Archive for Program Assistants

Program Assistant Introduction: Julia Chung

We’re introducing our new group of program assistants with the Office of Admissions. You’ve already met Niara and Kier, so now please meet Julia!


Julia Chung was born and raised in New Jersey but hopes to be considered an honorary New Yorker. She is a second-year MPA student concentrating in Urban and Social Policy and specializing in Technology, Media, and Communications. After graduating from Vassar College with a BA in Sociology and a minor in Asian Studies, Julia worked at various nonprofits in New York City on issues including housing, immigration, education, and civic engagement.

Photo courtesy of: Sandy Zhang

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?
Before SIPA, I spent four years working at various nonprofits in New York City, focusing on immigration advocacy and civic engagement. After working on various grassroots-level campaigns, I realized that I needed more knowledge and expertise. I decided that the best way to serve my community was to first learn how to create better policies and how to better include multiple voices and communities in policy-making.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
When looking at graduate schools, the two factors that were most important to me were the classes and professors and where the school was located. I wanted to be in a city so I could remain involved in local issues and I wanted professors that had expertise on social policy and municipal governments. After my acceptance, I sat in on Mark Steitz’s Data Driven Approaches to Campaigns and Advocacy class. Less than half way through the class, I knew that SIPA was the school for me. It was clear that SIPA would not only provide the theory and best-practices about policymaking, but also teach the practical skills I needed to further my career.

How did you find the core curriculum at SIPA?
With no previous quantitative experience, I was apprehensive about the economics and quantitative analysis series. However, in the end, I found both to be extremely useful. Microeconomics and macroeconomics provided me greater insight in why governments make certain decisions around monetary and fiscal policy. And having enjoyed Quantitative Analysis I, I enrolled in Quantitative Analysis II, which is not required, the next semester. Now I highly recommend all students to take Quantitative Analysis II because I think it’s crucial for all policymakers to know how critique the methods of an academic journal article.

How did you obtain your internship?
I found the general internship posting for NYC Department of Transportation on SIPAlink, our platform for career resources. Having had mainly nonprofit experience, I was looking for opportunities in municipal government. Soon after sending in my resume and cover letter, I was invited to interview with the Grants Management team and offered a College Aid position.

What are your goals for the second year?
Having completed all my core classes for my degree and concentration in my first year, almost all my second year classes will be elective courses. My goal for the second year is to continue building my skills in design thinking and data analysis. I also want to take classes in other Columbia University schools, such as Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia Business School.

What do you think makes a good SIPA student or what qualities do stellar SIPA students typically possess?
I think stellar SIPA students typically are:

  • Skilled in time management. There’s quite a bit to juggle between lectures, recitations, office hours, club meetings, networking events, group projects, and life in general! A stellar student knows exactly how much they can take on, where to allocate their energy and when they need to say no and have some self-care time.
  • Open minded and willing to listen to other perspectives. Classmates are from all walks of life with different personal and professional experiences. We don’t always agree on the merits of certain policies or hold similar political views, but we have to respectfully hear the other perspective.
  • Proactive in getting involved in SIPA and off campus. There are so many events and opportunities at SIPA, but also in New York City. Stellar students do their research and get involved!

Seeples Spotlight: Meagan Barrera

I’m pleased to share that the Office of Admissions welcomed a new team of Program Assistants (PAs) this semester. So over the next few days I’ll be introducing you to each of them in the form of self-interviews. Say “hello” to Meagan Barrera, a second-year MIA student. Meagan is concentrating on Human Rights and Gender and Public Policy. She is originally from Texas, but has spent the past seven years living in the Northeast. She studied International Politics with a concentration in International Law and earned a certificate in Justice and Peace Studies for her undergraduate degree. After graduating she spent two years working as the Appellate Litigation Fellow for the Attorney General of New York, and continued working there part-time during her first year at SIPA. She most recently spent two months of the Summer in Bolivia working with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation as part of the International Conflict Resolution Practicum course at SIPA.

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?
Before coming to SIPA I worked as the Appellate Litigation Fellow at the New York Attorney General’s office. I worked with the attorneys in the Appellate Division to research, cite-check, and prepare briefs before submission to the court. I applied mainly for paralegal type positions because my original goal was to go to law school. Working at the Attorney General’s office was a great way to figure out what my interests were. Although I enjoy learning about the law and I think it is a very important profession, I realized that the policy issues that our office pushed through its legal advocacy was what interested me the most and inspired me to apply to SIPA.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
I decided to apply to SIPA because the curriculum is a perfect match to my interests and it allows me to tailor my degree by providing options for concentrations and specializations. I have always been interested in human rights, but I knew I wanted to focus on gender specifically, and SIPA’s curriculum allows me to work in both disciplines. I also wanted to study at Columbia to be able to take advantage of the location in New York City and the ability to access the many resources available to the University.

