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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.

A View From the Class: Diego Llosa Velasquez and Katarina Mayers

In November’s issue, we are featuring recent SIPA alum, Diego Llosa Velasquez, MIA ’17, and current student, Katarina Mayers, MPA ’18. Here, both discuss why they chose their particular areas of study, internship and capstone experiences, and the importance of fellowship.

Diego Llosa Velasquez, MIA ’17, International Finance and Economic Policy concentration, Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis specialization

Diego Llosa VelasquezWhy did you choose SIPA?
I chose SIPA because it balances rigorous quantitative analytical skills with practical and leadership skills. Moreover, I was looking for a school that promotes evidence-based policy making and a wide variety of classes on subjects including international economics and trade, which are my major fields of interest. Before applying to SIPA, I researched the top international affairs schools throughout the world, and SIPA was among the best schools.

Why did you choose your particular areas of study?
Before attending SIPA, I worked for the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism in Peru. While there, I learned about international affairs and specifically about international economic organizations. I decided to go to graduate school to deepen my knowledge of the theory of international affairs, and I wanted a program that included classes on economics and quantitative analysis. Fortunately for me, SIPA’s core curriculum and policy concentration and specialization options offered everything I wanted in a program.

How would you describe your SIPA experience? 
My experience at SIPA was incredible. These were two years full of challenging and unforgettable experiences. It is hard to summarize all of the things that made this experience unique, but I would highlight the following: my capstone project in Peru, my trip as part of a SIPA Israel delegation, an internship experience with the United Nations in Thailand, my participation on the board of the Latin American Students Association, working as a teaching assistant and as a departmental research assistant, and meeting committed professors and students.

Was there anything that surprised you about your SIPA experience?
I was surprised by the diversity of the faculty and students, as well as their dedication and commitment to raising awareness and sharing knowledge and experience about issues that mattered most to them. I learned a lot, not only in classes, but also from my peers. They made me pay attention to and learn about issues which weren’t part of my studies but nevertheless present important challenges to the sustainable development of our societies.

What have you been doing since graduating from SIPA in May 2017?
I returned home to Peru in June 2017. After spending time with my family and friends in my hometown of Arequipa, I moved back to Lima to begin my job search. I received some very good job offers, but in the end, decided to return to the organization where I worked before attending SIPA: the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism. Since mid-August, I have been working as coordinator on international cooperation for the Vice Ministry of Trade. My responsibilities are two-fold. I am in charge of the negotiation, implementation, administration, and surveillance of the cooperation chapters in Peru’s trade agreements. I also work with donors in order to implement cooperation projects that have a real impact in the development of foreign trade in the country.

In what direction do you see your career moving?
I would like to move my career in the direction of assuming more responsibilities in the Peruvian public administration and exert a leadership role in the development of foreign trade in the country or in an international organization.  Also, I would like to teach. My previous experience as a teacher in Peru and my experiences as a departmental research assistant and a teaching assistant at SIPA made me realize that I enjoy explaining theory and putting that theory into context through practical exercises. Through teaching, I would be able to share my knowledge and experience.


Katarina Mayers, MPA ’18, Urban and Social Policy concentration, Management specialization

Katarina MayersWhat brought you to SIPA?
A love of public policy brought me to SIPA. Prior to attending SIPA, I served in the Obama Administration for three years, first in the White House Communications Office, and then, at the U.S. Department of Commerce. As the Department’s Deputy Press Secretary, I oversaw the communications strategy for Deputy Secretary Bruce Andrews and the Department’s 12 bureaus. I also had the opportunity to lead press logistics for Vice President Joe Biden. Before moving to Washington, DC, I lived in Santiago, Chile for a year of service as a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar. I worked with local Rotary clubs to initiate service projects, gave speeches in Spanish about U.S.-Chile relations, and earned an academic certificate in Contemporary Latin America.

Why did you choose Urban and Social Policy as your concentration? 
I chose to concentrate in Urban and Social Policy (USP) to learn more about governance, navigating institutions and bureaucracy, and how to make the most effective change. I love the energy and passion of USP professors and practitioners. As someone who is returning to public service after graduation, I thrive on learning directly from those who previously served or currently serve others (former Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter and New York City Commissioner of Media and Entertainment Julie Menin, to name a few). I’m also a person of practicality, so having New York City as a living case study of what we learn in class is very exciting.

