The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is excited to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series, featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and SIPA faculty.

Headshot of AndresAndres Ochoa Toasa

Andres graduated from SIPA in May 2017 with a Master in International Affairs, concentrating in Economic and Political Development (EPD) with a specialization in Advanced Economic and Policy Analysis. Here, Andres discusses his EPD workshop project and how it impacted his SIPA experience.

Why did you choose SIPA and the EPD Concentration?
I chose SIPA over four other graduate schools to which I was accepted because of SIPA’s international public policy focus and because SIPA has built a community that reflects global perspectives through its faculty and students. My interest in the EPD concentration grew more organically. I have a law degree specializing in human rights and my professional experience is mainly in international development. I was drawn to the EPD program, not only for the strength of its courses, but also for the depth of the workshop projects, which stand out as practical and impactful. 

How did you decide on your EPD Workshop? What was the process like?
It was a difficult decision because there were so many choices. My development background is in youth engagement; however, at SIPA, I chose to focus my studies on courses related to monitoring and evaluation, the United Nations, and management. I applied for projects that combined these topics and were outside of my regional area of Latin America. I applied for projects based in Kosovo, Nepal, Cote d’Ivoire, and Myanmar; ultimately, choosing the project based in Kosovo. In the end, it was a very fun process because it showed me how much I had grown in two years and what continues to drive me as a development professional.

How did you spend your time in Kosovo? What were some highlight experiences?
In Kosovo, I worked very hard with another SIPA student on a project mobilizing young Kosovars to pursue sustainable development goals (SDGs).  We conducted all of the stakeholder analysis and interview processes, laying the groundwork for a second student group. We reached out to ministers, ambassadors, NGOs, youth movements, human right activists, journalists, and even artists to see how youth could begin mainstreaming the SDGs. One highlight experience occurred during our last meeting with an official who complimented us on our impressive understanding of youth engagement in Kosovo.

In what direction do you see your career moving? How do you think the EPD Workshop contributed to your future goals?
My career is now moving rapidly into international development. Through the workshop, I developed many tools and greater experience that complement my development background and professional experience and will allow me to address and take on global challenges.

 James Schalkwyk

James is a SIPA Fund Fellow and a second year student pursuing his Master of Public Administration, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy (USP) and specializing in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis (APEA) and the U.S. Region. Here, James discusses his motivation for attending SIPA and his SIPA experience thus far.

What did you do prior to attending SIPA?
I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and studied music and English literature at the University of Cape Town. After interning with DARPA in Washington, DC, which focused on how to encourage private investment in interstellar space travel, I became interested in how governments and the private sector can work together to achieve technological and social breakthroughs. This led me to NASA Ames in Silicon Valley, where I worked in public-private partnerships and public and governmental affairs. In addition to putting together agreements touching all aspects of NASA’s work, my group focused on encouraging the emerging “NewSpace” industry in and around Silicon Valley. My office devised the innovative funding mechanism that gave rise to SpaceX and the Orbital Sciences Corporation, which helped renew the ability of the U.S. to service the International Space Station. The summer before coming to SIPA, I worked for the former director of NASA Ames on The Breakthrough Initiatives, a new program funded by Silicon Valley billionaire Yuri Milner, aimed at sending a probe to Alpha Centauri within a generation.

Why did you choose SIPA?
Several things influenced my decision to attend SIPA: I spoke to an alumnus who was extremely enthusiastic about his time at SIPA; I attended an event in San Francisco where Nobel Laureate and Columbia University Professor Joseph Stiglitz spoke to a small group about his work and our interests; and finally, and probably most importantly, I received a fellowship offer. Graduate school is a huge investment, and I cannot understate the importance of any level of financial assistance. This assistance made SIPA possible for me.

How did you choose the Urban and Social Policy (USP) Concentration?
Despite my experience in aerospace, I was becoming increasingly interested in domestic policy. I originally applied to the Economic and Political Development concentration; however, during my first semester, I found myself drawn to topics related to local governance. The outcome of the November U.S. elections also helped guide my decision, highlighting the importance of ensuring that government provides services and protections to the people who need them most. After choosing my classes for the spring semester, I found that almost all of them were in the USP concentration, cementing my decision to switch.

What has been your experience at SIPA so far?
I’ve made friends from all over the world and discovered a love for economics and statistics. This past summer, I worked with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation on city partnership programs with private companies and startups, which allowed me to get to know city government from the inside and increased my interest in “Smart Cities” and the “GovTech” space. Thanks to an opportunity through USP, this fall I will begin working part-time with the Citizen’s Budget Commission, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic organization that attempts to influence change in the finances and services of New York City and New York State government. SIPA has both deepened my existing interests and opened up brand new vistas, and I feel more confident, engaged, and excited about the future.