How did you find the core curriculum at SIPA?
I think the core curriculum provides all-around necessary skills for a degree in international or public affairs. The classes are practical and cover a wide range of topics, and for most of them you have the ability to choose between different courses that will best suit your career goals. I knew the economics and quantitative courses would be difficult for me, but in the end I am glad that I took them, and they have enhanced my ability to engage and understand the materials in other classes far more than I expected.

Do you feel like you have gotten to know some of the faculty members?
The professors that have taught my classes have been very accessible and willing to talk to any students. Despite the fact that Columbia is a large university, and SIPA in particular is a large school, it is never difficult to get in touch with a professor to talk about the course or even about professional or other academic interests. In some of my smaller concentration or specialization classes I have been able to interact with my professors on a very meaningful level. I would certainly recommend that everyone attempt to engage their professors outside of regular class hours to take advantage of their knowledge and experiences outside of teaching.

What has been the most challenging part of your SIPA experience?
The hardest part about my SIPA experience was working part-time during my first year. There is so much going on at SIPA and at Columbia in general with constant events and speakers, however because I worked I was not able to spend much time on campus outside of just attending class. I know that I missed out on a lot of events and social interactions, and I was not able to take full advantage of all the resources SIPA offers. It often seemed like I was the only person that was experiencing this, but I know there are several other students with similar demanding schedules because of work or internships. I want to reassure everyone that if you find yourself having to work during your time at SIPA that it IS possible! In fact, I often found myself better off for it because it left me very little time to procrastinate and kept me focused and motivated to do well in class.

What was the most challenging aspect of the application process?
The most challenging part of the application process was writing the personal essay. It is always difficult to capture everything I need to say with such a limited word count. The personal essay is also one of the most important parts of the application, so I felt a lot of pressure to make sure it accurately reflected me as a candidate for SIPA. I went through several drafts of my essay, completely changing the focus of it more than once. It was nerve-racking to know that the decision to accept me could be influenced by my essay, so I made sure to spend extra time editing it and asked several friends and family to read over it before I submitted the application.

What experiences do you think prepared you apply to/attend SIPA?
I am glad that I took some time off to work before applying to SIPA, I think the experience outside of academia helped me to better understand myself and what I wanted to gain by getting a masters degree. I thought I wanted to apply to law school, however, after interacting with attorneys in the office and getting a glimpse of the kind of work I could expect to be doing I realized that it was really the policy and advocacy aspect of law that interested me more than anything. I also think that spending time around people that are passionate about their work inspired me to work hard while I was applying to schools so I could also get to that point in my life.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? Why or why not? How did you perform in those classes?
For my undergraduate core curriculum I had to take four economics courses and a quantitative methods course, but that was the extent of my quantitative experience. I have always struggled with quantitative courses, and I did not pursue any other quantitative courses once I was done with those core classes. I think that having taken those courses prepared me for the quantitative courses at SIPA and helped me to understand the material, but even without that experience I think the quantitative courses at SIPA are definitely manageable and worthwhile.

Photo courtesy of Meagan Barrera

Seeple snapshot: Katherine McGehee

Katherine McGehee_SIPA photo

Katherine McGehee
Master of International Affairs
Concentration: Economic and Political Development
Specialization: Management

Katherine McGehee is a native New Yorker, Katherine attended the United Nations International School through high school, which most definitely sparked her interest in international affairs. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 2012 with a dual degree in Foreign Affairs and French and a minor in history. During college, she studied abroad at Sciences Po Paris where she pursued courses on development in Africa. Before joining SIPA, she worked for the New York City Mayor’s Office for International Affairs on urban-level research and at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières on advocacy work. Since studying at SIPA, she has interned for a UN-related agency, served as an editorial assistant at the school’s Journal of International Affairs, and interned in public sector consulting.

What attracted you most to SIPA?

What attracted me most to SIPA are two things: New York City and the Capstone component. SIPA is unique in the fact that it has a strong network internationally, domestically, and especially in New York. I wanted a school where I would have a strong network of alumni, professors, and contacts in New York City as my immediate career goal is to remain in New York following graduation. I do want the opportunity to have a strong resume anywhere else in the world too and SIPA carries a strong reputation globally. The Capstone is another unique element of SIPA’s curriculum as it gives SIPA students the opportunity to translate theory into practice through fieldwork experience. I am really excited about the opportunity to work as a consultant for a top organization over the course of my second year.

Have you taken classes at other Columbia Schools?

At SIPA, I am continuing to develop my interest in international affairs with a particular focus on private sector development of public services. Most notably, I am concentrating on the broad issues of food security, public health, and infrastructure. The beauty of SIPA is that it is possible to explore a range of issues in the classroom, through internships, and through consulting projects organized by the school. This is also made possible through the opportunity to take courses at other Columbia schools. Last semester, I took a class called, “International Development and the Private Sector,” which gave me a different perspective on ways to create successful development projects.

Can you comment on the quantitative rigor in the curriculum?

