Archive for Spring2017

Sites to see across Morningside Heights

Visiting Upper Manhattan and unsure where to go? There are plenty of stops within walking distance — by NYC standards — to explore nearby Columbia University. Here are a few of my favorites.

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine (West 112th & Amsterdam)
Across the street from SIPA Admissions and Financial Aid you will find the largest cathedral in the world. In fact, you really can’t miss it. The building, which began construction in 1892 and remains partly unfinished, runs the entire a full avenue block to Morningside Drive. In addition to more than 30 worship services a week and a soup kitchen that feeds 25,000 annually, this spiritual space offers serene gardens where you can breathe in a bit of nature. If you are lucky, you can get a peak of the live peacocks Jim, Harry, and Phil who even has his own Twitter account. They’ve taken up residence on grounds since the 1980s. The church also has regular music, art, guided tour, and educational workshop events throughout the year. If you are around during the summer, be sure to check out free performances in the cathedral by the New York Philharmonic. If you want to really make it an extra spiritual day, you can also check out the historic Riverside Church close by on 120th and Riverside Drive.

The Cathedral. Photo by Amir Safa.

 

Resident peacock at the Cathedral. Photo by Roxanne Moin-Safa.

 

Riverside Park & Morningside Park
Take a stroll either west or east of the SIPA campus and you will escape into the splendor of Riverside Park or Morningside Park. Riverside Park, which runs across 330 acres from 59th to 155th, offers picturesque views of the Hudson River where you can also catch a glimpse of the sunset under the natural canopy. In the spring season, you will be surprised to find some of the best cherry blossoms in the city along Cherry Walk which runs alongside the water from 100th to 125th. Some of these trees date back to 1909 when the Committee of Japanese Residents of New York presented as a gift to the City. Consider renting a bike from one of the recently opened Citibike stations, including the one at 104th and Riverside Drive, and whiz whimsically along the expansive bike path.

Morningside Park occupies a modest but enchanting 30-acre area running from 110th to 123rd from Morningside Avenue to Morningside Drive. This recently renovated park combines the natural 300 million-year-old rock geology of Manhattan, grassy open athletic fields, a dog park, and a man-made lake with cascading waterfalls where geese and turtles roam. You will often see families playing sports or feasting on barbecues. On Saturdays, you can shop some local pastries and fresh produce at the Down to Earth Farmer’s Market located at the corner of 110th and Manhattan Avenue. On a snowy day, bring your sled and then sing into spring through the fields of March Daffodils.

Serene springtime view of Morningside Park. Photo by Amir Safa.

 

Sledders enjoying the winter hills of Morningside Park. Photo by Amir Safa.

 

Historic Harlem Walking Tour
Take a walking tour in Harlem and dive into the many layers forming some of the greatest chapters of American history. From the beginning of Harlem as a Dutch community in the 17th century to its transition under the Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th century that brought to life African-American artists, musicians, and literary talents including Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Langston Hughes as well as the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights group. We highly recommend Big Onion Walking Tours. Tours usually cost $15 for students and are often led by PhD students from around the City who paint you a picture of the past with a chock-full of trivia.

Wall art in Harlem. Photo by Roxanne Moin-Safa.

 

General Grant National Memorial (West 122nd & Riverside Drive)
Visit the final resting place of the 18th President of the United States of America and General of the Union Army Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia Dent Grant. Often known as “Grant’s Tomb,” the building stands tall with 150 foot soaring domed ceilings and 8,000 tons of grand marble and granite. The memorial honors his military service. If you are in town during the summer months, be sure to check the memorial calendar for concert events.

Paying respect at the General Grant National Memorial. Photo by Amir Safa.

 

Columbia’s New Manhattanville Campus (125th-133rd & Broadway)
Did you know that Columbia is expanding its reach onto a brand new, modern and sustainably designed campus? Some of the buildings are already open at the university’s Manhattanville Campus, including the Wallach Art Gallery free and open to the public located at the Lenfest Center for the Arts as well as retail space in the Jerome L. Greene Science Center with a rock-climbing wall. The campus will continue to open in stages, with plans to house the Columbia Business School by 2021. Stop by and see the future of Columbia.

Courtyard of the Manhattanville Campus. Photo by Amir Safa.

 

Inside the Wallach Art Gallery at the Lenfest Center for the Arts. Photo by Roxanne Moin-Safa.

