Archive for USP

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!

Why I Chose to Apply to SIPA

Note from Admissions: The Spring application deadline is coming up, and we hope applicants feel like they’re making good progress with the admissions process. Current student Dylan Hoey has been in your position and reflects on why he applied to SIPA in the first place. 

We encourage you to reach out to us at the Admissions office if you have any questions about the application or just want to talk it over. And if you want to talk to Dylan or other SIPA students about their experience, we can make that happen.


Rodin’s “The Thinker” outside Philosophy Hall [Wikimedia Commons]

During undergrad, like most first year students, I was unsure of what I wanted to major in. At first I was confident that environmental science was the right choice. Within a semester, I was disabused of that idea. After taking an amazing introduction to international relations course, I thought I had settled on international relations. When my second year started, I changed my mind once again and declared as a Government and History dual major, which finally stuck. While I had formally decided on a major, my interest in other subjects did not wane. Thanks to a great liberal arts education, I was able to dabble in almost every major subject, from religious studies to mathematics. Throughout my undergraduate career, I developed an interest in urban studies, post-colonial history and theory, continental philosophy, and film, amongst others.

In turn, when I decided to apply to graduate school, I knew I wanted to be at a place that engaged all of these interests, while also providing me with a central skill set that would allow me to be successful in any industry. I knew that my ideal school would be in a large city, with plenty of extracurricular opportunities to pursue my interest in the arts. Naturally, that narrowed my list of schools down quite considerably.

SIPA had always been on my radar just based off its name recognition, but when I researched more into its curriculum and Columbia’s own resources, I became more and more interested in applying. First of all, I appreciated that SIPA stresses both theory and ‘practical’ applications of course material. As a future U.S. diplomat, I valued SIPA’s diversity, which is unrivaled. I also liked that SIPA has a distinctly international focus, with an emphasis on urban politics and culture. When I looked through SIPA’s course offerings and faculty, I was similarly impressed by the broad array of fields and disciplines represented. I remember also coming across a couple ‘superstar’ professors, including former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. On more comprehensive faculty lists outside of SIPA, I saw that one of my favorite authors, Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, was also listed as a member of Columbia’s faculty. Another search led me to discover that leading Indian post-colonial theorist Gayatri Spivak was a resident faculty member.

When I looked at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ website, I found that the events section was full of film series that I was interested, including a few where the directors themselves were there to answer questions. At the Journalism School, I saw Jelani Cobb, one of the New Yorker’s most prolific and insightful contributors, listed as a professor. While I was certainly drawn in by SIPA’s course offerings, I really fell in love with the idea of Columbia being a place of such great academic diversity. I knew that at SIPA I would receive a world-class education in policy analysis and public management; I had no doubts about that. But I relished the idea of being on a campus where it would be easy to meet people engaged in other fields, and to pursue a truly holistic education. When it was time to finally apply, I was excited at the prospect of enrolling at SIPA, an excitement that has never left me, even as a second year student now.

Program Assistant Introduction: Julia Chung

We’re introducing our new group of program assistants with the Office of Admissions. You’ve already met Niara and Kier, so now please meet Julia!


Julia Chung was born and raised in New Jersey but hopes to be considered an honorary New Yorker. She is a second-year MPA student concentrating in Urban and Social Policy and specializing in Technology, Media, and Communications. After graduating from Vassar College with a BA in Sociology and a minor in Asian Studies, Julia worked at various nonprofits in New York City on issues including housing, immigration, education, and civic engagement.

Photo courtesy of: Sandy Zhang

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?
Before SIPA, I spent four years working at various nonprofits in New York City, focusing on immigration advocacy and civic engagement. After working on various grassroots-level campaigns, I realized that I needed more knowledge and expertise. I decided that the best way to serve my community was to first learn how to create better policies and how to better include multiple voices and communities in policy-making.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
When looking at graduate schools, the two factors that were most important to me were the classes and professors and where the school was located. I wanted to be in a city so I could remain involved in local issues and I wanted professors that had expertise on social policy and municipal governments. After my acceptance, I sat in on Mark Steitz’s Data Driven Approaches to Campaigns and Advocacy class. Less than half way through the class, I knew that SIPA was the school for me. It was clear that SIPA would not only provide the theory and best-practices about policymaking, but also teach the practical skills I needed to further my career.

