Archive for Nancy Leeds

Wish I had known

Congratulations! If you’re reading this you are almost ready to start your SIPA adventure! (And I ,God-willing, have a high paying job recruiting and training women in American politics.) This is not going to be one of those graduation-speech type posts where I talk in general terms about life advice I wish I had two years ago. (Take risks! Follow your passion! Put potato chips in a sandwich!)  These are five pieces of practical advice for SIPA navigation, the blunt truth tips that would have made my experience slightly smoother sailing.


1) Make sure the University has your immunization records before you get here.  I spent my first registration period freaking out because there was a hold that kept me from signing up for classes.  It turned out I, and a lot of my classmates, had not updated our immunizations and the university had placed a hold on our accounts.  It took an extra 36 hours before I could sort it out and get registered. Don’t let it happen to you!

2) Buy your books on Amazon, from 2nd Years, or not at all.  Two of my professors this year didn’t even bother ordering books through the bookstore because books are so much more expensive there. You can find almost all the books you are assigned in class used on the Internet. In addition a lot of second years will wind up selling their used books especially for popular classes. Finally before you go out and pay for a book, take a look at how often it appears on your reading list. Some professors assign only one or two chapters per semester out of a 900-page tome. If this is the case you might be better off sucking it up and borrowing the book from the library or sharing it with a classmate.  I have even found excerpts I needed to read for class available for free on the Internet.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying, “don’t do the reading” (this isn’t undergrad), I’m just saying do it for free.

3) Makes your classes what you want them to be about. One of the things I really love about SIPA is the flexibility of the curriculum. That said, there will still be classes you are required to take for the core or your concentration, or just that you want to have on your resume that are not exactly your cup of tea.  In most classes that require a final paper or project, your professor will be fairly flexible in allowing you to choose your topic.  Even if it deviates slightly from the suggested topics on the syllabus, if you can make a case for why it is relevant to the course, your Professor is likely to allow you to write it.  Professors want you to be interested in your work and they don’t want to read 30 of the same thing anyway.  This semester I wrote three different papers on gender quotas in legislatures for three very different classes. I still had to do original research for each but it allowed me to delve in and really become an expert on the topic.

4) Always show up for the class, even if it’s full.  If you are really passionate about taking something don’t take “course is full” for an answer.  A lot of Professors will make an exception and people are likely to drop out on the first day anyway. If you’re there, you’re the one who gets to take their spot. Even if you can’t make it in the course that semester, you’ll be able to make a connection with the professor and s/he is all but guaranteed to give you preference next time.

5) This is who Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz are. My Admitted Students Day everyone was freaking out about Jeff Sachs speaking at the plenary session and I was like “who?” Sachs and Stiglitz are two big name Professors and their names get bandied about a lot especially in the first two weeks of school.  I was able to take classes with equally accomplished and notable faculty in subjects in which I was interested, but still it will help you to know who these two are.

According to Wikipedia:

Joseph Stiglitz is an American economist and a professor at Columbia University. He is a recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2001) and the John Bates Clark Medal (1979). He is a former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank, and is a former member, and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.[1][2] He is known for his critical view of the management of globalization, free-market economists (whom he calls “free market fundamentalists“), and some international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Jeffrey Sachs is an American economist and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. One of the youngest economics professors in the history of Harvard University. He has been known for his work on the challenges of economic development, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, debt cancellation, and globalization He is Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals, having held the same position under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He is co-founder and Chief Strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and hunger.


You’re Welcome!



A new specialization to be added this fall

SIPA Admissions Blog devotees will remember that my favorite part of the SIPA experience has been my participation in the Gender Policy program.  For that reason, I am thrilled to announce that thanks to the incredibly hard work of SIPA’s Gender Policy Working Group, Gender Policy and Practice will be offered as a specialization for the first time this fall. This will mean more funding for programming, classes and faculty in the field of gender. Hooray!  I really can’t express to you how much even for those of you who do not choose this specialization will benefit from GPWG’s efforts. When you get here, make sure to hug a gender policy 2nd year! (With her permission of course.)

In light of this new and exciting development, I wanted to share a couple of my favorite classes in the Gender Policy Program. I am not sure when these will be taught next year, but if you have the opportunity to take any of these courses with any of these professors, I would highly encourage you to do so.