One of my biggest concerns coming into SIPA was the quantitative requirement in the curriculum. I had never studied economics, statistics, or financial management before and I was really anxious about stacking up next to other SIPA classmates. While SIPA’s core quantitative courses are certainly rigorous, the school ensures that its students receive the support they need to learn and succeed in these classes. Tutors, review sessions, recitations, and team activities are available to work through problem sets. Multiple course levels are available to ensure that students can choose to what extent they would like to be challenged.

What advice would you give a first-year student?

Before answering this question, I consulted with my SIPA peers (most notably Adero Miwo, MIA 2015) to get their perspectives. The dominant advice: be open, be focused, and be disciplined. SIPA can be overwhelming because of the seemingly infinite number of course options, student activities, and volunteer opportunities. By having an objective of what you want when you start at SIPA, you can get the most from the curriculum and from the school community. Remaining open to new possibilities and staying disciplined, especially when it comes to time management, can ensure that you succeed at SIPA.

 

Interview with SIPA MIA Candidate, Dario Martinez

dario2

Dario Martinez

Brief Background: I am originally from Honduras and I have a Bachelor in Business Administration and a Master of Business Administration, both from Loyola University New Orleans. Prior to enrolling at SIPA, I was a Senior Territory Manager for Loyola University and I was in charge of the recruitment and marketing efforts for the university in Latin America, the Caribbean, Mississippi and Florida. During my time at SIPA, I have been involved in the SIPA Consulting club and assisted them in organizing the Case Competition last fall. Also, as a member of the Columbia’s Impact Investing Initiative (CI3), I was part of a four person team that developed a strategy for Habvita Mexico’s entrance into the microfinance housing market in Mexico. Finally, this summer I was an intern in the Renewable Energy Research Department for ThinkGreen Global Advisors and I assisted my manager with client pitching, managing interns, due diligence and research on clean energy topics.

What attracted you to SIPA? What attracted me the most to SIPA, was its rigorous curriculum. I had a strong foundation in Finance and Business prior to coming to SIPA but I wanted to further my quantitative and analytical skills further. My professors are not only knowledgeable and highly regarded in their field but where accessible and invested in training tomorrow’s leaders. Moreover, undertaking classes such as Accounting for Public Affairs, Economic Analysis II or Capital Markets definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone and prepared me to pursue a career in the private or public financial sector. All of this while attending a school that has a strong focus in policy, which I am very passionate about, and an unparalleled international focus.

What experience prepared you to attend SIPA? I think that the two experiences that have helped me the most are: work experience and multicultural awareness. As a Territory Manager, I had to learn to work in a fast pace environment, to develop strong multitasking and time management skills, and to interact in a professional setting with people from different backgrounds and cultures. My prior experience also allowed me to develop a better understanding of the concepts and tools discussed in my classes and their applications in the real world.

While at SIPA, I have also been surprised with the diversity of our student body and the wealth of knowledge the students bring to the classrooms. I have classmates come from all over the world, SIPA has 51 countries represented on campus, and from very interesting and unique backgrounds. My classmates are former marines, Peace-Corp participants, full-bright recipients and international development consultants. This opportunity has definitely allowed me to learn about my classmate’s countries, their customs and their personal and professional experiences.

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

Upon graduation, I intend to work in the finance sector. My goal is to join a rating agency or a financial institution and use the knowledge and skills that I acquired at SIPA to provide world-class financial, strategic solutions and research to their sovereign and institutional clients.

Meet our newest Admissions Program Assistants (PA)

Each year we are blessed to have an enthusiastic core group of SIPA graduate students serve as Admission Program Assistants (PA).  For prospective students interested in hearing the SIPA student perspective, the PA is here to provide that insight.  Chances are you will meet one or two or all of them during the admissions process — either in the office, online or on the telephone.

We will post a few Q&A responses from each of them in the next few days so you get to know who is on the other end.  Our wonderful PAs come from different backgrounds and experiences and bring a diverse perspective.  They will also be a great resource on what to do (and not do) as you consider going back to school … since they’ve all been where you are now.

Eric Medina  fall 2014

Eric Medina, MPA 2015 is concentrating in International Security Policy with a focus on the United States (specialization)

What was your previous professional experience?
I spent 10 years in the United States Army. I was assigned to Fort Bragg, NC for the majority of my career. My first international assignment was a combat deployment to Afghanistan with the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne). My last international assignment was as the Military Development Liaison Officer to the United States Embassy in the Philippines.

What kind of work do you want to do when you graduate?
I would like to work in the Intelligence Community as a policy advisor for senior government officials.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?
The best part has been the friends I’ve made. The diversity of the student body never ceases to amaze me. The opinions and perspectives they bring to conversations regarding domestic and international policy is by far something I have not experienced elsewhere.

Do you feel like you have gotten to know some of the faculty members?
Yes, the faculty at SIPA is exceptional. Not only are there brilliant scholars, but also many are still current practitioners in their field. The experience and insights they bring into the classroom is immeasurable.

 

"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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