Archive for Russia and the Former Soviet States

The Unexpected Product of Mentorship at SIPA: A Shout-Out on Late Night TV

My name is Katherine Kirk, and I am a second-year MIA student concentrating in International Security Policy with a specialization in Russia and the Former Soviet States. In addition to the traditional SIPA specialization, I am completing the Harriman Institute’s Certificate Program in conjunction with my SIPA degree to deepen my regional expertise. A native of the D.C. metro area, I came to SIPA directly from Yale University, where I received my BA in Global Affairs.

Last Monday, on my final day of class, I received a surprise call from my sister, who informed me that Stephen Colbert had just quoted my work on The Late Show. Needless to say, this was not what I was expecting from my last day at SIPA. To back up slightly — this spring I enrolled in Alexis Wichowski’s course, “Technology, National Security & the Citizen.” The course focused as much on developing real-world skills as it did on teaching specific course material, and so rather than more traditional academic papers, Professor Wichowski’s assignments include a briefing document and an original op-ed. It was the latter assignment, which I began in March, that brought my words to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on May 3.

While conducting research for my capstone project ­– an analysis of Russian active measures on Twitter targeting Americans with content about the Syrian conflict – our team came across a study on Russian trolls’ participation in the online vaccine debate, which I used as a foundation for Professor Wichowski’s assignment. She told us at the beginning of the semester that the op-ed assignment usually resulted in at least one student’s work being published, but at the time it seemed a hypothetical prospect. Luckily for me, Professor Wichowski had other ideas, and encouraged me to submit the piece for publication. I took her advice, and shopped the op-ed to a handful of outlets before it landed at Foreign Policy. With the help of their fantastic editing team, I refined and expanded the piece, which appeared on the Foreign Policy website at the beginning of April.

I was thrilled with the article’s initial reception and grateful that it drew much-needed attention to Russia’s less overtly political information warfare operations. Little did I know that, when The Late Show with Stephen Colbert began work on a segment about Russian trolls and the online vaccine debate, my article would be one of their primary sources, which Colbert quoted when the segment went live on May 3.

Whatever I expected from my time at SIPA, it certainly did not include a shout-out on late night television. Writing and publishing my first opinion piece was one of the most impactful experiences of my SIPA career. Mentorship from SIPA’s faculty gave me the expertise to develop thoughtful opinions, the skills to put them into writing, and the voice to promote those opinions in the wider world.

concentrations, specializations, and co-curricular programs (oh my)

Let’s face it SIPA (School of International and Public Affairs) is a land of acronyms starting with the name itself. As if that didn’t make things confusing enough, every policy school has its own language when it comes to courses of study. Applicants frequently call the office wondering if they concentrate in Latin America or specialize in social policy (the answer is no to both, in my opinion) so I thought it might be useful to walk you through the difference between SIPA’s concentrations, specializations, and co-curricular programs.

SIPA offers six concentrations: Economic and Political Development (EPD), Energy and Environment (EE), Human Rights (HR), International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP), International Security Policy (ISP), or Urban and Social Policy (USP). Energy and Environment, IFEP and USP offer two tracks each. For example my concentration is Urban and Social policy- Social track. Someone else might be International Finance and Economic Policy- Economic Policy.  Very loosely speaking, concentrations are the equivalent of undergraduate majors. All MPA and MIA students choose a concentration, except for students who are pursuing a dual degree.

Concentrations consist of five courses each. Some concentrations, for example Human Rights (HR) and USP, are extremely flexible allowing students to take one core course and then tailor the track to their interests through focus areas. Other concentrations, for example IFEP, are more structured and require students to fulfill five specific requirements from a distinct set of courses. When choosing a concentration, as either an applicant or a student, it is important to consider the skills you want to acquire during your time at SIPA and how you plan to market yourself afterward. If you need to gain a strong quantitative background, then IFEP might be the right choice for you. If you plan to market yourself as a Human Rights advocate, you might want to concentrate in HR. While students do not officially “double concentrate,” SIPA’s curriculum offers the flexibility to take courses outside of your concentration to gain additional skills or background in whatever area you choose.

In addition to concentrations, all non-dual degree seeking MIA and MPA students select a specialization. These would be the loose equivalent of an undergraduate minor. Specializations take one of two forms: regional (AfricaEast AsiaEast Central EuropeEuropeLatin AmericaMiddle EastRussia and the Former Soviet StatesSouth Asia or United States); or skill/policy based including, Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis (APEA),  Applied Science (AS),  International Conflict Resolution (ICR),  International Media, Advocacy and Communications (IMAC), International Organization (IO) and Management.  Students specialize in either a region or a skill/policy area, not both. The specialization requirements are three courses each so most students wind up fulfilling the requirements for at least one specialization just by following their own interests. Again, when considering a specialization students balance the skills and background they want to acquire while at SIPA with the ways in which they plan to market themselves post-graduation.  I will qualify for both a United States and Management specialization, but have chosen to specialize in management because I want to highlight expertise in organizational leadership as I apply to jobs. Any MIA or MPA student can concentrate or specialize in any combination, meaning that there are 180 possible combinations available to MIA and MPA’s alone!

Finally, we come to SIPA’s three co-curricular programs: Gender Policy (GP), Humanitarian Affairs (HA) and United Nations Studies Program (UNSP). Unlike concentrations and specializations participation in co-curricular programs is optional although from my personal experience, highly recommended! The three co-curricular programs are very different from one another in their requirements and you can find more about each program by clicking here. The co-curricular programs are extremely useful in establishing oneself as an expert if students plan to pursue post-SIPA careers in these specific fields. I will be able to list a certificate in gender policy alongside my MPA degree on my resume.  They tend to focus on gaining practical experience even more so than concentrations and are designed to give students a solid foundation and background in policy and practice in their professional field.   Anecdotally, I will share with you that the courses I have taken to satisfy the requirements for my Gender Policy co-curricular have been hands down my favorites at SIPA and have left me feeling confident and prepared to market myself as an expert in gender policy.

Incidentally, if you factor in our co-curricular programs, this brings the possible MIA and MPA combinations to 540! Whatever your policy interest there is a way to gain the skills you need here at SIPA.



"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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