Archive for urban social policy

A Case for Urban and Social Policy

Like many prospective graduate school applicants, I had a hard time deciding exactly which school or program was right for me. It’s incredibly difficult to think about places, schools, and classes you’ve never taken in the abstract, let alone even trying to compare them. While being incredibly fortunate, my situation is also a little complicated; as a Pickering Fellow, I am required to serve in the U.S. Foreign Service for five years after graduating from SIPA. While applying, I was attempting to reconcile my interest in domestic politics and cities, with my career and general interest in international relations. I wanted a degree that would wholly prepare me for my time in the Service, while also providing me the skills and expertise to succeed if I ever decided to leave the organization.

SIPA made sense on a variety of baseline levels; it’s incredibly diverse, and very international, two things I value both personally and professionally. It is prestigious and known for producing top-end talent in almost every profession related to public service and government. When I got in, it was almost a no-brainer; I knew this is where I wanted to be.

However, I had a much harder time deciding which concentration was right for me. As someone who has worked with numerous organizations engaged in human rights and refugee-related work, Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy was appealing. Similarly, Economic and Political Development sounded like a natural fit with the work I’d be doing in the Service. Urban and Social Policy, with its focus on development and broad social issues, also piqued my interest.

As you can probably guess, I ultimately decided to concentrate in USP. Now let me tell you why.

An Excellent Urban Studies Education…in the Greatest City in the World

Ever since I moved to my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I have been in love with cities. I want to know their population density, the history behind their most famous landmarks, the backgrounds of the migrants that shaped them. I want to know what sports teams the locals support, and the rivalries that may exist between different parts of town. Understanding a city, and its working class people is something that gives me immense joy and a feeling of understanding and solidarity with others, even if I am an outsider.

It just so happens that SIPA is located in arguably the greatest, or at least the most culturally significant city in the world. USP concentrators have the unique opportunity to study their favorite policy issues with leaders in the field, who are often engaged in their work while teaching. If housing is your favorite issue, you can study with William Eimecke, the previous Secretary of Housing for New York State, and then witness every day how city and state leaders are attempting to solve the affordable housing crisis. If you’re interested in education, you can cross enroll in classes at Columbia’s prestigious Teachers College, and intern at the NY Department of Education, one of the biggest city agencies of its kind in the world. If you’re considering running for political office, you can take classes with ex-Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter, and the legendary New York City Mayor David Dinkins. In summary, SIPA and New York attract some of the best minds in urban governance, and for this reason alone, SIPA has a comparative advantage to other schools with urban studies programs.

It’s Broad but You Can Make It Your Own

If you say you study Urban and Social Policy, you inevitably have to tell someone what that actually means. That’s partly because it is so broad; almost every social issue is now inherently an urban issue and vice versa. That being said, SIPA’s requirements make it incredibly easy to find your niche within the concentration, while also providing students with a generalist background that will prepare them for any type of work in the field. I am personally passionate about anti-corruption and good governance initiatives, and have therefore taken numerous management and systems analysis oriented courses. One of my friends in the concentration has explored the growth of data and algorithms in public sector decision making, and its impact on communities of color. Another friend of mine is committed to understanding the intersection of gender and development in urban communities. As a future diplomat, I know I will be serving in some of the world’s truly global cities; therefore, my USP education will provide me with the skills and knowledge I need to understand the key challenges these cities face, while also allowing me to dive deeper into many of my domestic interests. In turn, by drawing upon the experiences and interests of your peers, and the expertise of USP’s great faculty, you too can find your own place in this passionate and driven community.

The People

USP is a relatively small concentration, compared to some of the others available at SIPA. However, I consider this one of its greatest strengths. USP attracts bright, motivated and culturally savvy people from around the world, with many hailing from the world’s fastest growing and important urban centers. On an intellectual level, this is incredibly rewarding; often, you will find yourself in the halls or off-campus at a small meet up, casually discussing an urban policy issue with people from entirely separate countries and cities, each one providing their perspectives and experiences. Socially, you are surrounded by people who also love the city, and all that it has to offer. Personally, I have felt that my education has extended well beyond the walls of SIPA, as my network of USPers continues to challenge me, and introduce me to new concepts and ideas on a daily basis.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…

No matter where you are in the admissions process, I encourage all prospective or recently admitted students to think critically about what they want out of their graduate school experience and how every concentration or program may advance your personal and professional growth. Nonetheless, if you are passionate about cities and social issues, I suggest that you take a look at the concentration’s requirements and electives which are available on the SIPA website. It will give you a better idea of the type of coursework you can expect, while also hopefully inspiring some excitement at the prospect of being a USP concentrator!

Program Assistant Introduction: Dylan Hoey

Introducing our final new Program Assistant this semester, Dylan Hoey.

