You’ve read several posts from Nancy Leeds — our guest blogger extrodinaire — so we thought it would be fun for you to get to know more about her…
Nancy Leeds is a second year USP concentrator, Management “specializer” and admissions office PA. She is also participating in SIPA’s co-curricular program in Gender and Public Policy. Before SIPA, Nancy spent five years working on Democratic political campaigns in the United States. She even spent three weeks this past semester working on a Congressional campaign in Texas. Nancy writes a popular blog called “CampaignSick” which focuses on best practices in Campaign Management and Voting Rights. It can be found at campaignsick.blogspot.com.
Can you comment specifically on some exciting things about your concentration?
I really enjoy the flexibility of the USP concentration. I came into SIPA with a very specific focus (electoral systems and voting rights) and USP has allowed me to explore those interests. I have taken classes in the Law School, Journalism School and Poli Sci PhD department and all have been able to count toward my concentration. The flexibility of the USP concentration can work for those who are less narrowly focused as well because it provides the opportunity to take courses in a multitude of different subjects and really discover where your public policy passion lies.
SIPA features lots of events for students to attend. Is there any interesting presentation that you have attended that you could comment upon?
Last year President of the NAACP (and Columbia alum) Benjamin Jealous came to talk about voting rights for the David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum. It was in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting in Sanford, Florida and Mr. Jealous had just returned from community meetings there. He was able to articulate the history of voter suppression in the United States and link it to race based violence in a way that was profoundly touching and inspiring even to someone like myself who reads and thinks about these issues all the time. You can read more about his talk here: http://storify.com/ColumbiaSIPA/benjamin-jealous-sanford-fl-is-really-sanford-usa
What experiences do you think prepared you at attend SIPA?
First off, let me allay some common fears. You do not need to have any specific major to handle the course load at SIPA. I was a Russian lit major undergrad and did not have a lot of quantitative courses under my belt. There are resources to help you with econ and stats if you are willing to seek them out. What did help me was professional trial and error. Having some previous work experience helped me crystallize a picture of the skills I still needed to reach my career goals and I was able to learn and hone those skills at SIPA. It also gave me real world experience to apply to theoretical problems in class and to share with my classmates. One of the most valuable aspects of SIPA is learning from your classmates’ experiences.
What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?
That’s hard to say. One experience you should NOT miss out on are the student led trips to other countries, which provide perspective and access that you would never get if you just traveled on your own. I went on SIPA’s Japan trip last year and we were able to meet with executives at Panasonic, the Finance Minister and the Former Prime Minister, thanks to our classmates’ connections. There was also plenty of time for cultural immersion including a traditional tea ceremony, kimono wearing and Japanese style karaoke.
What advice would you give a first-year student?
Think about what you want to get out of SIPA and plan your time accordingly. There is so much to do and see in our school and on our campus. A public policy nerd can feel a bit like a kid in a candy store. You need to set aside time for homework (especially as a first year) and also time for self-care so that you don’t get burned out too quickly. I have a litmus test for what lectures/events to attend. Usually I am able to answer “yes” to at least one of these questions before I attend an event. 1) Would I seek this out on my own? 2) Is it relevant to my professional/personal goals? 3) Will I be kicking myself if I miss out on this opportunity? Believe me, there are still PLENTY of events that meet that criteria.