Archive for Program Assistant

Program Assistant Introduction: Steven Reid MIA ’20

Steven Reid was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. He is a second-year Master of International Affairs student concentrating in International Finance and Economic Policy and specializing in Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis. After graduating from Villanova University with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Latin American Studies, he worked in government and higher education budgeting and finance in Boston, Massachusetts.

What has been the most challenging part of your SIPA experience?
The constant flow of activity and the time management. There is always something going around campus/assignments due/a speaker you want to see. It took some practice in the beginning of first semester before I got the hang of getting my work done, enjoying all there is to offer on campus and being social with my SIPA classmates. Another challenging aspect of SIPA has been understanding the need to say “no” sometimes. It is stressful and demanding to attend all the events you want to go to, do your assignments and be social, so sometimes its important to say no to certain things. Prioritize and take time for yourself.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?
Definitely the people. The demanding nature of SIPA brings people together very quickly. There is a lot of group work in SIPA so the connections you make are very important. I have met some of the coolest people in my life here, and I have gotten very close to them in only a year. The community here is a huge mental resource for me when I feel overwhelmed.

What surprised you most about SIPA after you arrived?
The speed of graduate school. Everything happens much faster than undergraduate. I had been out of school for 5 years before I came to SIPA, so the learning curve for graduate school was steep. Assignments are handed out quickly after class begins and the semester becomes a whirlwind of papers, memos, problem sets and other assignments. The months fly by. At the end of the semester, I was surprised at how much work I had done in three months.

How did you find the core curriculum at SIPA?
It’s intense. It is a lot of quant-heavy coursework. For the person who has not dealt with a lot of quant and economics courses before, it can be daunting. But the professors and TAs provide a lot of support.  I knew that quant and econ were going to take up a lot of my time the first semester, so I focused most on those two classes. I was lucky that my prior experience to SIPA dealt with a lot of math and econ, so I was already kind of comfortable with those topics.

What advice do you have for current applicants?
Don’t worry about trying to be the perfect student profile for SIPA. SIPA is very interested in individuals who have unique stories and histories. Just tell your story. Spend a lot of time on your application as well. SIPA wants to get to know who you are, so the more time you put into your application, the more detail you can give and the better picture SIPA has of you.

What was the most challenging aspect of the application process?
The GRE. I didn’t have the best GRE scores so I thought that I definitely was not getting accepted into SIPA, but lo and behold, I did. Test scores are just one part of the application, so do not worry too much if you didn’t do the best on them.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? How did you perform in those classes?
I had taken economics courses during undergrad  so I had some understanding of what we were going to be studying. I had some level of comfort with quantitative subject matter having had worked in the budgeting and finance fields. Even with my experience, the classes were still tough. But I studied hard, asked for help from my professors and TAs and did fine in the quantitative courses.

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.

Program Assistant Introduction: George-Ann Ryan MIA ’20

George-Ann grew up on the island of Antigua in the West Indies with roots in the nearby island of Montserrat. After graduating from Pace University in New York with a BA in Economics focusing on quantitative research methods, George-Ann worked in research and administration roles for nonprofits and government organizations dedicated to economic and social equity. She was set to apply to PhD programs before SIPA caught her eye as a program where she could explore her passions for studying international economic inequality, maintain and develop quantitative skills, and supplement her work experience with solid public policy knowledge.

Alongside her academic exploits at SIPA, she is Steering Community Coordinator at RISE: Working Group on Race, Inequality, Solidarity, and Economics ( a student group) and is a founding member and Chief Financial Officer of The Sadie Collective — a nonprofit aimed at mentoring, empowering, and equipping Black women in economics, public policy, and related fields. 

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?

I was an Economic Scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and a Research and Administrative Associate at the Economic Security Project — a nonprofit with a mission to explore and advocate for cash-transfers as an important tool for fighting inequality. 

Did you choose to attend SIPA to change careers, or to gain experience in a career path you already had experience in?