 

5 pieces of advice for incoming students

Planning out your first steps at SIPA can seem daunting, and it’s likely you’ll forget a step or two. As you finalize your plans to join the ranks of Seeples in August, there are some things I recommend you add to your to-do list when you get here.

Business Cards. When you arrive at SIPA, you may want to get a head start on your networking by heading over to the School of Journalism to order a set of business cards. They sure come in handy during conferences, alumni events, and interviews.

Be Open to New Classes. As you prepare to register for courses, be open-minded and consider a class out of your comfort zone. You can even take a class with a grading option of Pass/Fail or register to Audit a class; these are invaluable ways to learn a new topic without the pressure of a grade. Check out Vergil during Orientation Week, the University’s course listings database, and look out for special registration periods with the Business School, Law School, School of Journalism, Teachers College, Mailman School of Public Health, or the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. (As for your first semester, your OSA advisor will register you for your classes!)

Meet Your Professors. Don’t be shy to meet outside of the classroom with your professors. Take the time to go to office hours for both your professors and your teaching assistants. Better yet, get a few students together for a meal with your professor and apply to SIPA for up to $150 in TimeOut Funding for it.

Learn a Language.  If you have the time, learn a new language. Many of our classmates took a language course every semester at SIPA and it helps make your resume more attractive to know more than one language. Apply for funding for the academic year or for a summer program through the highly coveted Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship, which offers generous tuition and stipends; the deadline is usually in February. If you don’t have the time to fit in an entire class, consider brushing up on your language skills or become a language tutor through the Language Maintenance Tutorial Program at the Language Resource Center with 10, 90-minute meetings through the semester. For students who want to maintain Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew or Turkish, apply for a $300 grant to be a part of the program.

Find a SIPA Career Coach. Through the Office of Career Services, you can sign up to meet with a Career Coach, professionals from a variety of organizations who have agreed to sit down with students or take a call to offer guidance about entering into and working in a particular industry. It’s a sure way to get an informational interview and build your confidence. In addition to resume reviewing and workshops, the Office of Career Services also provides other great resources like mock interviews and the MBTI personality testing.

[Photo by Amir Safa]

Working Seeples: Yasmina Dardari MIA ’17

In addition to taking 14 to 16 credits a semester and participating in student groups, some SIPA students also work part-time jobs or internships. Earlier this semester, SIPA News spoke with Yasmina Dardari MIA ’17 to discuss how she manages the demands of school, her social life, and her internship at Unbendable Media.

What did you do before coming to SIPA?

I worked in D.C. for a few years at public-interest communications firm that did work for nonprofits and governments. I decided to attend SIPA to dig deeper into my own interests in media and human rights and also explore some of the the policy issues my clients were working on.

I’m really into media, politics, public relations, strategic campaigning, and human rights. My specialization in Technology, Media, and Communications and my concentration in Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy allows me to combine all of these interests.

What do you do at Unbendable Media?

Unbendable Media is a team of communications practitioners that do campaign strategy and public relations work for organizations that aim to build a better, more progressive world. A former colleague started the company and and reached out to me to join his team. I do much of the same work I did with the firm in D.C.—providing campaign strategy and public relations works for organizations working for the public interest.

Having this particular part-time job has really informed my SIPA education. My clients work on the same policy problems that we work on at SIPA, so my work informs school and school informs my work. It’s like a two-way symbiotic relationship that makes me a better employee and student.

Why Unbendable Media?

I wanted to keep myself sharp in the field that I care about, so I started interning at the organization last summer. They liked my work and asked me to stay on as a part-time worker. I enjoy the work, so it was a no-brainer to accept the offer. It will allow me to work in media and politics, which is where my heart is.

How do you balance your school and work commitments?

It’s not easy. It’s give and take. Ideally I wouldn’t have to work while attending school, but financially I can’t afford not to.

I didn’t work my first semester, which allowed me to throw myself into my studies. I was able to go to lectures and fully dedicate myself to schoolwork. It became difficult after that because I was the co-president for the Middle East Dialogue Group and had an assistantship in addition to my part-time work at Unbendable Media. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on the full SIPA experience.

My schedule is exhausting but it’s taught me the value of self-care. I know now how important it is to keep my stamina up, so I’m smarter about taking breaks and making efforts to spend time on my hobbies and see friends. Also, my time management skills have improved so much because of this experience. I make sure I’m on track and hit my benchmarks. My life would be a lot less stressful [if I didn’t work outside SIPA], but you can make it work if you have structure.

This interview, conducted by Serina Bellamy MIA ’17, has been condensed and edited.

