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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!

GEN Day 2017 at SIPA

In solidarity with the Columbia undergraduate First-Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP), SIPA students celebrated GEN Day 2017 on April 10, 2017, to honor and highlight the experiences of first-generation students at Columbia University and at SIPA.

As defined by FLIP, first-generation typically refers to being the first generation of one’s family to achieve the level of education one is pursuing, however, due to distinctions in how one defines family and status, being first-generation can be defined as having a different intellectual, emotional, and academic support system.

Here are brief snapshots into the lives of SIPA first-generation students, as compiled by current student Alejandra Bz.

(Can’t see the images below? You can access them on Facebook here.)

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Facebook Live Friday Series

I just wanted to take a moment to remind you of a new online resource available to all prospective students and applicants. We’re trying something new this year, dubbed Facebook Live Friday, where I’LL chat with a member of the SIPA community to discuss the facets of the program, student life, and beyond.

Here’s a list of past and upcoming information sessions I’m hosting this year. Make sure you RSVP so you’ll get a reminder about the events.

To come back to the schedule, just look at the right-hand side of the admissions blog, which links you to the Recruitment Calendar, where we list all of the upcoming sessions.

Seeple Snapshot: Amon Simutowe

Amon

The Chess Star: Amon Simutowe

Nationality: Zambia

Age: 32

MIA 2014

While many SIPA students will go on to have remarkable professional careers, it is not that common to meet one who has already made history. At the age of 27 in 2009, Amon Simutowe became the first Chess Grandmaster from Sub-Saharan Africa. The title Grandmaster is awarded to world-class chess players by the world chess organization FIDE. The achievement of this Zambian student is all the more remarkable considering he taught himself at the relatively late age of 10 and grew up in a country with little tradition of chess competitions. In Zambia, soccer is the most popular sport, but in 2001, Simutowe was named “Sportsman of the Year” by the Zambian Sports Council.

His victories were featured on the front pages of Zambian newspapers, something that gave domestic visibility to chess. “I cannot complain of the attention and support I got,” he says. While at SIPA, Simutowe has been writing an instructional book with the aim of encouraging kids in Africa to develop a liking for the game. The book was released after his graduation in May. Although he is not currently playing at tournament level, chess takes over much of his free time. “I usually play on Friday evenings, to get my brain to relax”, he says. “I cannot stop playing chess, for me it’s like an addiction”.

Inside The Minds Of SIPA Students: May Edition

Seeples, as SIPA students are affectionately called, are always a busy bunch. Whether they are rallying against injustices in Venezuela, preparing for international travel to North Korea, or interning at the United Nations, students are always on the move and always pursuing their interests. However, the end of the semester means that students are more swamped than usual. Here are some of the things occupying SIPA students’ brain space at the moment:

Finals

Ah, the dreaded F-word. With May just a day away, SIPA students are in crunch mode as their classes quickly wind down and final exams lurk around the corner. Long nights in the library have become the norm, and study sessions with friends abound. Though SIPA students are a high-achieving group, many students just want to teleport themselves to the end of the month when their exams will have ended and they have diplomas in their hands.

Assistantships

Student Affairs recently released the first round of assistantships, which notifies first-year students of the jobs they will work at in order to receive their fellowship funding. Seeples are excited by the prospect of having part of their tuition funds figured out, and many are weighing how to pay the remainder of the balance.

Jobs

Second-year students are in the throes of the all-encompassing job search, which requires them to dance between informal coffee meetups, interviews, and the dreaded, aforementioned final, all while keeping their eye focused on….

Graduation

The culmination of second-year students’ class work at SIPA is quickly approaching. On May 22, second-year students will be recognized for their late nights spent cramming in Lehman, hours toiled over group projects, persistence finishing the economics and statistics requirements, and general all-around hard work. May 22 feels so close, and yet, so far…

 

"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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