How did you find the core curriculum at SIPA?
With no previous quantitative experience, I was apprehensive about the economics and quantitative analysis series. However, in the end, I found both to be extremely useful. Microeconomics and macroeconomics provided me greater insight in why governments make certain decisions around monetary and fiscal policy. And having enjoyed Quantitative Analysis I, I enrolled in Quantitative Analysis II, which is not required, the next semester. Now I highly recommend all students to take Quantitative Analysis II because I think it’s crucial for all policymakers to know how critique the methods of an academic journal article.

How did you obtain your internship?
I found the general internship posting for NYC Department of Transportation on SIPAlink, our platform for career resources. Having had mainly nonprofit experience, I was looking for opportunities in municipal government. Soon after sending in my resume and cover letter, I was invited to interview with the Grants Management team and offered a College Aid position.

What are your goals for the second year?
Having completed all my core classes for my degree and concentration in my first year, almost all my second year classes will be elective courses. My goal for the second year is to continue building my skills in design thinking and data analysis. I also want to take classes in other Columbia University schools, such as Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia Business School.

What do you think makes a good SIPA student or what qualities do stellar SIPA students typically possess?
I think stellar SIPA students typically are:

  • Skilled in time management. There’s quite a bit to juggle between lectures, recitations, office hours, club meetings, networking events, group projects, and life in general! A stellar student knows exactly how much they can take on, where to allocate their energy and when they need to say no and have some self-care time.
  • Open minded and willing to listen to other perspectives. Classmates are from all walks of life with different personal and professional experiences. We don’t always agree on the merits of certain policies or hold similar political views, but we have to respectfully hear the other perspective.
  • Proactive in getting involved in SIPA and off campus. There are so many events and opportunities at SIPA, but also in New York City. Stellar students do their research and get involved!

Seeple Snapshot: Denise Mitchell

 
 
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Name: Denise Mitchell
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Year Graduated Undergrad: 2011
Undergraduate Major: English

 

Before you came to SIPA, what were you doing?

Before I came to SIPA, I worked at a few nonprofits. The first one in D.C., and that was actually an education non-profit that worked with independent schools. And then I did some traveling, I took some classes. I came back to Brooklyn and ended up working with a non-profit in East New York which was really involved with community development and arts education. I have been pretty non-profit focused.

What are you studying at SIPA?

I’m studying urban and social policy as my concentration, and my specialization is management. We joke that it’s the liberal arts degree of SIPA and I definitely feel like I get a very well-rounded education through that.

What’s been your favorite part about SIPA so far?

It’s hard to choose. I think definitely the diversity of the students. I’m continuously in awe of my classmates. Everyone is from a different country, everyone speaks five languages, everyone has traveled and lived in places that you’ve only really seen on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic. Everyone is just really well-rounded. I’m continuously impressed by my peers.

Do you have a favorite class that you’ve taken?

I really liked Critical Issues in Urban Public Policy with [former New York City] Mayor David Dinkins. As a native New Yorker, it was a really amazing experience to see this man who, when I was growing up, was mayor and now he’s my professor and I see him every Tuesday. And he brings in a number of really dynamic speakers. It’s just great because it’s a lecture series in every class.

Where do you see yourself after SIPA?

I see myself everywhere after SIPA. I’d like to open my own non-profit, preferably before graduating in New York City. I’d like to spend a few years working abroad doing international development work. I’d like to come back to New York City and get involved in public policy. And that’s the great thing about SIPA. You feel like you can literally do anything after leaving here.

 

We’re closed today: Tuesday, November 5

It’s Election Day here in the United States.  Although it’s not a presidential election year, U.S. citizens are exercising their right to vote for their local representatives in government.  As a result many public (and some private) schools are closed in New York City today.

Columbia University is one of the institutions that honors our hard earned privilege to vote and encourages people to vote by closing the school to allow us to do just that.   If you are interested in learning about electoral systems and voting policies, you can study it in our USP concentration.

We will be back in the office tomorrow – November 6 – to answer your questions.

"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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