Women and Power in the 21st Century with Carolyn Buck-Luce– This was my first gender class I ever took at SIPA.  It is a ½ semester long course usually offered in the fall. (Pro-tip, be sure to check the short course listings every semester. They usually have very specific skills driven offerings.) Carolyn brought in phenomenal guest lecturers like Marie Wilson ( and Stewart Emery ( to talk about their paths to success and the lessons they have to share with young professionals. Our final project was a personal power plan for success and work/life balance over the next 5-years. I loved this class because it focused on concrete strategies for overcoming social and institutional barriers to achievements. From readings and from my hearing classmates’ experiences I felt like my concerns, challenges and observations from being a young professional woman were validated.

Gender Mainstreaming with Kristy Kelly- Gender mainstreaming is the practice of incorporating a gender perspective not only into new public policy (although that too) but also into the design of policy-making and administrating institutions. It is the official policy of most countries, although notably not the US.  We started off with a refresher course in some feminist theory and then moved on to practical experiences and implications for policy makers. My favorite thing about this course was how excited and passionate Kristy is about the subject material. Even though this was a course with an international development bent, I got to tailor it to apply the lessons I was learning to my career in domestic politics.We got to choose our final projects with ranged from a survey and evaluation of gender dynamics at SIPA to research papers to literature reviews. I designed and lead a gender mainstreaming workshop of campaign operatives that has led to a journal article I am still working on with Kristy.

Work-Family Policy in Advanced Industrialized Nations with Claire Ullman– This is one of the few courses in gender policy that focuses on industrialized nations (although thanks to the new specialization, hopefully that is changing!). In this course we learn about childcare, parental leave, workplace discrimination and how different policies impact fertility, women’s workforce participation and child development. We also learn about the history and political processes behind passing these types of legislation.  Claire is clearly knowledgeable and passionate about the material and she is able to make a somewhat dry subject very engaging. This course counts for a lot of graduate programs across the university so we had a fun mix of Social Work, Journalism and SIPA students in our 12 person class.

Now all we need is an elections specialization!




MIA & MPA Curriculum

A popular question we hear is about core courses and whether or not someone can take core courses for their concentration (not just core courses for the degree curriculum)  in the first semester.

It is definitely possible. Most people take at least CF (Conceptual Foundation)/POP (Politics of Policymaking) and Econ their first semester (although there are a smattering of students who complete these their second year).  Most people tend to spread their core courses throughout the four semesters, concentrating more in the first year.

To give you an idea, this is what Nancy’s SIPA schedule looked like; the courses that count toward the core are (*),  in parenthesis  are courses that would count toward Nancy’s specialization, concentration and co-curricular requirements.   This is a somewhat typical (except maybe the semester where most of her classes were at other CU schools) schedule. Hope this helps!


Fall 1

  • Econ 4200*
  • Quant Analysis (Stats I)*
  • POP*
  • Elections and Political Development
  • Women and Power in the 21st Century (Half Semester, Management, Gender Policy)

Spring 1

  • Econ*
  • Budgeting for Non-Profits*
  • Campaign Management (USP and Management)
  • Statistical Races and Public Policy (USP)
  • Women and Global Leadership (Half Semester, Management, Gender Policy)

Fall 2

  • Effective Management in the Public Sector* (Management- although I don’t think this counts for you guys anymore)
  • Gender Mainstreaming (Gender Policy)
  • Elections (in the Poli Sci PhD Dept, USP)
  • Election Law (at CLS, USP)
  • Money in Politics (1/2 semester at the J-school, USP)

Spring 2

  • Capstone with UN Women
  • Work/Family Policy in Industrialized Countries (USP Core Course, Gender Policy, Management)
  • Writing for Policy
  • Women’s Human Rights (Gender)


For a sample of the MIA and MPA curriculum, you may visit our website at:


In the “spirit” of graduation

You already know that SIPA students work hard, but did you know that we play hard too? SIPA students enjoy our cocktails (in moderation, of course) so when the admissions staff asked me to write a lighthearted post to celebrate our graduation this week.  I created these signature cocktails based on SIPA’s concentrations.