Dylan Hoey is a second-year MPA student concentrating in Urban and Social Policy and specializing in Technology, Media and Communications. In 2017, he graduated from Claremont McKenna College, where he earned a dual degree in Government and History. Prior to SIPA, Dylan worked for his Congresswoman and interned with refugee resettlement organizations in Chicago and Istanbul. He was recently awarded the U.S. State Department’s Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship, and after graduating will join the U.S. Foreign Service.

Dylan ultimately decided to attend SIPA because he valued Columbia’s commitment to diversity and SIPA’s strengths as a leading school for international affairs and urban studies. While at SIPA, Dylan has primarily taken classes on good governance and urban leadership in the hopes that he can one day assist developing nations in the fight against corruption.

What do you hope to gain from earning a Master’s degree from SIPA?

As an undergrad, I attended a liberal arts college that pushed its students to become critical thinkers and strong writers. Naturally, I majored in Government and History, and like many of my peers, I shied away from heavy quantitative coursework. Coming into SIPA, I wanted to take more practical government classes, to supplement my background in political philosophy and theory. I also decided that I wanted to push myself by taking more rigorous economics and management courses. I hope to leave SIPA with a deeper understanding of international politics and institutions while also gaining proficiency in Stata, GIS, and other programs that are commonly used in the world of government and policy.

What are some exciting things about your concentration?

As an Urban and Social Policy concentrator, my favorite thing about our concentration is the diversity. Most of us come from urban backgrounds and we love cities, as places of professional and academic interest and as social environments. Although we are a relatively small concentration, the community is tight-knit and we all know each other. Due to SIPA’s location, we also attract some of the world’s leaders in urban leadership and development. I’ve had the opportunity to take classes with a former Mayor of Philadelphia, New York State’s Secretary of Housing, and other world-renowned economists and researchers in urban governance. If you want to run for office, or work for local or federal government, USP is a great concentration to choose!

How did you find the core curriculum at SIPA?

Admittedly, I was intimidated by Columbia’s core curriculum. There was even a time I considered not applying, as I didn’t think I had the quantitative background to be successful at SIPA. That being said, I have really enjoyed my core classes and I think they equip students with the skills needed to be competitive, and ultimately successful, in government and public sector work. While macro and microeconomics were certainly difficult at times, there are two tracks offered; a lower division course that is more conceptual and a higher division for those who are comfortable with math. In retrospect, I can say that they filled gaps in my previous knowledge of world politics and economics. My management course provided me with a better understanding of how bureaucracies function, and how workers respond to incentives; however, it also made me think critically about my leadership style, and my potential strengths and weaknesses. Out of all the core classes, my favorite has been Politics of Policymaking, which is required for all MPA students; it was undoubtedly the most in-depth class I had ever taken on comparative institutions and policy creation. I enjoyed it so much I ended up taking another course with the professor the following semester and have since remained in touch!

What advice do you have for current applicants?

I recommend that students reflect on what they want in their career, and really consider if SIPA, or graduate school in general, is the experience they need to accomplish their professional and personal goals. I like to think of an application like a narrative that has led the applicant to a fork in the road; the sum of their academic, professional and personal experiences has led them to this moment and now graduate school is the next natural step in the journey. If you can think of your desire to attend SIPA in these terms, then you will likely have a strong application. Most importantly, you must be honest with yourself about what is best for you, and your reasons for applying.

What was the most challenging aspect of the application process?

Definitely the personal essays. Essentially, you have to condense everything – your desire to attend SIPA, the essence of the most transformative moments or experiences in your life, and your professional career – into a few essay and short prompt responses. That being said, going off of my earlier advice, I would encourage all applicants to really think about their own life and experiences as if you were a character in your own story. Perhaps even create a list of the moments or experience you feel most nostalgic about, even if they seem irrelevant or trivial. In doing so, you may discover what really motivates you and how specific experiences made you the person you are. You can weave these into your essays, in a way that humanizes you and makes you standout to the people reading your application.

What do you think makes a good SIPA student?

In my opinion, the best students at SIPA are the ones who have a genuine desire to learn and are interested in solving complex problems with the help of others. They value collaboration, diversity, breadth of opinion, and are rigorous in their studies. They also seek out opportunities to form relationships with other communities, and most likely have a strong sense of what is right, which informs their commitment to making the world a better place. While they may not know what they want to do, they know they want to be leaders in whatever field they end up in, because of their work ethic and their commitment to something outside of themselves.  Sometimes class isn’t fun; it’s the middle of the semester, it’s cold, you’re studying for midterms. But if you’re a naturally curious and dedicated person, the prospect of learning more, of becoming a more well-rounded individual; these things will ultimately sustain you.

"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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