Archive for ISP

Studying International Security Policy at SIPA

Nabila recently provided some great advice on choosing your concentration at SIPA.  When I applied, there was no question that I was going to concentrate in International Security Policy (ISP). I was leaving the Army and was interested in continuing to work in the national security space, so it was a natural fit. But I suspect many of you have a wider range of interests or are interested in potentially pivoting to a new career path, and in those cases it’s so important to get a feel for the curriculum and culture of each concentration so that you can find your best fit.

I’m going to hopefully assist in that regard by giving you an overview of the ISP concentration and also dispel some pervasive myths and stereotypes.

Doesn’t everyone in ISP have military or government experience? Will I fit in?

The most common myth is that everyone in ISP is a veteran or someone who wants to follow a very defined path into the government. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As Leon Trotsky noted, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Whatever your career aspirations, security issues affect every sector and understanding issues of war and peace is essential to anyone that desires to one day lead in government, international non-profits, or even private sector companies. I have friends in ISP that have backgrounds as Army Special Forces Officers, private sector consultants, paralegals, diplomats, and human rights workers. And as far as coursework, the concentration requires no prior academic training in international security or any particular professional background. For more on the diverse backgrounds of ISP concentrators, read this great blog post by ISP graduate Samantha Taylor.

What career paths do ISP students pursue after SIPA?

ISP students are prepared for a wide range of career paths in U.S. and foreign government agencies, intelligence, think tanks, defense analysis, cybersecurity, consulting, journalism, legislative staffs, and international organizations. For U.S. students, the majority of these positions are in Washington, D.C., but there are increasingly opportunities in New York City as well, especially in cybersecurity.

What are the courses like?

Almost all of your ISP courses will be small seminars of 10-20 students. Columbia offers more courses in security studies than all but a few other universities, and SIPA and the Political Science department (you can take graduate level Political Science courses while at SIPA) have numerous full-time faculty members focused on security issues.  During your two-year program, there will be approximately 30-40 ISP courses to choose from. The courses cover a wide variety of areas including intelligence, cybersecurity, defense analysis, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, terrorism, and regional issues, among others. You can view the entire curriculum here, but the best way to see what ISP courses are like is to experience one for yourself. This semester, ISP courses available for class visits include War, Peace, and Strategy; Methods of Defense Analysis; Contemporary Russian Security Policy (taught by the former Deputy Assistant Director of CIA for Europe and Eurasia); Intelligence and War; and several others. Register for a class visit here!

What extracurricular opportunities does ISP offer?

The ISP concentration starts off the year with an annual fall retreat to a campground north of New York City. I went my first year, and it was a great way to meet classmates, second year students, and several professors. In the spring, the concentration usually takes one trip to DC or a military installation. Last year, the trip was a staff ride to Gettysburg and the U.S. Army War College led by Professor Stephen Biddle. There is also a spring crisis simulation held at SIPA and run by ISP students. Last year, students explored the conflict in Yemen in a realistic, one-day simulation.

There are also an unending amount of incredible guest speakers that come to Columbia, and many of those of interest to ISP students are hosted by the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. Just in the past year, students have attended events with former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

A View from the Class: Kelsey Orr MPA ’19

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 recent SIPA graduate, Kelsey Orr MPA ’19. Kelsey is SIPA’s Michael and Polly Brandmeyer Fellow and concentrated in International Security Policy with a specialization in Management.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?
While earning a bachelor’s degree in politics and international affairs and Asian studies at Furman University in South Carolina, I interned at the U.S. Department of State, Southwest Airlines, and the Scottish Parliament. Some of the highlights of my undergraduate experiences included studying Japanese language and serving as a U.S. Youth Delegate to the 2015 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila, Philippines.

Why did you choose SIPA?
I always wanted to live in New York, and as a U.S. Department of State fellow and future Foreign Service Officer, I knew that my career would take me all over the world, but my home base would be Washington, D.C. Before entering this career, I felt it was important for me to broaden my experience as much as possible and make connections outside of Washington, D.C. Living and studying in New York has certainly done that.

Why did you specialize in Management?
Knowing I would be a Political Officer at the Department of State, I was hard pressed to choose between the human rights and security concentration tracks because I am interested in the intersection of these two fields. However, with a management specialization, I have been able to take a variety of courses that fit both of these categories.

What have been some of your favorite SIPA experiences?
One of my favorite experiences during my first year at SIPA was working at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights with the Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability program. I helped plan an annual conference that brings together human rights practitioners and scholars and was able to meet many inspiring individuals in the field.

