heritage Lebanon is.


The other ‘perk’ of living in Bangkok is that you get to do the famous Muay Thai (Thai Kickboxing) with one of the real master kickboxers. I have to admit that I quit after 2 exercise sessions – way too strenuous for someone who has been living in a sedentary life for quite a while!

"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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