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My Experience with Cross Registration

One of the great things about SIPA are the many course offerings across concentrations and specializations. Although the majority of students spend their first year focusing on the core curriculum, by your second year there are plenty of opportunities to branch out and take electives. One of the great things about SIPA is that it allows you to cross register at other schools within Columbia University. This is a really great add in because it allows you to mix and match across a variety of fields and courses. The process itself is fairly straightforward and varies between each individual school. For example, Columbia Business School offers two cross registration phases during the semester. There are a limited number of seats available for SIPA students in specific business school courses; however, there are a lot of courses to choose from. In my experience, you will generally get your first choice if you apply. SIPA students are able to cross register at several schools at Columbia University, including Teachers College, Columbia Law School, and the Mailman School of Public Health.

Overall, my experience with cross registration has been very positive. I’ve taken courses at the Mailman School of Public Health, the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) and Columbia Business School. At IRAAS, I took “Gender, Labor and Sexuality in the Caribbean” with Dr. Pinnock. The course explored the concepts of gender, sexuality and labor and the historical and contemporary perspectives of work in an increasingly globalized society. Taking the course in my second year was really beneficial, as I’d spent my first year at SIPA focusing on the core curriculum and taking classes in my concentration, International Finance and Economic Policy, which gave me a strong background in macroeconomic theory and analysis. The course allowed me to combine my two interests, gender and economic policy and apply my coursework from SIPA in my final paper in the class, which was on Sex Work and the Dollarization of the Economy in Contemporary Cuba.

I highly recommend cross registration and taking advantage of the many courses across Columbia. It is especially important for those of us who are interested in public policy to gain a breadth of experience across a variety of sectors.

Note from Admissions: Graduate school is a big commitment and “fit” is hugely important. Take advantage of SIPA class visits and register here.

Meeting Africa’s funding gap to meet the SDGs and how an MDP student is part of this ambitious objective

Africa faces an annual funding gap of $1.3 trillion if it is to meet the SDGs by 2030. MPA-DP student Ji Qi traveled to Kigali, Rwanda, as part of the program’s summer placement, to work at The Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa and look at how development banks can improve their performance against international best practices and benchmarks to contribute to the achievement of the #SDGs in the continent. In his own words “I’m really glad to be part of this ambitious continent-wide initiative which can help turn the development banks into the true driving force behind Africa’s sustainable development.”

 

Podcast Recommendations by Concentration

As a SIPA student, your time is probably preoccupied with group meetings, scheduling group meetings, studying, rescheduling that group meeting because it coincides with that other group meeting, and reading for classes. This in itself is very time consuming, but like any curious-minded individual, you still want to make room for additional learning. It is common practice for professors to discuss current events and relate it to coursework material and it’s important to stay up-to-date. 

Below is a list of podcast recommendations by concentration; feel free to share your own in the comments below.

International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP)

Recommendations: Planet Money from NPR and Bloomberg Benchmark by Bloomberg. 

Why: Planet Money does a really fantastic job of explaining current economic events in a very accessible and entertaining way. Case in point: this episode on the Argentinian debt crisis, “A Hedge Fund, A Country, And A Big Sailboat.” Definitely worth listening to, even if you have no background in finance or economics.

Urban and Social Policy (USP)

Recommendations: Justice in America”  by Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith, and “Stay Tuned with Preet”, by Preet Bharara.

Why: Admittedly, both podcasts are very U.S.-centered but given the current political climate in America, there is something noteworthy to discuss every day. Preet Bharara is the Former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and was fired from his post earlier this year (that is reason enough to listen in itself). Preet uses his career and background to provide insight into events, and frankly, its hard to keep up. For example, this episode on the testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh which was recorded on Thursday, prior to Jeff Flake’s announcement on Friday that he would only support Kavanaugh’s confirmation following an FBI investigation. And for those international students who are having a hard time keeping track of all these developments — honestly, we are too.

Human Rights & Humanitarian Policy

Recommendations: Declarations: The Human Rights Podcast by Cambridge Centre of Governance and Human Rights. And “Ending Human Trafficking” by Sandra Morgan & Dave Stachowiak. 

Why: Both podcasts do a really great job of covering various human rights issues in a thought provoking way. Declarations is recorded at the Cambridge Centre of Governance and Human Rights and is equal parts academic and practical. “Ending Human Trafficking” is more narrow in it’s focus but is remarkably in depth, for example, this episode, “How to Champion Advocacy in Government”, which discusses how electing more women to government is essential for crafting policy to eliminate human trafficking.