A little bit of both. I have always loved economics for both its theory and mathematical elements, but before coming to SIPA I was dead-set on a path for a PhD in economics. However, my job experience in the nonprofit sector really showed me that value of a more well-rounded education that prizes both the quantitative and the more policy and communications oriented side of economics and economic research. I came to SIPA in order to get a bit more of that in my repertoire.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?

I’ve enjoyed the diversity of experiences I’ve encountered here and meeting people from countries I never thought I would such as Afghanistan and Mongolia. SIPA has really broadened my horizons and frames of reference when looking at international policy problems. Through student organizations (and some pretty fun parties) you will meet people who will become lifelong friends and hopefully have couches to surf all over the globe.

What kind of work do you hope to do when you graduate? 

After graduation, I hope to return home to Antigua and work in the private sector for a bit before eventually establishing my own think tank focused on economic development and governmental accountability. 

What’s your internship experience been like?

My internship experience has been pretty interesting. I spent the summer in Washington D.C. at the Brookings Institution working in The Hamilton Project — an organization housed within Brookings’ Economic Studies Department — as a Summer Research Intern. There, I called on many of the skills I’ve honed both at SIPA and elsewhere through using STATA for data preparation and analysis to contributing to reports by compiling relevant literature for Fellows. It was challenging but I enjoyed it wholeheartedly. 

What do you think makes a good SIPA student? What qualities do stellar SIPA students typically possess?

To me, a good SIPA student is passionate about the world around them and is buzzing with ideas about how to make it better. For the most part, many of my colleagues are internationally focused with aspirations to work toward making the world a better place through sound policy, whatever the arena. 

Photo credit: Mathematica Policy Research

Program Assistant Introduction: Stuart Caudill MIA ’20

Note from Emily: It’s a new semester, which means we have new program assistants with us in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. For those of you who spent the last year with Julia, Kier, Dylan, Samantha, and Niara, fret not — they’re all employed and working on exciting things around the world. Maybe you’ll see them at a SIPA recruiting or alumni event.

Until then, please meet the first of our new program assistants, Stuart Caudill. Our other new PAs – George-Ann Ryan, Nabila Hassan, and Steven Reid – will introduce themselves the rest of this week.


Stuart is a second-year MIA student concentrating in International Security Policy and specializing in Technology, Media, and Communications. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2013 with a B.S. in International Relations and Arabic. After graduating from West Point, Stuart served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer for over five years. After SIPA, Stuart plans to pursue a career in cybersecurity.

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?

After graduating from West Point, I spent over five years leading intelligence operations for the U.S. Army. I served as an intelligence officer for a Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan, led intelligence soldiers providing direct support to the initial operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and coordinated offensive cyber operations in support of U.S. Cyber Command. These experiences sparked my interest in cyber policy and led to my desire to pursue graduate study in international affairs.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

First, I was drawn to the interdisciplinary and flexible MIA curriculum, especially the ISP concentration that benefits from the significant number of political science faculty focused on security issues.

Second, I was particularly attracted to SIPA’s increasing focus on the intersection of technology and policy, with its Tech & Policy @ SIPA initiative and other efforts.

Third, I wanted to have access to the resources of a large, top-tier university. The opportunity to take courses across almost all of the schools and departments at Columbia is an incredible benefit for SIPA students.

Lastly, I had always wanted to live in New York City. Columbia students have access to world-class museums, theater, restaurants, and nightlife that in my opinion is unmatched by any other city.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?

In November 2018, I competed in the New York Cyber 9/12 strategy competition sponsored by the Atlantic Council. The competition is held at SIPA every year and is organized by the student Digital and Cyber Group. The competition drew almost 30 teams from top universities, and the program also included speakers and demonstrations by a wide variety of people working in the cybersecurity industry and in government. This included speakers from the Department of Homeland Security, Morgan Stanley, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Flashpoint. The competition was a great experience, and it significantly increased my knowledge of cyber policy while also providing an opportunity to practice public speaking and presentation skills.