Outside of class, how has your SIPA experience affected you?
Serving as the President of the SIPA Student Association (SIPASA), I have had the unique opportunity to meet and work with many students outside of class time or group work. Ultimately, my greatest joy has been learning from my peers and making so many new friends who continue to challenge and inspire me. I love SIPA because of its students and the community we have cultivated. While I am from Los Angeles and chose to attend graduate school in New York City, I do not think I will ever have another opportunity like these two years to be surrounded by and learn from such diverse perspectives, cultures, and minds.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out? 
I took Mayor Nutter’s class during my first semester. While I enjoyed class time, I also learned that he is an empathetic individual who cares deeply about his students and how they do in their professional and personal lives. Mayor Nutter has become a true mentor, and he has shaped my SIPA experience for the better.

What are you looking forward to in your second year?
I’m looking forward to my capstone project next semester and working with the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office Innovation Team. I will not only have the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in the classroom but also to serve my hometown!

What are your plans after SIPA?
I plan on returning to public service on the local level. I hope to represent my community and encourage other young women of color to step up and serve.

A View From the Class: Yulia Belyakova and Nadia Ramirez

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

In this month’s issue, we feature current SIPA students, Yulia Belyakova MPA ’18, and Nadia Ramirez MPA ’18. Here, both discuss why they chose their particular areas of study, internship and capstone experiences, and the importance of fellowship.

Yulia Belyakova, MPA ’18, Economic and Political Development concentration, Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis specializationYulia Belyakova

What did you do before attending SIPA?
Originally from Moscow, Russia, I studied Economics and French at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. During my undergraduate career, I held internships in the Indian equivalent of the Silicon Valley and a financial advisory firm serving public institutions in the U.S., which piqued my interest in emerging markets and public finance. After graduating from Bryn Mawr, I spent three years in a leading economic consulting firm in Washington, D.C., where I worked on complex commercial litigations issues in intellectual property, trade, and finance, with client engagements ranging from the DOJ and the ITC to Google. As an analyst, I was challenged with finding the most precise ways to deduce the economic value of things that are difficult to value, a perspective that I intended to bring to the international development space.

Why did you choose SIPA?
SIPA has been on my radar since I started looking at policy schools. What really differentiated SIPA for me were the experiences of alumni I spoke with while researching schools: I knew several Bryn Mawr women who graduated or were attending SIPA, including my best friend who is now heading a government-led nutrition fortification program in India. I also engaged with a few alumni in D.C. (and there are many!) who were very accessible and clearly enjoyed reminiscing on their time at SIPA. I also received a generous fellowship offer that was not matched by any other school, which will allow me to consider interesting positions without a debt-imposed salary requirement post-graduation. Finally, I knew I wanted to either come back to D.C. or work internationally after graduation, so spending a couple of years in New York was a bonus.

Why did you choose your particular areas of study?
After a stint in economic consulting which is a fascinating but very U.S.-focused industry, I pivoted into development and international work. The EPD concentration allows me to build credibility as a development professional by complementing the skills I developed during my time in consulting. Additionally, I am interested in evidence-based approaches to development, and I have loaded up on quantitative analysis courses that are part of the APEA concentration.

Tell us about your summer internship experience.
I spent 12 weeks in Uganda this past summer working on a financial inclusion evaluation. During my internship at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), I made a small contribution to the currently limited volume of evidence on the welfare impacts of financial inclusion – specifically, mobile money products that facilitate domestic peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers. I analyzed data from an extensive panel survey in Uganda and Tanzania to better understand the complex financial lives of the poor and determine how access to mobile money changes the way households respond to situations requiring additional financing. The households that experienced negative income shocks benefitted greatly from domestic transfers and were able to bridge the financing gap without cutting back on meals or taking children out of school. In addition to research design and analysis, I learned a lot about project management and the challenges of implementation in the field. I am looking forward to my Capstone experience this spring which, I hope, will take me back to Sub Saharan Africa.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?
Taking classes with experienced practitioners has been the highlight of my time at SIPA so far. Last year, I took a class on microfinance, co-taught by two highly accomplished women with years of experience in banking, foundations, and microfinance institutions. Their professional expertise combined with perspectives of other students in the class – fellow development practitioners – was truly eye-opening. I learned a lot and was able to leverage this knowledge in my summer internship search.

