Archive for student

Welcome to our Fall 2017 Program Assistants

I’m excited to welcome our new program assistants to the admissions’ team! I’ll be sharing their stories in the coming days, so keep an eye out. In the meantime, they’ll be here in the office to help answer any questions you may have about SIPA in general – our programs, student life, extracurricular activities, etc. They’ve all been where you are now and are the best resources for learning more about our SIPA family.

Nick Calbos was born and raised abroad as the son of a US Army Officer and Diplomat. He earned his undergraduate degree at the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 2009. After commissioning as an Infantry Officer in the United States Army, Nick was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. He had the honor to lead Soldiers in a variety of dynamic and challenging assignments forward deployed on the Korean Peninsula. Following Korea, Nick was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. From 2012-2013 he was deployed to Afghanistan as a combat advisor to an Afghan National Army infantry battalion in Kandahar province, leading to his involvement in the founding leadership team of AFG2USA, a nonprofit with a mission to assist in the resettlement of former interpreters seeking political asylum in the United States. Following his service in the military, Nick participated in a specialized internship at Goldman Sachs, working primarily in sales and trading. In the summer of 2017 he interned at Moody’s Investors Service, working on the Public Finance team. Nick is currently pursuing his Masters of International Affairs at Columbia University, concentrating on Economic Policy.  In his free time he enjoys traveling, hiking, skiing and shooting.

Mark Jamias is a second-year student concentrating in Economic and Political Development (EPD) with a specialization in International Conflict Resolution (ICR). As a five-year student between Columbia College and SIPA, Mark will be graduating in May 2018. Before SIPA, Mark worked at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations during the annual sessions of the UN General Assembly. For three years, Mark also worked for a major U.S. airline, and most recently gained experience in the maritime shipping industry.

Erin Lue-Hing is a 2nd-year MPA student in the USP concentration/Management & US Regional specializations. Prior to SIPA, Erin worked as a Data Analyst and Project Manager for the New Jersey Homeless Management Information System under the Department of Community Affairs. She graduated from Brandeis University with a Bachelor of Arts in Health Policy and a minor in Legal Studies, and served as the Future Leader for the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board, Northeast USA. Her background comprises law, health policy, social policy, advocacy for under-served communities and government administration.

Rahel Tekola is a native of Dallas, Texas and advocate of racial and gender equality. She has spent the past seven years working across government, non-profit and community organizing to advance marginalized communities. Before going to graduate school, Rahel spent three years in Dallas working at the intersection of domestic violence and poverty. In her role as Chief of Staff to the CEO and advocate for women and children who have been victims of violence, she worked to make sure clients received full services, counseling and education to a stable life free of violence. In this time, Rahel worked on the organization’s largest capital campaign project and also helped launch Texas’ first men’s domestic violence shelter. She also served on the Mayor’s Star Council to revitalize Southern Dallas and the City of Dallas Domestic Violence Task Force. In June 2017, Rahel joined the Reisenbach Foundation and is now currently working as the foundation’s grant Program Officer. Rahel is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Administration at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs with a concentration in Urban Development and Policy. In her free time she enjoys cooking and rollerblading.

A View From the Class: Andres Ochoa Toasa & James Schalkwyk

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is excited to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series, featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and SIPA faculty.

Headshot of AndresAndres Ochoa Toasa

Andres graduated from SIPA in May 2017 with a Master in International Affairs, concentrating in Economic and Political Development (EPD) with a specialization in Advanced Economic and Policy Analysis. Here, Andres discusses his EPD workshop project and how it impacted his SIPA experience.

Why did you choose SIPA and the EPD Concentration?
I chose SIPA over four other graduate schools to which I was accepted because of SIPA’s international public policy focus and because SIPA has built a community that reflects global perspectives through its faculty and students. My interest in the EPD concentration grew more organically. I have a law degree specializing in human rights and my professional experience is mainly in international development. I was drawn to the EPD program, not only for the strength of its courses, but also for the depth of the workshop projects, which stand out as practical and impactful. 