In addition, Ambassador William Luers’s course, Talking with the Enemy, was a great way for me to learn about the history of U.S. diplomacy as well as to discuss current U.S. foreign policy issues. I thoroughly enjoyed studying the decision-making process of U.S. leaders and engaging in debate with the other students in the course.

What did you work on during your last semester at SIPA?
This spring, I am excited to work on the Mercy Corps capstone team to enhance youth participation in humanitarian action in Nepal. Mercy Corps is a global humanitarian organization empowering people to recover from crisis, build better lives, and transform their communities for good.

How has SIPA affected you?
SIPA has been life changing in terms of my worldview and has helped me hone really practical skills, such as conflict resolution, that I know will be useful in my future career.

What are your plans after SIPA?
In June 2019, I joined the U.S. Foreign Service as a Political Officer at the U.S. Department of State. I know that no matter where in the world my career takes me, I have the skillset to be an effective advocate thanks to my education at SIPA.

A View from the Class: Divyam Nandrajog MIA ’19

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. In this issue, we feature newly graduated SIPA alumnus Divyam Nandrajog MIA ’19. Divyam graduated in May with a Master of International Affairs (MIA), concentrating in International Security Policy (ISP) and specializing in Technology, Media, and Communications.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?
I studied law at the National Law University, Delhi in Delhi, India. I was particularly interested in criminal law and how it governed state-citizen interactions. I worked on several research projects on criminal justice involving rights of under-trial prisoners, criminal process re-engineering, and analysis of cases under Indian drug laws.

These projects involved visits to Tihar Jail, one of Delhi’s larger prisons, for data gathering and interviews of under-trial and convicted inmates to better understand and place their cases within the larger criminal process for analysis. The projects aimed for both immediate and systemic impact. One involved assessing under-trial inmates’ eligibility for bail under special provisions of the criminal procedure code. Another project focused on identifying and mitigating procedural bottlenecks and causes for systemic delay in trials under special laws.

Why did you choose SIPA?
I chose SIPA for its ISP concentration that delves into various topical components of the subject and offers students flexibility in concentrating their studies on particular aspects of international security.

How would you describe your SIPA experience?
I really enjoyed my classes in cybersecurity and defense analysis. The professors teaching them bring a wealth of professional experience and detail that makes courses in these subjects extremely practical and readily applicable by graduate students starting out in the field.

How has SIPA affected you?
No two resumes at SIPA are the same. The diversity of backgrounds, approaches, and thought that the student body brings together presents a welcome and formidable challenge to norms and approaches assumed to be settled. The key lies not in isolated points of view but in the bridges we build between them, shaping the process as much as it shapes us.

Are there particular SIPA experiences that stand out?
My studies and work under Professor Jason Healey, first as his student and intern and subsequently as his research assistant, were a highlight of my time in SIPA. The past year was an incredible learning process. The sheer breadth of research I was exposed to under his guidance enriched my studies and learning in a way few other experiences can match. The freedom I was given to conduct my own research on topical subjects in cybersecurity allowed me to further develop my interests, build upon what I learned in classes, and apply it in practical ways.

I also benefited from several interactions with policymakers and industry leadership whose insights have been of great practical value in contextualizing my learning and taking it further.

What are your plans now that you have graduated from SIPA?
I hope to work in cyber threat intelligence and cybersecurity and defense policy.

ISP, Will You Be Mine?

In honor of Galentine’s Day and as an International Security Policy (ISP) concentrator, I thought I would write a blog post that not only gives incoming students interested in ISP a glimpse in to the concentration, but also provides some perspective on being a woman in a field that is often thought of as a patriarchal space. To do this, I enlisted the help of Ana Guerrero, Brit Felsen-Parsons and Caitlin Strawder, three current ISP concentrator SIPA students to discuss the topic and give advice. But before I dive in, let me introduce you to these ISP women.

Ana Guerrero MIA’19 is a second year, MIA, ISP concentrator, specializing in International Conflict Resolution. Ana completed her undergraduate degree at Middlebury College with a Bachelors in Spanish and Italian literature, and a minor in Portuguese. Prior to SIPA, she worked for an Italian petroleum company where got to explore her interest in geopolitics.  Ana is interested in Middle East conflicts, and during her time at SIPA, she interned for the Global Security department at NBC Universal, and is currently a Terrorism Analyst where she is learning the hard skills necessary to supplement her Theoretical education.