Energy and Environment

Recommendations:  The Energy Transition Show by Chris Nelder and Columbia Energy Exchange by Professor Jason Bordoff

Why: The first podcast was recommended by current and former SIPA Energy and Environment concentrators. Chris Nelder discusses global challenges in energy  and depending on the episode, they are fairly easy to understand if you have no background or knowledge in Energy. The podcast conveniently ranks episodes on a “Geek rating”, with a scale of 10 being suitable to individuals with highly specialized and technical knowledge in Energy (aka EE SIPA Students). The only downfall is that the podcast isn’t free, but I’ve been told that the quality of the content is good and well worth the subscription if you can afford it, or are are willing to forego one Halal cart meal per month. The second podcast is co-hosted by Professor Jason Bordoff (also founder of the Center on Global Energy Policy).

International Security Policy (ISP)

Recommendations: War on The Rocks by Ryan Evans and Lawfare by the Lawfare Institute

Why: Both podcasts were recommended by a former ISP student, and given my very limited knowledge of the topic, I will let this direct quote – which was definitely not sent via text – speak for itself “…they have journalists and people working in the defense and intelligence communities discussing the most pressing national security issues of the day.”

Economic and Political Development (EPD)

Recommendations: Pod Save the World by Crooked Media and Global Dispatches by Mark Goldberg (editor of the UN blog UN Dispatch) 

Why: If you are an EPD concentrator and not yet listening to Pod Save the World, what are you even doing?! The co-host, Tommy Vietor, hails from the Obama Administration, where he worked for President Obama’s National Security Council. Again, somewhat U.S.-centered –I am starting to see a theme here — but it does a great job of discussing foreign policy and the impressive guest list alone is reason enough to listen. Episodes are weekly and cover anything from Syria, to the politics of the World Cup.

Notable mentions that didn’t quite fit into any category:

99% invisible: if you enjoy learning a great deal of incredibly specific information on the most esoteric topics as much as I do, then this podcast is for you! For example, did you know that nearly every statue in New York is modeled after Audrey Munson, an early 1900’s model who went on to live a very eccentric life in upstate New York? Have you ever looked at a straw and wondered about its tragic ties to contemporary capitalism? Well, if you have, you needn’t worry much longer! 99% invisible has you covered with this episode on the history of the straw. To be fair, the podcast is predominantly focused on design, architecture, and the history of things we wouldn’t ordinarily think about (hence the name 99% invisible). Either way, you’d be surprised at just how fascinating the history of the ballpoint is. Fun fact: the Bic pen accounts for the largest percentage of ballpoint pens currently on the market (this is a great conversation starter at SIPA parties, btw — you are welcome!).

Tips for Writing Your Personal Essays; Time to Find Your ‘Cornerstone’

As fans of HBO may know, Westworld has been one of the channel’s breakout shows in recent years, a brilliant, if not at times frustrating, mix of sci-fi and Wild West melodrama. The show takes place in the not too distant future, where humans have created robots that are practically indistinguishable from their creators. These robots are housed in a series of enormous, historically themed amusement parks that function as places of leisure and adventure for human guests. One of the more interesting concepts presented in the show is the idea of a ‘cornerstone’; in order to create believable backstories and personalities for the robots, human programmers imparted each AI with individualized memories, memories in which their whole character, and being, are derived from.

How does this relate to the SIPA application? Well, bear with me now. When I first began applying to SIPA, I spent many hours thinking about what to write, and more importantly, which parts of my personal experiences were relevant and worth including. Sometimes I felt like it was best to start with my early childhood in rural New England, growing up traveling between small communities, an experience that first sparked my love for country and our nation’s natural beauty. Other times I felt like I should begin with my incredibly diverse high school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I first realized I loved learning about other cultures and identities. When anxious about writing something too ambitious and personal, I decided to talk about my time working for refugee resettlement organizations in Chicago and Istanbul, and how these professional experiences informed my interest in diplomacy and human rights.

After many days of brainstorming and reflecting on what truly motivated me, I knew I had to get at the root of these experiences, and what binds them together. Personally, my thoughts always returned to my mother, who often raised me on her own. Similarly, all of my thoughts were colored with a deep sense of pride in my community and a belief that I must work to represent disadvantaged peoples in everything that I do. Using these two qualifiers, I was able to strip away the extraneous parts of my narrative that sounded good on paper, but weren’t essential to my own story. In doing so, I was able to clearly articulate why I wanted to attend SIPA, and what had driven me to become a U.S. diplomat; that is, a real desire to represent all Midwestern people, and to share our culture and story with communities abroad, through relationships predicated on mutual respect and understanding.

