Archive for MPA

Experiential Learning at SIPA

The objective of the Master of International Affairs (MIA) program at SIPA is to ensure “students acquire the substantive knowledge, practical skills, and real-world experience to address the big issues of international affairs.” But how does that work in practice? What kinds of experiential learning opportunities does SIPA provide to truly immerse students in international affairs?

First off, I’ll dispense with the most well-known factor. New York City is incredibly diverse and is home to numerous organizations that play vital roles in international affairs and public policy. SIPA students have countless opportunities to interact with these organizations via internships, guest speakers, conferences, site visits, and career panels. Not to mention that at SIPA you’ll be surrounded by classmates from over 100 countries and will gain immeasurably from those diverse perspectives in the classroom.

Beyond that, here are 4 less well-known experiential learning opportunities at SIPA:

  1. Global Immersion Courses

Just this year, SIPA inaugurated a new series of Global Immersion Courses that will enhance the MIA curriculum by providing students the opportunity to explore vital global policy issues firsthand. The first course in this program was titled Beyond the ‘Refugee Crisis’: Refugees in Turkey and Global Public Policy. Students in the course spent 10 days in Turkey taking classes on refugee policy and meeting with policymakers, journalists, multilateral organizations, and refugees. Upon returning to NYC, the course met four additional times during the Spring 2020 semester to further study the issues the students experienced firsthand in Turkey.

SIPA plans to offer additional courses in this innovative format covering additional issues and regions of interest to students. You can read more about SIPA students’ experience in this course here.

  1. Treks

Treks are student-organized trips to various countries that generally occur during the winter or spring breaks. These trips often include a mix of sightseeing as well as meetings with policymakers and business leaders. Past treks have included Korea, China, Taiwan, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Palestine, and Peru. There are even some domestic treks to explore certain industries or policy issues, such as the energy trek to Houston and San Francisco.

Treks have provided SIPA students with enormously valuable firsthand experience with pressing global issues. Amira Dhalla (MPA ’20) had this to say about her experience:

“Attending PalTrek was life-changing and moving. I am beyond thankful to the deeply connected and committed group of students from SIPA who opened their ears and hearts to those in Palestine while engaging and learning among eight days of nonstop events. While in the West Bank we discussed pressing human rights issues, practiced heartfelt allyship for communities, experienced a wondrous culture, and witnessed relentless resilience. All of which would never have been possible within the constraints of a classroom.”

  1. Capstone Workshops

The capstone workshop is a key part of the core curriculum for the MIA, MIA, and MPA-ESP. These workshops provide students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a consulting project for an external client. Some workshops provide opportunities for domestic or international travel to meet with clients or conduct research. Clients have included US and foreign government agencies, New York City government offices, the United Nations, the World Bank, think tanks, non-profits, and private sector companies. This semester, for example, SIPA students are researching sovereign liabilities for JP Morgan, advising NYC Cyber Command on responding to cyber incidents, and evaluating cash transfer programming for Mercy Corps. Check out more about capstone workshops here.

  1. Language Circles

If you’re looking for a way to practice your language skills outside of the classroom, many of Columbia’s language programs offer informal language circles to practice conversation. These voluntary, informal meetings are meant to facilitate speaking practice for students at all levels of the language. The Middle East Institute, for example, hosts a weekly Arabic language circle, and the French department offers weekly sessions of their Café Conversation program. Even if you aren’t taking formal language courses while at SIPA, these discussions can be a great way to connect with the community and immerse yourself in the language.

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.

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: Diego Folly de Andrade 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 graduate SIPA Diego Folly de Andrade MPA ’19. A second-year Master of Public Administration (MPA) candidate, Diego is concentrating in International Finance and Economic Policy with a specialization in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis. He is a fellow in SIPA’s International Fellows Program, a Lemann Foundation SIPA Fellow, and a World Bank Graduate Scholarship Program Fellow.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?
I worked in the Brazilian Government as a Labor Inspector at the Ministry of Labor and as an International Advisor to the Government Secretary in the Brazilian President’s Office. As a Labor Inspector, I actively participated in the formulation and regulation of the National Occupational and Safety Health (OSH) Policy and helped to improve the living and working conditions of people living in Rio’s poorest communities. I also participated in the Mobile Group for Slave Eradication, helping to release workers from degrading work conditions.

As an Advisor to the Government Secretary, I articulated public policies to promote social development and to facilitate the social dialogue between civil society and Government, and participated in the development of an institutional framework to implement Sustainable Development Goals across Brazil.

Why did you choose SIPA?
SIPA is highly rated with outstanding professors and public practitioners. Moreover, its programs attract diverse and international students with successful career experiences.

What have been some of your standout experiences at SIPA?
I participated in a Capstone workshop with Free The Slaves, researching and developing a monitoring and evaluation tool to measure the socio-economic status of participants in programs combating child domestic servitude in Haiti. I also did a summer internship at Eurasia Group Lab, assessing Brazilian political risk during the presidential elections. I competed in SIPA’s Public Policy Dean’s Challenge Grant student competition. My team, Citizap, is developing an Artificial Intelligence (AI) – based virtual assistant that connects people with public agencies in their place of residence. The goal is to improve the quality of public services provided, strengthening digital governance and public engagement in city management.

What are your plans now that you graduated from SIPA?
I plan to return to Brazil and to help design public policies that focus on promoting decent work, sustainable development, and social inclusion.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I am grateful to Columbia and SIPA for this amazing experience. I am also thankful for my fellow Seeples for making me feel integrated into the community, for the unique experiences and views, and for the bond of solidarity built during this time.