Brit Felsen-Parsons MPA ’20 is a first year, MPA, ISP concentrator, specializing in International Conflict Resolution.  Before SIPA, Brit served for two years as a shooting instructor to the infantry and commander in the Shooting School of the Israeli Defense Forces.  Brit then went on to complete her Bachelor’s degree at the College at Columbia University, double-majoring in Political Science and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies.  She also held research assistantships at the National Defense University, the Institute of World Politics, the Columbia University Political Science Department, and the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.  While at SIPA, Brit supplements her studies as a research assistant at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at SIPA.

Caitlin Strawder MPA ’19 is a second year, MPA, ISP concentrator, specializing in International Conflict Resolution. Caitlin completed her undergraduate degree at Florida State University where she earned a B.A. in Political Science.  Upon graduation in 2013, she received two consecutive Fulbright English Teaching grants to serve in Colombia and while teaching she studied romantic languages, economic development, the then-present negotiations with the FARC, and conducted research on indigenous rights in Silvia, Cauca.  While at SIPA, Caitlin interned on the Colombia Desk at the State Department 2018, and maintains a position as a conflict resolution practitioner and operations analyst at New York Peace Institute.

Now that you know a bit about these ladies, let’s jump in:

Why did you choose to apply to SIPA, and specifically the International Security Policy concentration?

Brit: I fell in love with SIPA, and specifically with ISP, when I took the infamous ISP core class – Professor Richard Betts’ “War, Peace and Strategy” (WPS) – as a sophomore in college.  Since I did my BA at Columbia as well, I had the opportunity to explore SIPA, and I found myself most drawn to ISP courses and events.  In my first year of undergrad I was still torn between studying political science and neuroscience, but with that first ISP course I was hooked. A few courses later, I had decided that for me it was SIPA or bust, so I applied to the MPA program. It’s been three years since WPS, and I can honestly say I keep loving SIPA – and ISP – more and more.

Caitlin: I applied to SIPA blindly following the Top Ten online rankings for international affairs degrees (like so many of my peers) and was delighted to get in. Joking aside, I had been living in New York for a few years and wanted to start the MPA adventure without sacrificing the family I found, my job, my apartment, or saying goodbye to the greatest city in the world. I was originally attracted to the program because of the International Conflict Resolution specialization, and I saw the ISP concentration as an ideal complement. I also thought it was important to study ISP particularly because I knew so little about it, while cognizant of its importance.

What are some misconceptions you have faced about the ISP concentration, in general, and as a woman in the ISP concentration at SIPA?

Ana: Students not in ISP think everyone in the concentration is either active or former military and male. They are very surprised I am neither of those, which always proves interesting.

Brit: I think some students might have the impression that ISP is very militaristic and masculine, and to a degree I can understand why. It’s true that many of SIPA’s military veterans (though certainly not all!) are studying ISP.  Additionally, I know a lot of women studying ISP, and we make a unique, significant, and highly valued contribution to our classes and to the ISP community.  I recognize that I might feel more at home in ISP because I’m a military veteran, but I think the non-vets in ISP have no trouble holding their own in the classroom or in conversation, because we all recognize that we bring different experiences and skills to the table. Although I may be biased, I think ISP is one of the most familial and welcoming concentrations at SIPA, in part because it is influenced by the military culture of camaraderie and toughing it out together.

Have there been any challenging aspects to being a woman going into the ISP field?  If so how did/do you address them?

Caitlin: In terms of diversity, so much of getting the opportunity to work in some environments is the compromise of waiting until you have experience and standing before being able to authoritatively question assumptions of gender and roles in the workplace. 

Ana: I think traditionally the ISP field has been seen as a “boy’s club”. To combat this, I am trying to learn as much as I can, both in classes and in internships, in order to compete. Additionally, I believe it’s important to foster a strong female network within ISP in order to help each other succeed in the field. For me it’s a double whammy: I knew being a first-generation woman of color in a traditionally white male field would be tough. But I also knew that would be the case regardless of the field.

What do you recommend those students who are interested in International Security Policy consider before they attend SIPA?

Brit: I would recommend that students sit in on a few lectures or events if they can, and that they talk to current SIPA students to get an impression of the culture, the workload, and the opportunities here. Columbia University has a distinct culture, and SIPA has a culture-within-a-culture all its own, which you can only get a sense of by talking to people who are part of it. Also, reading course descriptions probably won’t be as informative as hearing a lecture or two, in terms of getting a feel for SIPA classes. For those for whom that’s not possible, I would recommend reading up on SIPA’s faculty and centers/institutes (Saltzman, Harriman, the Middle East Institute, etc.) to get a sense of the kind of research being done in-house.