What it’s like taking a class with the 76th U.S. Treasury Secretary

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob “Jack” Lew, serving under President Obama’s second term, joined Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs in Spring 2017 as Visiting Professor to teach the new course INAF U6092: “Leadership and Policy Development.”

How did I find out about the class?
Early in the semester, Dean Janow made an announcement to students welcoming Secretary Lew as a visiting professor and about a month before the class started, I received an email from SIPA Academic Affairs revealing Secretary Lew’s first course.

Did the class have any prerequisites?
Yes, to be eligible, students had to have taken SIPA U6401 Macroeconomic Analysis taught by Professor Andrea Bubula, which is now offered in both semesters of the academic year. An online application was also required including a resume and a statement of interest. The class was capped at twenty students as a seminar which allowed an intimate setting for candid questions and discussion.

What did the class cover?
The special five-week, one-unit course entitled “Leadership and Policy Development” aimed to familiarize students with current issues in economic policy development and the domestic and international factors influencing public sector decision-making.  The class discussed a number of contemporary issues including those in which the US has played a significant role or has a substantial interest:

  • Policy Practice and Business Tax Reform
  • Ukraine and IMF Quota Reform
  • Managing the US Debt Limit
  • Exchange Rate Management and Financial Stability Coordination
  • Financial Crisis in Puerto Rico

In the class, we discussed the types of dilemmas leaders can be expected to face: unavoidable issues with looming deadlines; managing to avoid a potential crisis and affirmative initiatives where policy leaders choose a policy objective to advance. Students also learned lessons of leadership, hearing stories from behind-the-scenes including from Secretary Lew’s moments in the White House sitting with President Obama.

What assignments were required?
As with most SIPA courses, Secretary Lew assigned required and recommended readings each week. Readings ranged from expert reports drafted in the White House, the US Treasury, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to analysis offered by pieces in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and academic journals including articles authored by Secretary Lew himself in the Harvard Journal on Legislation.

Students also drafted a concise 4-6 page policy memorandum addressing one of the course topics. To prepare for this assignment, Secretary Lew met with every student in a one-on-one meeting to discuss and flesh out key points and to formulate an argument.

Why did you take the class?
Why not? It is not everyday one gets to sit down with a former U.S.Treasury Secretary.

What did you enjoy from this experience?
Secretary Lew’s course provided the opportunity to apply what I had learned in SIPA courses to today’s issues. Prior to taking this class, I had taken courses driven by theoretical framework and models including Economic Development and Macroeconomics, acquiring the tools to understand problem solving and policy making processes. I had developed a background in how economies function in China, Japan, Latin America, the United States and Europe. When I took Secretary Lew’s course, I heard him speak about real life scenarios that require a policy maker to grapple with theory over practice and how to work toward feasible policies. These nuances of leadership, strategy, and practicality are the real treasurers from his class. No pun intended.

[Photo courtesy of Katarina Luz Mayers | Class photo with Jack Lew in the center, and Amir Safa on the far right.]

Ayanda’s Kisumu Workshop Debrief

Four members of my six-person team and I traveled to Kisumu, Kenya to collect data for our Workshop Project for two weeks this March. Our project was an analysis of the programs of a local NGO, Alice Visionary Foundation Project, that works on women’s economic empowerment through micro-enterprise and group savings and loans programs in Manyatta slum—the largest in Kisumu. We were building off of the research gathered from our January field team (2 travelers then), as well as all our desk research and literature review. While in Kisumu, we spent our spring break interviewing 22 people from all different ages, education levels, and walks of life to understand how they found the NGO, the program they were in, and to learn about their goals for their businesses, their households, and themselves. After an intense week, we took the weekend to relax and explore Kenya; some went to Mombasa to visit the seaside while others stayed in Kisumu to better explore our surroundings. After a restful weekend, we went back to work—this time to interview experts in banks, government, Savings and Credit Associations (SACCOs), and micro-finance institutions, to hear the stories of their organizations and look for potential partnerships that could enable the participants to move from informal loans programs to the formal banking sector. Through these interviews were could map the financial ecosystem of options for these beneficiaries, as well as map their pathway from a neophyte in the program with small financial goals to the more senior participants with more ambitious plans for their business. All in all, though it was an exhausting two weeks, I learned a lot about Kisumu, fieldwork in general, and the process that goes into planning and executing a client-based consultancy.

[Photo courtesy of Ayanda Francis | Workshop Team with our in-country client, Alice Visionary Foundation Project]

"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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