Archive for SUmmer Field Placement

MPA-DP Summer Placement in Hanoi, Vietnam

Nausher Khan MPA-DP ’19 shares his Summer Field Placement experience in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Over the course of the summer, I along with my MPA-DP colleague, Claire Thibault worked with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Hanoi as part of the inaugural Columbia World Project (CWP). The CWP is titled ACToday: Adapting agriculture to climate today for tomorrow and is a collaboration between the International Research Institute at Columbia University and strategic partners in 6 countries. The project is operational in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Senegal, Colombia and Guatemala and is scheduled to run for 5 years commencing in 2018. The CWP is mandated with working with the relevant national governments and civil society organisations to enhance their capacity in adapting their food systems to the changing climate.

These countries have been chosen as they are predominantly agriculture based economies which are severely vulnerable to climate change. Vietnam is the third largest producer of coffee and second largest producer of rice in the world, however due to its placement proximal to the south China sea, it has experienced a proliferation of extreme weather events over the preceding decade. Additionally, due to the global sea level rise, the Mekong delta in the south of Vietnam is subject to saline intrusion, rendering rice paddies situated on the river bed, extremely unproductive. A pattern of increased rains and typhoons in the north of the country, and drier and hotter summers in the South is posing a current and impending threat to the agricultural productivity of the country. Thus, ACToday is partnering with the ministry of natural resources and environment, ministry of agriculture and rural development, and with international organizations such as CIAT in Vietnam to build their adaptive and mitigative capabilities. The project aims to help the local government incorporate accurate Climate change projections and data into the development of their agricultural plans and setting of their food system priorities.

Over this summer, the MPA-DP student team working in Vietnam worked to conduct an extensive stakeholder analysis and needs assessment of the climate information services value chain. We were tasked with identifying the organisations and processes responsible for the production of climate information, the translation of that information into agricultural advisories, and the dissemination channels by which this information was reaching the farmers. This initial scoping will lay the foundation for the succeeding initiatives that will be established under the ambit of the ACToday program. Similar work was carried out in the remaining CWP countries and now as the strategic operations have been formalized In the respective countries, the project will enter the second phase and work in a localized manner to achieve the end goal of increased food security through a sustainable food system.

In addition to the conduction of the climate information service value chain analysis, I had the opportunity to document the experience in an audio-visual format. The purpose of this documentation would be to develop a short audio-visual case study to be used as a teaching aid for the students of Food systems in the coming years. This documentary followed the novel format of student-led filmmaking, primarily using an Iphone to record field experiences, day-day life and expert interviews. It will go to show the impact of climate change on Vietnamese agriculture, and capture the experience of working within the mandate of the CWP in Vietnam.

Entrepreneurial MPA-DP Student Learns How to Change the World

The MPA in Development Practice program curates dynamic 12-week professional summer placements by developing partnerships with organizations working in sustainable development. Students also have the flexibility to develop their own placements. During past summer 56 second year MPA-DP students have worked in 30 countries for such partners, as MIT D-Lab and Mercy Corps in Uganda, OECD in France, the World Bank in Tanzania, FAO in Lao PDR, among many others. Students typically fill a “junior professional consultant role,” either assisting in the design and development of new initiatives or supporting and/or evaluating ongoing projects. They apply skills they have developed through past professional experience as well as from MPA-DP coursework.

Fernando Armendaris Puente (Class of 2019) has spent his summer with the World Bank Independent Evaluation Group in South East Asia. Fernando moved to the U.S. from Ecuador and has experience working at the World Bank focusing on various issued related to cities. This summer he traveled to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam developing case studies on urban resilience. “It’s always fascinating to me to read so much about a city and then go there and see it all come to life. I’m glad I have acquired so many tools that I’m already applying and I look forward to more epiphany moments of linking my experience back to SIPA,” Fernando reflects. To learn more about his summer placement watch DP120 video below. DP120s are short videos with stories from the field shared by development practitioners.

If you have questions or want to join the MPA-DP global community email us at:

SIPA’s Development Practice Lab: Skills-based learning, from the classroom to the field

We’re sharing a guest post today from current student Eliza Keller, MPA-DP 2016. Below, she shares some great insight into why she decided to enroll in SIPA two years ago; and it had a lot to deal with curriculum.

Currently, students accepted at SIPA and elsewhere are deciding what the best program is for them. If you’re one of these admitted students, you’re probably asking yourself: Where can I learn the most? Where can I connect with like-minded people? Which school will advance my career?

I’ve been there. Two years ago, I was weighing my options, making endless pro-and-con lists, and studying faculty rosters. I was drawn to the practical, skills-based curriculum of SIPA’s MPA in Development Practice program, but wasn’t sure if it was right for me. After visiting on Admitted Students’ Day, though, the energy of SIPA’s campus and the openness and depth of experience of its Development Practice students won me over. SIPA was clearly full of smart, curious people doing interesting work—just the environment I was looking for.

A standout feature of the MPA-DP program is the Summer Field Placement, a three-month overseas internship tailored to students’ skills and career goals. This past summer, I traveled to Timor-Leste, where I worked as a policy fellow in the Ministry of Finance. While there, I found my SIPA education already essential.

