Archive for Spring2017

Columbia University to open Center for Veteran Transition and Integration

Earlier this month, Columbia University announced the creation of a new Center for Veteran Transition and Integration that will provide innovative educational programming and support for veterans making the transition to two- and four-year colleges, graduate and professional schools, civilian life, and the workforce.

Major Michael Abrams, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a current Marine Corps Reservist, as well as the founder of FourBlock, a program to prepare veterans for business careers, will lead the center as its executive director. Beth Morgan, former executive director of Service to School and director of higher education initiatives for the Marine Corps, joins the center as director of higher education transition and partnerships.

The Center for Veterans will open in the fall of 2017.

Columbia’s long-standing commitment to veterans can be traced back to 1947, when the School of General Studies was founded to integrate into the University community thousands of returning military veterans seeking education after World War II through the first GI Bill. Today more than 650 veterans are enrolled at Columbia, most of them supported by the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program. The University has enrolled more student-veterans than all other Ivy League schools combined, while maintaining a graduation rate above 90 percent and a record of job and graduate school placement that equals Columbia’s non-veteran graduates. Highlighting this success, this year’s valedictorian at the School of General Studies is Colin Valentini, a Marine Corps veteran who came to Columbia to study applied mathematics.

Columbia’s successful efforts in helping military service members make the transition to a rigorous academic environment has prompted interest from other universities, employers, government agencies, and veteran-support organizations across the country that would like to replicate its veteran support model.

The new veteran’s center will draw on Columbia’s expertise in curriculum development, instructional technology, and support services in facilitating veterans’ success in an academic setting. In collaboration with a network of public and private partners, the center will provide access to world-class technology and technical support. It will serve military service members at all levels, enlisted and officers, as well as active-duty military personnel preparing for transition, veterans already in higher education, and veterans in the workforce, providing them with the best-in-class resources that they need to ensure their continued academic and professional development. The experience and expertise that Abrams and Morgan bring to this endeavor will be integral in achieving the Center’s vision.

Read more about the Center at Columbia News.

Students take part in symposium on gender law and constitutions

A group of students in the Gender, Globalization and Human Rights class taught by Yasmine Ergas in spring 2017 took part in last month’s Second International Symposium on Gender, Law and Constitutions, held April 12 and 13 in Washington, D.C.

The conference was organized by UN Women and the United States Institute of Peace; one SIPA student, Ashleigh Montgomery, MIA ’17, had worked on the conference as a Women, Peace, and Security intern for UN Women last summer.

The theme of the conference was “Equitable Constitutions,” and programming focused on constitutions and gender equality policy. A series of panels featuring speakers from UN Women and other NGOs, Many students presented on constitutions and other aspects of gender policy—including the SIPA delegation, which addressed the gender politics of populist and nationalist movements and governments.

Two things that especially distinguished the event, Ergas said, were the geographic range of participants—who represented universities in the United States, Europe, Middle East, and Africa—and the deep engagement of audience members in the students’ research. Both students and participating faculty gave extensive feedback to student presenters.

But the conference was noteworthy for another reason as well, Ergas said.

“I learned a lot, but I also saw an international network start to take shape,” she said. “A cohort of students, scholars, and practitioners came together to work on gender and equality from the perspectives of law and public policy, and I think their combined contributions are going to expand, and have a determining impact for years to come.”

In addition to Columbia, universities represented at the symposium included Adam Mikckiewicz University (Poland); Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel); Universidad de Alcala (Spain); Universita Bocconi (Italy), Universita’ degli Studi di Milano (Italy); University of Birmingham (UK); University of Chicago; University of Malawi; University of Pennsylvania; and University of Westminster (UK).

Pictured: Yasmine Ergas (center) is surrounded by student participants

Post-SIPA plans and wisdom from an (almost) alumna

I’ll be graduating this month, so I figured I should wrap up my time at SIPA with a blog post about my post-SIPA plans and some lessons I’ve learned from SIPA and NYC in general. After graduation, I’ll be joining the US Foreign Service as an entry level economic officer, representing the United States abroad. My time at SIPA has definitely been challenging, but I’ve been able to meet some of the most amazing things and have access to the most incredible experiences. I don’t miss it all quite yet, but I’m sure I will very soon. Here are the top five takeaways from my SIPA experience.

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
SIPA is hard and A LOT of work. If you’re a bit of a Type A person like I am (and you probably are if you follow the admissions blog), not getting my money’s worth out of SIPA was a serious point of anxiety. I wanted to make sure I did EVERY reading, took as many classes with as many different professors as I could, have an internship every semester, and be involved in as many student orgs as possible. After about a month of doing the absolute most (and essentially living in Lehman Library), I realized that I can’t maximize my experience if I’m missing the forest for the trees. It’s okay if you don’t do all the reading, or go to every event or happy hour. Sometimes it’s not physically possible to it all, and you’re better off picking what’s important to you and making the most of those experiences rather than trying to spread yourself so thin.

2. Challenge yourself to try new things
Many of us come into SIPA with a strong idea of our expertise and interests, which we, of course, planned to explore at SIPA. While it’s, of course, great to delve deeper into a strength, I would also recommend trying to work on your weaknesses as well as trying out some new things you’ve never considered. In my case, I came to school planning to study international conflict resolution and to become as close to an East Asia regional specialist as SIPA would allow, but while here I found myself gravitating toward the gender classes and focusing more on Southeast Asia—I region I knew very little about before coming here.  Taking those classes were definitely one of the best choices I made at SIPA because it allowed me to expand my horizons and my expertise.