If you are interested in SIPA, you have already demonstrated a baseline desire to improve yourself and to accomplish whatever personal or professional goals you have set for yourself. Therefore, when thinking about how to write your personal essays, I suggest that you also engage in a similar exercise of self-reflection, in an attempt to find your own ‘cornerstone’. By boiling it all down, you will be able to more clearly state your interest in attending SIPA, and your motivations for applying. It will also allow you to parse through your experiences, and similarly decide which ones are essential for telling the story that will give admissions officers an idea of who you are.

Start by writing down the experiences that come to mind when you think about why you’ve chosen to apply to SIPA, or what inspired you to undertake the career path you are on now. Rely on your intuition, and include things that you feel are important, even if they may not make sense to someone else, or seem appropriate to write about on your application. Once you’ve given it enough thought, go back through what you’ve written and begin thinking about what underlying ideas, principles, or experiences connect these seemingly disparate thoughts. Hopefully, you will arrive at an understanding of what truly motivates you, while also narrowing down the experiences you want to draw on while demonstrating your preparedness for SIPA. While difficult, I suspect that the clarity gained from this exercise will make writing your essays much easier and may perhaps serve you well in your own day-to-day life!

A View from the Class: Sinan Zeino

In December’s issue, we feature current SIPA student, Sinan Zeino MIA ’19. A first year Master of International Affairs candidate, Sinan is concentrating in Human Rights with a specialization in International Conflict Resolution. He is SIPA’s James Luikart 70th Anniversary Fellow and a Columbia Displaced Persons Scholar. Launched this year by Columbia University, the Columbia Displaced Persons program provides individuals who have been displaced as a result of the Syrian civil war with access to the transformative power of a Columbia education.

Sinan ZeinoWhat were the circumstances that brought you to SIPA?
In 2013, I was only six credits away from completing an undergraduate degree in English literature from Al-Baath University in Homs, Syria, when I was forced to leave Syria because of the ongoing civil war. Fortunately, I secured a scholarship to attend Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, graduating in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I decided to continue my studies and gain more practical experience to more effectively develop the skills needed to gain comprehensive insight into refugee emergencies and then develop and communicate the solutions and strategies to support those in crisis.

Why did you choose to attend SIPA?
I believe that the best learning experience comes from combining both the practical and the theoretical. SIPA offers unique opportunities to do just that. Besides offering a wide range of classes, SIPA’s summer internships and workshops will provide me with the opportunity to work alongside professionals engaged in extensive research of the most relevant socio-economic concerns related to the Middle East, and in particular, to the refugee crisis in my home country.

As a Syrian refugee who has fled war and persecution, I know firsthand that there are thousands of Syrian people in a similar position, waiting for actions to end the violation of human rights that are affecting them and their loved ones daily. Studying Human Rights and International Conflict Resolution will allow me to study, research, and gain hands on experience so that I can develop the skills needed to provide sustainable support to refugees and help alleviate the ongoing crisis in areas that are becoming negatively impacted.

What has been your experience at SIPA so far? 
Moving to a new place and settling into a new environment is a difficult adjustment for anyone, but SIPA does a great job of making that transition as easy as possible. The different events on and off campus, the social events where I have met new people and friends, and the wide range of classes have made my experience rich but easy at the same time.

Additionally, there are many faculty and staff members who are significantly changing my life at Columbia. As I came to Columbia under different and difficult circumstances and as I had many questions regarding the application process, Grace Han, the Executive Director of SIPA’s Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, has showed me tremendous support and help. She is a wonderful human being, and I am so lucky to have her support through my journey at Columbia.

Is there anything about SIPA that has surprised you or has been unexpected?
It is very surprising and interesting to see how many students from different countries are represented at SIPA. I never thought I would be in a place where students from all around the world meet and learn. It is very inspiring for me. SIPA does a wonderful job of bringing the whole world together, in one way or another. Even though I have only been here for one semester, my SIPA experiences have already taught me so much about the importance of diversity in our world and how each person has so much to offer regardless of the differences that they may have.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add? 
I feel very privileged and honored to be studying at SIPA and Columbia University. The fellowship and scholarship that I have received are life changing, enabling this opportunity and helping to make it possible for my dreams to become reality.

"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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