In particular, the skills I learned in the Development Practice Lab, a core first-year course in the MPA-DP curriculum, enabled me to contribute substantively to my host organization. The Development Practice Lab, unique to SIPA, is a series of three-hour workshops carefully designed to deliver hands-on training in skills that are in high demand in the development community. From monitoring and evaluation planning to budgeting for a nationwide peacebuilding assessment and partnership building, these skills lent me important credibility—and opened up professional opportunities I would never have envisioned before SIPA.

Now, six months after returning from Timor-Leste, the last two years seem to have gone by in a flash. I’ve learned as much from my SIPA classmates as I have from the excellent faculty here, and I’ve come to understand the value of the well-rounded perspective and skill set cultivated in the MPA-DP program.

There’s no “right” decision for all prospective students, but if there’s any advice I have, it’s to think carefully about the added value that each program provides, both for your own knowledge and for your career—and, find your people. I found mine here at SIPA.

Pictured above (from left): Angela Kohama, Alexandra Americanos MIA ’16, Glenn Denning, Prime Minister of Timor-Leste Rui Maria de Araújo, Alexander Fertig, Arja Dayal, Eliza Keller.

Pictured above (from left): Angela Kohama, Alexandra Americanos MIA ’16, Glenn Denning, Prime Minister of Timor-Leste Rui Maria de Araújo, Alexander Fertig, Arja Dayal, Eliza Keller.

Feature photo courtesy of Arja Dayal, MPA-DP 2016: This is a part of the open defecation free sustainability study currently being conducted in Timor-Leste in partnership with Ministry of Health, Plan International, UNICEF and WaterAid. Factor analysis is a participatory ranking process where participants will indicate their motivation, factors or barriers in order to maintain or abandon use of latrine.

Elaine Kubik’s summer in Southern Africa

One of the best parts of the MPA-DP program is the opportunity to spend three months in a developing country. The Summer Field Placement is a requirement within the program, and proves to be an integral component of the graduate learning experience. While most of my cohort comes from a variety of different countries, or has had development field experience already, the Summer Field Placement becomes an opportunity to advance professionally with a recognized organization.

I spent my summer in Maseru, Lesotho, a small enclave within South Africa. There I worked with an amazing organization called Jhpiego, working on their HIV outreach programs. Although it was challenging at first to see how my marketing and communications experience would relate to development work, I found my summer placement to be a worthwhile learning experience.

Check out my video below (it’s only 3:46 minutes) to learn more about my summer placement and my life at SIPA!

A peek at MPA-DP summer field placements, fall retreat

**Correction: It seems that our blogging platform has a mind of its own when it comes to homonyms (peek vs. peak) We apologize for this obvious mistake and hope you won’t hold it against WordPress (or us). 

As a second-year graduate student in the Master of Public Administration in Development Practice (MPA-DP) program, I have many long, grueling hours under my belt spent in the many nooks and crannies of Lehman Library. Luckily, I’ve had great classmates (and now best friends) to work by my side. Mariela Maccado, MPA-DP ’16, is one of my classmates and truly an intelligent and inspiring emerging development practitioner.

Mariela Machado Fantacchiotti

Mariela Machado Fantacchiotti

Prior to SIPA, Mariela was a telecommunications engineer with five years of work experience. Through the MPA-DP program, Mariela has combined her previous telecommunications-engineering education and experience with recent development studies. Mariela has accomplished a lot at SIPA, so I wanted to share with you a little bit about how the MPA-DP program has supported her efforts.

“I came [to SIPA] to learn how to design, deploy and make a project sustainable overtime, while at the same time addressing the social and economic needs,” Mariela says. She later applied that newfound knowledge to her three-month summer field placement at Inveneo in San Francisco, which is a nonprofit social enterprise that delivers the tools of technology—sustainable computing and broadband—to those who need it most in the developing world in order to transform lives through better education, healthcare, economic opportunities and faster relief.

There she worked alongside their engineering department, studying drones for Inveneo’s upcoming “Drones 4 Good” project, and researching Internet policies and laws in Cuba focusing on information and communication technologies (ICT) development and freedom of speech. “MPA-DP prepared me to understand development in a broader sense,” Mariela adds. “I could now understand sustainability taking into considerations all the different axis, from human centered design to M&E post implementation plan. Thus, I was able to give Inveneo a new perspective on how to design, implement and measure ICT4D projects.”

To learn about other summer placements from 2010-2015, please check out our Summer Field Placements Map.

All of the summer placements on the map were introduced to the incoming students at the MPA-DP annual fall retreat. Held every year within the first month of school, the fall retreat is open to both first and second-year students, and it takes place in upstate New York. Considering the MPA-DP program is “small by design,” the retreat is a key programmatic milestone in building up both the unique MPA-DP spirit and a strong cohort community at the beginning of the academic year.

More than 80 students attended the retreat this September (pictured above). It’s a great kick-off event to the fall semester and provides an opportunity for the students to learn about program offerings, as well as to get to know each other and chat informally with the program staff.

For more information on the summer placements this year, or about the annual MPA-DP retreat, please feel free to email

[Photo courtesy of Annum Hussain]

"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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