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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.

Join Seeple Groups for the camaraderie

The fall 2017 class has around 400 students (MPA/MIA) from around the world with different skills, ideas, and professional backgrounds. Do you appreciate the diversity of perspectives, but are concerned about becoming being just another a number? If that’s a “yes,” then that’s exactly why SIPA came up with Seeple Groups (SIPA + People = Seeple). As a Seeple Groups leader, I wanted to share with all of you the value of this initiative. Launched last year for the Class of 2018, the program is designed to do two things: provide incoming students with dedicated support and to foster interdisciplinary camaraderie that cuts across degree programs (MPA and MIA) and areas of study (concentrations and specializations).

Each Seeple Group consists of around 40 first-year MPA/MIA students, and they are led by select second-year students, known as SIPA Peer Advisors (SPA). Advising deans are also paired up with each group. SPAs, like me, provide wisdom from experience on university resources, course selection, and student life. In other words, we’ll tell you where the least-crowded libraries are; how to navigate the school bureaucracy; how tough a professor is; where to find free food; and where the best happy hours are at. (You know, the important stuff.) In all seriousness, if you’re running into issues as a student, the chances are high that someone else has been through it and resolved it. And if the SPA don’t have the answer, they’ll find someone that does.

For example, during orientation week, we had a first-year student from Asia who discovered that his initial housing plans fell through due to circumstances beyond his control. His family was also due to arrive two weeks later. I don’t think we would have learned how dire the situation was if we hadn’t approached him. Leveraging the network of the SPAs, we managed to find a unit that fit his needs. Result: crisis averted.

The groups as a whole build community within the unit through various events planned by SPAs and their group members. The events range from community service and house parties to ice skating in Midtown and secret Seeples gift exchanges. The ultimate goal of Seeple Groups is to provide a vector for students to build meaningful and life-long friendships. It’ll be one of the first networking platforms you’ll encounter at SIPA. You’ll likely form into problem set teams for Quant and Econ. And even if you feel like it’s not working out, there are countless other opportunities to build new relationships (concentration/specialization happy hours, student organizations events, and student-led cultural and policy excursions around the world to name a few).

I was in Seeples Group B aka “the Rumble Bees” (the groups are named after animals/insects). My favorite part about being a SPA is watching the bonds form within the group. I remember meeting the gang during orientation week and doing ice breakers to get everyone to loosen up. Now, I see them lounging together on campus and tagging each other on Facebook during late-night study sessions. When I was deciding between graduate schools, the strength of a school’s network was a key factor for me. SIPA created Seeple Groups to do exactly this.

[Photo courtesy of Gloria Oh (Seeple Group B Peer Advisor) | Andrew Liu (first row, left) attempting to buzz like a bee with Seeple Group B aka “the Rumble Bees”]

SIPA welcomes a domestic policy magazine about universal truths

Being a part of a school that is always buzzing with discussions of and debates over pressing policy issues, it is hard not to get excited when some of your peers work hard to add another channel to do so. The school and the student body provides numerous platforms for this but the newest addition to the list is the print version of Columbia Public Policy Review (CPPR). CPPR started as a student-lead blog that has been publishing thoughtful and timely policy pieces on pressing US domestic issues. It was founded at the beginning of Spring 2015 with Jen Kim, Caitlin LaCroix, William Colegrave, Thomas Gaffeney, John Olderman and Audrey Yu as the founding board. The inaugural print edition of the magazine was published in November 2016 and features nine articles by SIPA students and faculty.

cppr-presidentExperience Publishing Inaugural Issue

I had a chance to chat with former CPPR board President Erin Kathleen Dostal, who is a second-year Master of Public Administration candidate at SIPA, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy (USP).

I asked Erin how the initial experience of gathering articles was like since this was the first print edition of the magazine: “We started looking for authors in May 2016. When you start from the grassroots level, you tap the people you know personally.” Although this was the reason why most students involved with the magazine ended up being USP concentrators, Erin clarified that they had very different backgrounds and interests. “Will Jordan, the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, has experience working for YouGov and a strong quantitative background and chose to write about polling. Camille Gray, on the other hand, is a lawyer and her article focused on the dispute between Apple and the FBI [over the San Bernardino shooting and the contention over U.S. communications laws].”

She also elaborated on the publication process: “Putting together the articles was easy in comparison to the other things that needed to be done, like coming up with the layout for the cover. Natasha Avanessians, the Vice President and Treasurer, and I went through piles of New Yorker, Wire, Cosmopolitan to come up with the cover for the magazine.” She also mentioned how her experience of working for a magazine before helped with the process. But while we discussed these challenges, she did not forget to acknowledge the amazing efforts put forward by the board members and admired their competency on the job. “The people involved are amazing. Will made sure that everything fit together, going back and forth to the writers with questions and getting the best out of them. Natasha had to make sure all the financial operations ran smoothly. I knew Cathleen Gates from before, who works for Gates Sister Studio, and she gracefully offered to do the cover for the magazine for free.”

Policy Focus

I was curious to know more how the board selected specific topics to feature in the magazine. It was also interesting to note that the focus of CPPR is solely domestic policies, despite the fact the school has such a diverse and international crowd. Erin shared her view on the matter and I realized how CPPR was different from similar initiatives at SIPA. She said, “We are not exclusionary. The policy areas chosen are very broad and have an impact on a wide range of people, both international and domestic. Besides going to school here, we also live in New York, which in itself is a very international city and it is important for us to know about the domestic policy-making process. Given the fact that other similar platforms, like the Journal of International Affairs, focus more on international policy, and that the majority of SIPA students are international, CPPR is a unique platform to talk about domestic policies.” The content of the magazine, ranging from Obama’s racial legacy to an aging LGBT population in New York City, attest to the truth in that statement.