Urban & Social Policy (USP) – a SIPA Manhattan

Inspired by the best city in world, with some international flavor.

3/4 oz Martini and Rossi sweet vermouth (Italian)

2 1/2 oz Mogul Monarch Indian Whiskey

1 dash Angostura® bitters (Invented in Venezuela, manufactured in Trinidad and Tobago)

1 maraschino cherry

1 twist orange peel


Human Rights (HR) – This drink is a modified version of a cocktail known as a Genocide. (The things I google for this blog.) Besides having a terribly offensive name, the drink sounds disgusting. I changed some ingredients to mitigate the awfulness of the genocide, which is what our HR concentrators do!

2 oz. Vodka

2 oz. Cherry brandy

2 oz. Amaretto Di Saronno

2 oz. White rum

fill With Lemon/Lime Soda

To Taste Sour mix


Energy and Environment (EE) 

Red Bull (Energy) and Gin (Botanical for the Environment)

Proportions to taste.


Economic & Political Development (EPD) –  Shooter, modified version of a Southern Palm

.2 oz Everclear

.4 oz Peppermint Schnapps

.4 oz Drambuie Liqueur


International Security Policy (ISP) – This is actually really good, it tastes like a peach Jolly Ranger


Seagram’s Gin

Peach Schnapps

Add club soda to taste


International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) –  Also known as a glitter bomb. I thought a cocktail based around a Swiss liquor with flakes of gold in it was fitting for our finance friends. Plus the energy drink can help you stay up all night studying advanced econ!

A single shot of Goldschlagger dropped into a glass of Red Bull.


Please enjoy your concentration responsibly and congratulations to all my classmates!


-courtesy of Nancy Leeds, SIPA MPA 2013 graduate and blogger extrodinaire 

Stick with it

At this point most prospective students have already accepted their offers.  If you are an incoming student, Mazel Tov!  After the long application and decision-making process I remember how good it felt to have a decision. There are still a few folks who have gotten decision extensions or who have (against protocol and inter-institutional agreement) put down deposits at more than one school.  Here are a couple of tips to help make it easier to decide:

Go where your heart is.  I know that is an extremely cheesy thing to say and I of all people am not sentimental about grad school, but you should go where you feel you belong.  Sure SIPA has superior faculty, the largest course selection, Ivy League name recognition and access to the resources of New York City, but we want people here who will take advantage of these things.  If (what I somewhat biasedly would deem) the obvious superiority of SIPA doesn’t do it for you the last thing we want is for you to come here and be unhappy.  On the flip side, if you feel SIPA is the right place for you but external pressures like family or a slight difference in funding are making you hesitate, I would encourage you to bite the bullet and come to Columbia. I will tell you that I am financing my entire SIPA education myself, save for my job in the admissions office, and I have not regretted it for one moment.

Plan your life here.  Go on our course catalog and compare it to others. What classes would you take? What skills do you need to propel you forward? What kind of clubs would you join? Where do you want to go home to an apartment at night?  What special programs stand out that you would like to take advantage of?  You can check out career service histories and see where students have gotten internships. Envision your full life, academic, social, extracurricular at both schools and see which future feels brightest to you.

Talk to current students.  I talked to students at the two schools I was deciding between when I chose SIPA and it was a huge part of what sealed the deal for why I’m here.  I am AT the admissions office and I would love to talk to you about my SIPA experience, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Seriously I have a lot of work study hours to work off and it beats the heck out of filing things.  I have seen a lot of rumors floating around about our accepted students’ google group, some of which I can corroborate and most of which I can dispel.  I sincerely think that SIPA is the best foreign policy education you can get and will provide you with the most opportunity, but I also recognize that it’s not the best fit for everyone and I promise to be very honest in talking that through with you. You can email to find a time to coordinate with a current student or you can just call the office, we are around most days.

However you make your decision, it is important that you make it soon. Schools are waiting on decisions about funding so that they can make sure scholarships are allocated to students who truly want to be here. You also will need to start looking for apartments, filling out your FAFSA and planning your move for this exciting next chapter!  When it comes to choosing between top tier public policy schools there is no bad decisions.  (There are only better decisions, and that’s SIPA.)

In all sincerity promising to give you my unbiased opinions if you call,




"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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