3. Playing hard and having fun is just as important as good grades
This goes hand in hand with my first piece of advice. One of SIPA’s main selling points (for me at least) was its location in New York City and access to all the amazing things the city has to offer. Thus, if you’re constantly stressed about getting the “A+” in every class you’ll be missing out on not only great parts of your SIPA experience but the New York experience as well. Your SIPA classmates are some of the most accomplished and coolest people you’ll ever meet, so you should really take the time to get to know them outside of your macro problem-set group and Conceptual Foundations discussion section. Think of it this way, when you’ve finally graduated what will be more helpful in the long run: the A you got in quant, or the network you’ve made along the way? This is not to say that grades aren’t important (it goes without saying that they are) but again, don’t miss the big picture by focusing too hard on the details.

4. Use all the resources available to you, and ask for help when you need it
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, and you should never be embarrassed to do so. SIPA’s a tough school, and we each have different areas of expertise. Not everyone is an econ or quant whiz and not everyone can write ‘A’ quality 25-page papers in 24 hours. The key is to know your strengths AND your weaknesses, and how to supplement your weak points. If econ or quant isn’t your thing, make sure you go to your favorite TA’s office hours, tutoring sessions and recitation (you can also go directly to the professor). If your writing is a bit weak, make sure you check out the writing lab and get your papers proofread far in advance so you can make the necessary changes. Being too proud to ask for help hurts no one but yourself.

5. You’re not an imposter
You’ve earned the right to be here! Whether you’re straight from undergrad, a career changer, an older student or somewhere in between, your experiences are no better or worse than any other student’s. That’s what’s so great about SIPA— we get to hear from a broad range of experiences from different countries and sectors. There’s no “perfect” Seeple, because we’re ALL the perfect Seeple.

No finance background? No problem, says Sadia Afreen, about her renewable energy course

The course I most enjoyed in my SIPA career is INAF U6326: Renewable Energy Project Finance Modeling. It is a 1.5 credit course and an Energy and Environment elective, usually offered during the spring semester and is taught by Daniel Gross. Professor Gross has extensive experience in the renewable and clean energy financing space, working previously for companies like Goldman Sachs and GE Capital. He is currently the Managing Director at Pegasus Capital Advisors, which is a private equity fund manager with $1.8 billion in asset under management. With all the expertise that Prof. Gross brings to the table, he has also designed the course in such a way where students get to learn the theoretical and practical aspects of project finance that are niche subject area and very specific to renewable energy projects.

The course can be broken down into two main categories and both are tackled during the semester simultaneously and one builds on the other. On the one hand, we reviewed and analyzed different contracts between stakeholders involved in the financing, operations, construction and other aspects of the project. We use the information and assumptions extracted from these to build the financial model. This exercise continues through the life of the course and we continue building the model as we learn new levels of complexities in class. 

Professor Gross was very considerate of the fact that the class was a mix of students (like me) with little or no background in financial modeling and others who had comparatively more expertise in the area (including five Business school students). The teaching team arranged for additional modeling workshop to help students who needed it. There were two workshops and Bartosz Garbaczewski, a recently graduated SIPA alum graciously agreed to invest his time after work to conduct these. There were countless best practices for modeling in Excel that were covered during these two workshops and on class proved to be invaluable to our learning process.

SIPA offers a range of amazing courses within itself and across other graduate schools in Columbia. Besides the core courses for my program and concentration, I had the option to chose from a huge list of electives. As an energy concentrator, I found out my passion for energy finance after I came to SIPA and have decided to pursue a career in the field. Not having a finance/business studies background was particularly concerning for me at the beginning, and hence I looked for courses that would enhance my skills in this aspect. Although I took other courses in the same subject matter, none was as rigorous as INAF U6326, and I would recommend this class to anyone who is interested in project finance for renewable energy.

Read more about INAF U6326 in the February 2016 issue of EE Quarterly.

[Image adaptation courtesy of EE Quarterly | Daniel Gross]

Gillian Tee, MIA/MBA ’12, creates senior care start-up in Singapore

Barely 10 minutes into the interview, Miss Gillian Tee is asking for time out and a drink of water.

The 34-year-old had no problems handling the cut and thrust of New York and Silicon Valley technopreneurship for a decade, but talking about her late nanny and maternal grandmother is making her teary and a tad emotional.

“You’re good,” she says, sheepishly dabbing the tears at the corner of her eyes.

Her late nanny, then a 60-something woman from Kuala Lumpur, practically raised her until she was 10, while her maternal grandmother lovingly cocooned her from the turbulence of her parents’ divorce during her teens.

“It was rough, but they were a source of comfort. They had a huge impact on my life,” says Ms Tee, adding that she developed a soft spot for the elderly as a result.

This affinity is one of the reasons she gave up a heady career in New York City and Silicon Valley, where she co-founded Rocketrip, a start-up to reduce travel costs, which has raised US$18 million (S$25 million) in funding.

She is now home in Singapore where she has set up Homage, a start-up which connects professional caregivers with seniors who need help.

Read the rest of the interview at Straitstimes.com.

[Video still courtesy of Straitstime.com]

"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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