I look to education as a means of transformation and overcoming obstacles. Throughout my life, the generosity of people who I did not know well helped make my education possible. Thanks to the support and hard work of my parents and to the scholarships and fellowships I have received, I been able to achieve my dreams of studying at highly ranked universities. I hope to do the same for others and dream of ensuring fundamental rights for all Brazilian citizens, so that in the future, all children have the chance to follow their dreams and achieve what they once thought was impossible.

Peter Zheng MPA ’20 reflects on his first year at SIPA

Hi! I’m Peter Zheng, MPA Class of 2020 and concentrating in Economic and Political Development and triple specializing in East Asia, Management, and Technology, Media, and Communication Studies! I was part of the 5-10% accepted from undergrad so I did not have work experience prior to SIPA. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Pittsburgh Honors College with quadruple majors in Economics, Political Science & Government, Business Administration, and a Bachelor of Philosophy (master’s-level degree) in Psychology within 4 years.

What was your first year of policy school like?

Whenever people ask me about policy school, I always say, “It’s a choose your own adventure.” It’s not hard if you don’t want it to be hard, but it can be hard if you make it hard. You prioritize what is important to you.

To me, I value experimental and classroom learning. In my first year of graduate school I took 12 courses at SIPA, 2 courses at Columbia Business School (CBS), and 4 courses at a rigorous online business certificate program outside of Columbia University. Boy, OMG did I learn. It’s probably something I will never ever do again, but I learned a lot and met so many cool humans because of it. So, for that, I am super grateful.

During my first year, I created a startup (but decided to pause after talking to media executives because the media ecosystem is highly distorted, and barriers of entry are super high). I started an independent research project at Columbia Business School with a CBS PhD student, and did research in the management division at CBS, which was a continuation from my summer internship before SIPA. I applied and received five fellowships from CBS/SIPA, joined the board of SIPA’s Technology Student Association, learned how to live alone in Manhattan (Hell’s Kitchen is lit), and met some really cool people who have become dear friends!

What are your plans this summer?

I’ll be spending my summer working at UNICEF as a business operations analyst (networked from a SIPA professor). I was also accepted into a joint healthcare entrepreneurship program at Harvard Medical School and MIT in June. I’ll be TA-ing the Executive Ethics EMBA course at CBS (networked through a CBS professor). I’ll also be creating a new social impact startup, synthesizing both SIPA and CBS resources.

Do you have any regrets?

I used to question whether coming straight into an MPA program without full-time work experience was the right choice, and whether I should have pursued a different degree because my interests span across disciplines. I was considering a deferred MBA or a PhD in Management. I didn’t know if the MPA was worth the investment or whether this degree was right for me.

A year later, I learned it’s not the letters on the degree that matter (our graduates enter each sector at a proportional rate: private sector, public sector, and government) but the connections you make, which land you the opportunities.

As a SIPA student with access to all of Columbia University’s resources, I was able to spend my time pursuing interests at both SIPA and Columbia Business School. This created rare, intersectional opportunities that make this question easy to answer. It was most definitely worth it, and I don’t question it anymore!

Why did you choose SIPA?

Location, faculty, school brand, and job placements (median salary & industry) — These were the most important things to me! I was deciding between 9 schools (Cornell, Georgetown, Duke, Oxford, Brown, Carnegie Mellon, McGill, University of Chicago, and Columbia), but chose Columbia for the aforementioned reasons.

I approached my decision objectively by creating a grad school utility function and allocated criterion with separate weights and running it through Excel. I included additional personal reasons as well: I wanted to be in a progressive city; I’m a foodie so food options were a must; living and tuition costs; and a place where my parents and friends could easily visit me!

The location of SIPA is unbeatable and something you should consider heavily if you are a go-getter and want to network with people. It is so easy in Manhattan! The faculty is top-notch at SIPA and Columbia University as a whole. You have amazing guest speakers e.g., former Secretary of Education John King Jr., Hillary Clinton, Wendy Kopps, and talented adjunct faculty who are working in these fields that bring their work experience into the classroom settings. These are just to name a few!

What is your advice for student starting their first year?

  1. Stay true to your core values. If you don’t like drinking, ditch the happy hours and attend other events that don’t circulate around booze! I don’t drink so I invite people to coffee/tea/food outings and create meaningful connections there.
  2. Don’t lose confidence in yourself and ditch the imposter syndrome! You were admitted for a reason.
  3. Consider taking cross-registered courses for Pass/Fail if you don’t need the credits for a concentration or specialization. Grades can vary across classes, so if you cross register in other schools at Columbia, know that an “A” there may translate to an “A-/B+” at SIPA.
  4. Engage in intentional networking and relationship building.
  5. Taking all of your core curriculum courses during your first year can get exhausting. Frontloading your core can mean doing multiple problem sets and studying for exams every week. I took half the core my first year with interesting electives and will take the other half my second year with some fun electives. This makes the semesters more fun for me. This also gives ample opportunity to spread yourself across Columbia, engage with the greater NYC community, and do fun things.
  6. You’re here for a terminal degree: Spend less time in the library, take advantage of Columbia University’s resources and not just SIPA (you are only here for two years, so maximize the university’s resources while you can as a student), and create your own unique SIPA experience.

If you have more questions about SIPA or want to chat, please reach out! I’m on Instagram at @peteey27 and SIPA Admissions can connect us by email. I’ll show you my favorite food and coffee spots! 🙂

Pictured at the top: Peter hosting a housewarming party with SIPA classmates.

"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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