How did you decide on your EPD Workshop? What was the process like?
It was a difficult decision because there were so many choices. My development background is in youth engagement; however, at SIPA, I chose to focus my studies on courses related to monitoring and evaluation, the United Nations, and management. I applied for projects that combined these topics and were outside of my regional area of Latin America. I applied for projects based in Kosovo, Nepal, Cote d’Ivoire, and Myanmar; ultimately, choosing the project based in Kosovo. In the end, it was a very fun process because it showed me how much I had grown in two years and what continues to drive me as a development professional.

How did you spend your time in Kosovo? What were some highlight experiences?
In Kosovo, I worked very hard with another SIPA student on a project mobilizing young Kosovars to pursue sustainable development goals (SDGs).  We conducted all of the stakeholder analysis and interview processes, laying the groundwork for a second student group. We reached out to ministers, ambassadors, NGOs, youth movements, human right activists, journalists, and even artists to see how youth could begin mainstreaming the SDGs. One highlight experience occurred during our last meeting with an official who complimented us on our impressive understanding of youth engagement in Kosovo.

In what direction do you see your career moving? How do you think the EPD Workshop contributed to your future goals?
My career is now moving rapidly into international development. Through the workshop, I developed many tools and greater experience that complement my development background and professional experience and will allow me to address and take on global challenges.

 James Schalkwyk

James is a SIPA Fund Fellow and a second year student pursuing his Master of Public Administration, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy (USP) and specializing in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis (APEA) and the U.S. Region. Here, James discusses his motivation for attending SIPA and his SIPA experience thus far.

What did you do prior to attending SIPA?
I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and studied music and English literature at the University of Cape Town. After interning with DARPA in Washington, DC, which focused on how to encourage private investment in interstellar space travel, I became interested in how governments and the private sector can work together to achieve technological and social breakthroughs. This led me to NASA Ames in Silicon Valley, where I worked in public-private partnerships and public and governmental affairs. In addition to putting together agreements touching all aspects of NASA’s work, my group focused on encouraging the emerging “NewSpace” industry in and around Silicon Valley. My office devised the innovative funding mechanism that gave rise to SpaceX and the Orbital Sciences Corporation, which helped renew the ability of the U.S. to service the International Space Station. The summer before coming to SIPA, I worked for the former director of NASA Ames on The Breakthrough Initiatives, a new program funded by Silicon Valley billionaire Yuri Milner, aimed at sending a probe to Alpha Centauri within a generation.

Why did you choose SIPA?
Several things influenced my decision to attend SIPA: I spoke to an alumnus who was extremely enthusiastic about his time at SIPA; I attended an event in San Francisco where Nobel Laureate and Columbia University Professor Joseph Stiglitz spoke to a small group about his work and our interests; and finally, and probably most importantly, I received a fellowship offer. Graduate school is a huge investment, and I cannot understate the importance of any level of financial assistance. This assistance made SIPA possible for me.

How did you choose the Urban and Social Policy (USP) Concentration?
Despite my experience in aerospace, I was becoming increasingly interested in domestic policy. I originally applied to the Economic and Political Development concentration; however, during my first semester, I found myself drawn to topics related to local governance. The outcome of the November U.S. elections also helped guide my decision, highlighting the importance of ensuring that government provides services and protections to the people who need them most. After choosing my classes for the spring semester, I found that almost all of them were in the USP concentration, cementing my decision to switch.

What has been your experience at SIPA so far?
I’ve made friends from all over the world and discovered a love for economics and statistics. This past summer, I worked with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation on city partnership programs with private companies and startups, which allowed me to get to know city government from the inside and increased my interest in “Smart Cities” and the “GovTech” space. Thanks to an opportunity through USP, this fall I will begin working part-time with the Citizen’s Budget Commission, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic organization that attempts to influence change in the finances and services of New York City and New York State government. SIPA has both deepened my existing interests and opened up brand new vistas, and I feel more confident, engaged, and excited about the future.

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.

 

"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

Boiler Image