What are your plans after SIPA?
I hope to enter the impact evaluation field and assist NGOs and governments in maximizing their impact through implementation of cutting-edge evaluation programs. I am looking at positions in multilateral institutions, impact evaluation consulting firms, and policy research organizations – both in the U.S. and internationally. At present, I am interested in working either in or with West Africa.

Nadia Ramirez, MPA ’18, International Security Policy concentration, Latin America and International Conflict Resolution specializations

Nadia RamirezWhat did you do prior to attending SIPA?
I studied international relations as an undergraduate at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida and studied abroad in 2011 in China at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. After graduating in 2013, I spent one year in Colombia (my country of birth) and then two years on a Fulbright in South Korea, teaching English at an all-girls high school in Busan and coordinating Fulbright’s volunteer program for North Korean defectors in the city.

Why did you choose SIPA?
Before starting my Fulbright, I thought about going to law school, but once in South Korea and through my work with North Korean defectors, I realized that what I actually wanted to do was work in diplomacy. I had considered the idea before, but after coming in contact with Foreign Service Officers, I decided to apply to the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship Program, a U.S. State Department program that provides funding for graduate students who want to pursue a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. I ultimately chose SIPA as a Rangel fellow because of the heavy emphasis on quantitative skills and its international focus.

Why did you choose your particular areas of study?
After engaging in SIPA coursework and thinking about my career in the Foreign Service, I decided on the ISP concentration. I really like the ISP courses and think the material is relevant to my future work. My interest in Latin America grew out of my focus on East Asia as an undergraduate and research I conducted on the socioeconomic implications of Asian business in Latin America. I really enjoyed the research and thought specializing in Latin America would complement my East Asian focus. Specializing in Conflict Resolution happened accidentally. While looking at my course matrix, I realized that two classes in which I was interested (Negotiation and International Conflict Resolution) were part of the Conflict Resolution specialization. I’ve grown to really enjoy the area and now appreciate the importance of an institutional “soft power” type of perspective.

What has been your experience at SIPA thus far?
As a Rangel fellow, I am committed to serving a minimum of five years in the Foreign Service after graduating from SIPA. Since I don’t need to stress over internships and my job search, I’ve focused that energy on the SIPA community. I’ve done a lot of extracurricular activities and try very hard to support other SIPA students and their organizations. I was elected as one of SIPASA’s social chairs and find it very important to represent SIPASA at events. During my second semester, I was tapped to be on the SIPA Follies board, and I’m now their Executive Director, something I’m very happy to do since it gives me the opportunity to use my artistic side to the betterment of the SIPA community.

How has SIPA affected you?
SIPA has affected how I relate to people. Knowing that my classmates trust me enough to vote for me as their social chair, attending their events, and simply getting to know each and every one of them has made me a more confident, well-rounded individual. Every single one of my peers has an inspiring story to tell. It’s these people and their appreciation for what I do that has made me realize my potential. In many ways, they’ve helped prepare me for my career as a Foreign Service Officer. My peers and the positive relationships I’ve created as a naturalized American helped me in deciding to choose Public Diplomacy as my State Department career track. It’s where I can serve the U.S. best while doing the most good.

How have your SIPA professors and instructors impacted your SIPA experience?
There are many professors that have made my time at SIPA absolutely amazing. Academically, Richard Nephew has really helped prepare me for my future career. His short courses on Nuclear Concepts and Economic Sanctions are the perfect balance of theory and practicality. Other professors include Mayor Michael Nutter, Sarah Holloway, Chris Sabatini, and of course, the entire Econ/Quant team.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
I never realized how many doors a SIPA education could open until I did my State Department internship in The Netherlands. I met many SIPA alumni in the service as well as in many parts of Dutch society from banking, to government, and even the arts. It definitely allowed me to experience things I would not have gotten the chance to experience otherwise and created an immediate rapport that was immensely valuable on both a professional and personal level. Meeting all of these alumni and seeing the great work they’ve done in their communities demonstrates that Seeples go on to do amazing things.

Seeples Spotlight: Kier Joy

Everyone, we have a new work study joining us for the remainder of this fall semester. Please welcome Kier Joy! He is a first-year student at SIPA, studying economic and political development and international conflict resolution. He was raised a military brat, having lived all over the U.S. and in the UK. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 2017 with a dual bachelor degree in International Affairs and Political Science. During undergrad, Kier worked as the director of a state-level legislative research fellowship, applying his passion for policy and progressiveness to legislative issues. Also in undergrad, he studied abroad at the University College London and spent a summer in Washington D.C. as a Rangel Scholar. Kier is also a 2017 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship recipient under the United States Department of State. Upon graduating from SIPA, Kier will join the Foreign Service as a Political Foreign Service Officer.