Events

CPPR has partnered with student organizations to host policy dialogues. Erin excitedly highlighted one event from last year where CPPR collaborated with Women in Leadership (WIL) to host “Women Shaping New York’s Policy and Politics.” The event focused on the crucially important topic of female participation in grassroots politics and housed a panel of women serving in a leadership role in the city’s government.

Moving Forward

The magazine has a new board that has already assumed responsibilities, and Erin hopes that they will publish twice every year. Talking about challenges Erin mentioned, “One of the major hurdles faced by the previous board was financing the publication cost. SIPA Student Association (SIPASA) allocated funds for hosting the events, while we had to fundraise to finance the publication of the magazine itself.” She is hopeful that fundraising will go smoothly this semester and in the future. In the meantime, the online platform is open and active for any domestic policy related discussion.

If you are interested in writing for the Columbia Public Policy Review as a new student next year, send them an email at cppr@gmail.com.

 

Seeples Spotlight: Amir Safa

This semester the Office of Admissions welcomed three new Program Assistants (PAs) to the team. This week I’m introducing you to each of them in the form of self-interviews. Our last addition to the team is Amir Safa, and he’s concentrating in Economic and Political Development and specializing in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University College London in archaeology and comes to SIPA with over 10 years experience in the financial industry including investment banking and asset management. For his interview, he elected to write a mini blog post about what SIPA means to him. Here’s what he had to share:

In my final semester here at SIPA studying Economic and Political Development, I offer some thoughts out there about what this experience has meant to me. SIPA has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to refresh myself intellectually after a decade of work experience. The program opened the door for me to meet so many people from all over the world; from countries I only knew from far far away. You can travel the world by walking the corridors of SIPA where you will hear so many languages and stories from people’s lives. The journey continues in the classroom. I decided to take courses that focused on regional economies, including ones examining China, Japan, Latin America and Europe. I am currently learning the nuances of Japanese Economy, not only from Professor Takatoshi Ito but also from my classmates who are visiting from Japan’s Ministry of Finance.

One of my favorite experiences at SIPA was working in an instructional capacity for “Global Energy Policy” with Professor Manuel Pinho, a former IMF Economist and Minister of Economy of Portugal. The students came from all disciplines and departments within the whole university including, SIPA, the Law School, School of Engineering, and the Earth institute. Lectures focused on energy economics, policy, and global trends in renewables. Students learned outside the classroom through problem sets and weekly guest lectures. It was a great opportunity to meet different students from different places and work through the course material together.

I will save the best part for last: I had a pretty unique experience at SIPA. My wife is very understanding of all the time I spend in the library completing group projects, going to class and writing papers into the night. She understands because 90 percent of the time she is right there next me completing her assignments (she is also a student at SIPA!).   

So what is my advice for new students? Break out of your comfort zone, have a coffee with someone from a place you have never been to, and take a class on something you don’t know anything about.

Seeples Spotlight: Andrew Liu

This semester the Office of Admissions welcomed three new Program Assistants (PAs) to the team. This week I’m introducing you to each of them in the form of self-interviews. Next up, Andrew Liu. He’s studying International Security Policy, worked in the Pentagon’s Office of the Secretary of Defense as a security policy intern last summer, and served as an active duty Marine for about seven years. Here’s what he has to say about his time at SIPA.

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?
Before SIPA, I served in the US military as an active duty Marine for almost seven years. My assignments have taken me from the Quantico Highlands of Virginia to the sunny beaches of Southern California and the hot deserts of Afghanistan. I’ve worked in managerial roles as a platoon commander and in planning and advisory positions as a staff officer.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
I was attracted to SIPA and Columbia University for both professional and personal reasons.

I decided on SIPA for its reputation and faculty and its location. I knew the school’s prestige and faculty would best support my career change into policy. Earning a master’s degree from a top-tier program is a major requirement of the field. I knew that being affiliated with certain institutions alone presented career opportunities. I was also impressed by the school’s faculty. To me, a two-year investment in education was only worth it if I was being instructed by a world-class faculty of leading scholars, thinkers, and practitioners.

As a New York native, I wanted to spend more time with my family. At the time of my decision, it had already been seven years since I moved away. I knew that a career in defense and security policy would keep me away from NYC, so I figured I spend as much time as possible with my family beforehand.

What most surprised you about SIPA after you arrived?
I was most surprised by the policy/culture-focused delegations throughout the school year (winter and spring break/summer). These student-led trips are generally planned out by peers native to each destination. For example, this past winter break, there were trips to Israel and Palestine, South Africa, and China. There are trips going to Morocco and Japan this spring. Some of my Russian/Central Asian friends planned a group trip to the Russian Federation last summer and are working on a Central Asia itinerary this year. Imagine visiting a best friend that moved abroad and who happens to work for the government in said country.

How did you find the core curriculum at SIPA?
The core curriculum was rigorous and necessary. I was particularly apprehensive about economics and quantitative analysis since it had been ten years since I’ve done anything related. I realized how necessary it was during my internship at the Pentagon. I was working on the NATO policy team when Brexit happened; I was able to break down and analyze its economic implications for the future of the Alliance.

How did you obtain your internship?
The International Security Policy concentration planned a trip to DC to visit SIPA/Columbia alumni and officials working in the executive and legislative branches of US government. We met with staff from the White House, Department of Defense, State Department, Treasury, Office of Management and Budgeting, and Congress. At the end of the trip, I sent out thank you email which subsequently connected me to an internship.

[Photo courtesy of Andrew Liu | Andrew during a SIPA Israel Delegation trip]

"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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