How did you find the core curriculum at SIPA?

The core curriculum provides a common experience (and a dose of common suffering) that really helps first-year students bond. In many of the core courses we complete problem sets and projects in small groups, and that was a great way to meet fellow students from other concentrations who I otherwise wouldn’t interact with at SIPA. I also found that the core curriculum exposed me to important aspects of public policy and international affairs that I would have otherwise overlooked. For example, the two course economics sequence gave me an in-depth understanding of international economics that has broadened my perspective, and I’ve noticed its usefulness even in daily life as I’m able to better understand current economic events when I read the newspaper. While the core curriculum is relatively quantitative, I found that the math refresher that SIPA provides during orientation really prepared me for the economics and quantitative analysis courses.

Do you feel like you have gotten to know some of the faculty members?

I definitely do! While some of the core courses are large, almost all of my other courses have been small seminars. Even in my large core courses, the professors had extensive office hours to meet with students. I’ve also met faculty members at a lot of events such as networking happy hours and concentration-specific retreats. The International Security Policy concentration, for example, goes on a weekend retreat to a park outside New York City every fall and several professors, including Dr. Richard Betts, attend every year to get to know students. This year I’m also working as a research assistant for a professor, and that’s a great opportunity to work with faculty members closely and get involved in research projects relevant to your specific interests.

What advice do you have for current applicants?

One of the most useful things I did when I was applying was to make a proposed class schedule. I put all of the mandatory courses on a spreadsheet and then filled in the electives I wanted to take from the course listings available on the SIPA website. This is a great way to compare different schools you may be considering. You’ll be able to get a holistic view of what your graduate program will be like and what specific skills you’ll develop. This is also really helpful as you write your statement of purpose as you’ll be able to explain in more detail why SIPA is the right fit for you.

Life as a Program Assistant: It’s Pretty Sweet

Note from Admissions: Congratulations to the students that walked across the stage at SIPA’s graduation yesterday – including our program assistants! We’re extremely happy for, and proud of, the graduates of the SIPA Class of 2019.


Hello everyone! Congratulations to all our readers who were recently admitted to SIPA and welcome to those who are considering applying during the next cycle.

I am writing this post to shed some light on the work of Program Assistants and to talk about what you can expect if you receive an Assistantship while at SIPA!

First of all, program assistants (PAs) are SIPA students that work in SIPA affiliated offices to support full-time staff with daily operations, program management, event planning, etc.

Assistantships are only open to students during their second year; in Spring semester of your first year, you will receive an application form that will let you apply en masse to all open assistantship positions. These positions are competitive, so I encourage students to develop relationships with the people you are interested in working for.

So What Do PAs Do?

Again, it is very much dependent on where you end up working! At Admissions, I assist full-time Admissions staff with daily administrative tasks and the processing of student applications. I also help with communications, by documenting things on campus, writing for the Admissions Blog and occasionally featuring on Columbia SIPA social media accounts!

As an admissions representative, I also meet with prospective students and answer questions from applicants throughout the year.

If you attended Admitted Students Day, I also helped plan and staff the event!

Other friends of mine work for a variety of other offices on campus. For example, one of my good friends works for SIPA News and is a veritable journalist; his job is to attend SIPA events and to write reports for the website. Another one of my friends is the PA for the Urban and Social Policy concentration, and he works with USP faculty to plan events, speaker series and monthly happy hours/mixers.

In general, we all work about anywhere from 12-20 hours a week, depending on our time commitments and the demands of our work. Ultimately, it’s a great way to earn extra money and to connect with new students and staff here at SIPA. So if you’re about to attend SIPA or are considering applying, definitely start thinking about PAships!

L-R: Julia, Sam, Dylan, and Kier

Special shoutout to Fall 2019 PA Niara Valerio! You can see what she and another former PA, Rahel Tekola, are up to here.

"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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