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?
Before SIPA, I was in undergrad at the University of Georgia. Though I was studying rigorously, I made sure to also gain as much professional experience as possible. After studying abroad in London the summer before my junior year, I was accepted into a state-level legislative research fellowship. In this position, I met with dozens of NGOs in Northeast Georgia to learn how to create, study, and advocate for progressive policy changes in the Georgia State Legislature. Through this opportunity, I worked as legislative aide under a state representative. After being in the fellowship for a year, I was promoted to director and had the chance to lead my own team in policy research. In November of my senior year, I was selected as a 2017 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellow. As part of the Rangel Fellowship, I worked on Capitol Hill as a foreign policy fellow for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. From there, I came to SIPA.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
Two things really attracted me to SIPA and Columbia University: the large international student body and professor faculty. First, I wanted to attend a diverse grad school, not only in domestic populations but also international. As I am to join the Foreign Service after graduating, I wanted to be in a place where I was confronted by many different perspectives on global and regional issues to mimic the experiences I’ll have around the world as a diplomat. Second, Columbia University has some of the most renowned professors and practitioners in international affairs. To be able to learn from their research and experiences is such an invaluable honor that I couldn’t afford to miss out on.

SIPA features lots of events for students to attend. Is there any interesting presentation that you have attended that you could comment upon?
I attended a discussion on white nationalism in the past, present, and future. The discussion was lead by professors from schools all over campus – from SIPA to the School of Journalism to the Department of Sociology. It was incredibly interesting to hear from these scholars on where they believe this current uptick in white nationalism is coming from and where it is headed. Also, I’m glad that Columbia has opportunities to discuss current events with faculty.

What advice do you have for current applicants?
I think nailing a great statement of interest is incredibly important for the application. Given the concise nature of the essay, an applicant must be able to explain three things in very little words: their passion, their interest in Columbia, and why they believe a graduate degree from Columbia can aid them in their career. This can be very difficult. So I recommend starting the statement of interest very early. I started mine 4 months before the application deadline and had many professors and professionals review it. Then I also conducted a lot of research on SIPA, the MIA program, and the faculty so I could express what specifically in SIPA could aid me in my career. But overall, give yourself time to work on the statement. It’s incredibly important.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? Why or why not? How did you perform in those classes?
I had taken 5 quantitative classes in undergrad before SIPA: political economy, microeconomics, macroeconomics, research design and quantitative analysis, and algebra. The only requirements for my undergrad degrees were algebra and macroeconomics. But through a summer program with the State Department, I took political economy. When I was looking into grad schools though and saw that they wanted a higher level of quantitative experience, I made sure to take microeconomics and research design and quantitative analysis. I performed well in all of the classes, though it did take quite a lot of work since I’m not math-minded whatsoever.

What advice would you give a first-year student?
Many of the core courses have recitation sessions you must attend. A recitation session is an additional “class” you must attend to discuss the topic of the week in the lecture core course. This can add an additional 2 hours per recitation course to your weekly school schedule. Because of this, it’s imperative that you can manage your time well. I suggest getting a planner and filling it out at the beginning of the semester of all the class times, tests, homework, and recitations. This has helped me to visualize how much time I have available to work (and play) outside of class.

SIPA Wins 1st Prize in Columbia’s Solvathon

Congratulations to our Seeples! Alok S. Viswan (MPA, EPD ’19), Anjana Shyamnath (MPA-DP ’18) and Sachin Sharma (MPA, IFEP ’18) won first prize in the 36 hour long, Solvathon 2017, organized by Columbia Impact of Columbia Business School, an interdisciplinary competition which saw over 50 teams participate from different schools of the University. Citi Ventures, Bloc Power, and Viewpoint Health sponsored the competition. The event involved teamwork to provide technology-based solutions that would have high social impact in response to the real world problems. This team utilized a combination of sensor technology and cloud based platforms for data sharing and storage to conduct real time quality monitoring and tracking of critical liquid commodities in transit in areas of natural disasters.

"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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