Ana: Think about what you want to do after graduation and where you want to work—and work backwards from there. If you’re thinking of working for the government with some level of clearance you should start looking at those applications (if they’re available) even before you arrive on campus for orientation. Also look into fellowships for federal service and keep an eye on those deadlines!  Additionally, knowing where you want to end up will help you plan your course list so you get the most out of your precious two years at SIPA.

Are there any words of wisdom you have for women looking to go into the ISP field, and/or pursue the ISP concentration at SIPA?

Ana: As with anything we set out to accomplish — once you set out to achieve your goals, don’t take no BS!

Caitlin: Constantly look for networking events, career panels, and mentorship match-ups so that you have a chance to connect with different practitioners.  Especially for women—give prospective employers a preview that the nature of the field is changing and they should anticipate a high number of specialists in technology, geopolitical conflict, and analysis who happen to be women.

Brit: First and foremost, don’t be intimidated by security studies or by ISP. It’s not all machismo all the time, or all military lingo all the time. Some of my closest friends (and the best people I know) at SIPA study ISP, and the concentration draws a diverse crowd from all walks of life. I’ll be honest: the workload can be heavy. The readings can be loooooong and dense. But if you are passionate about security studies, and about studying them in an incredibly diverse and cosmopolitan setting, then the ISP concentration at SIPA is the place for you. And if you are a woman interested in security studies, then I highly encourage you to apply. ISP is a pretty close-knit and supportive community here at SIPA, and it’s a great place to challenge yourself academically in order to best prepare yourself professionally. I love it, and I hope you will too!

I want to give a big thanks to Ana, Brit and Caitlin for their advice, and I hope you found it useful. I’d like to leave you with one final thought:  ISPer’s at SIPA are diverse in nationality, experience, and gender; and while the ratio is not 100% perfect, it is evening out.

Madeleine Albright, a SIPA alum, once said, “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” I think this sentiment rings true for many of the women I know in the ISP concentration who continue to move the needle on women’s roles in ISP, and who are not deterred by the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding the field.

I hope you enjoyed this piece, and Happy Galentine’s Day!

Parks And Rec GIF by NBC

ISP Highlights

Highlights for ISP concentrators this semester have included the ISP Crisis Simulation and the ISP Faculty Career Panel.  The day-long crisis simulation is held each year as an experiential learning opportunity for students interested in international affairs, diplomacy and military strategy. This year’s crisis simulation centered around a hypothetical U.S. intervention in Syria in which regional powers and non-state actors vied for control. Students on six teams represented either a state (the U.S., Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia) or a fictional terrorist organization modeled after Al Qaeda. During the simulation, each team had to devise a strategy that would allow it to accomplish its specific political objectives while dealing with constraints and uncertainty that modeled the risks actual decision-makers might face in a similar situation. By the end of the day, the students had come to understand some of the difficulties associated with operating in a dynamic environment with incomplete information and limited time to reach their goals.

The Faculty Career Panel featured five ISP faculty members, all of whom exemplify the unique mix of academic, practical and policy expertise to be found within the SIPA faculty. The professors shared reflections on their experiences as U.S. government analysts and advisors at the CIA, the Congressional Budget Office and the Senate, as well as at organizations such as the RAND Corporation, the Brookings Institution and the Aga Khan Foundation. Collectively, their careers have taken them around the world, including to Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the former Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo). The professors gave short presentations about their own career trajectories and shared their advice to students newly entering the field. The presentations were followed by a reception during which students had the opportunity to speak with faculty one-on-one and seek advice about their own career aspirations.

In addition, SIPA organizations such as the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute for War and Peace Studies and its Center for International Conflict Resolution host a number of events throughout the semester of interest to ISP students.  In January, the Saltzman Institute hosted United Nations Deputy Secretary- General, Jan Eliasson, who spoke of the changing geopolitical and economic landscape that world leaders will face in the years ahead. This week, the Institute will present “A Day in the Life of CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence,” with SIPA Professor of Professional Practice Peter Clement. The Center for International Conflict Resolution at the Saltzman Institute has hosted a number of events on diplomacy, mediation and peacebuilding, including its Alvaro de Soto Conversation Series, which featured Peruvian and UN diplomat Alvaro de Soto and former U.S. Ambassador Chester Crocker on the challenges facing the contemporary field of mediation.

"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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