Rahel Tekola at Facebook New York Office
Rahel Tekola at Facebook New York Office

This semester the Office of Admissions welcomed four new Program Assistants (PAs) to the team. This week and next, I’m introducing you to each of them in the form of self-interviews. Up first, Rahel Tekola. She’s studying Urban and Social Policy, worked as Chief of Staff to the CEO of an organization focused on domestic violence and poverty, and served on the Mayor’s Star Council to revitalize Southern Dallas and the City of Dallas Domestic Violence Task Force. Here’s what she has to say about her time at SIPA.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

I had a lot of personally compelling reasons for why I chose SIPA, but here are a few of my top reasons:

  1. SIPA is quantitatively challenging and this is a skill-set I wanted to hone in and work on post-working in the real world for three years.
  2. The great thing about SIPA is it’s not a generalist program. This graduate school allows you to delve into an area of passion through concentration and specialization selections. I was incredibly interested in domestic urban development issues and also management and business like classes, and the good thing is SIPA has allowed me to do both.
  3. The professors are as impressive as they look online. I remember coming to visit Columbia the week of Student Admitted Day and sitting in on a class called Venture Capital for Entrepreneurs, and I was absolutely blown away by the practitioner who was teaching the class. The students taking the class were equally just as impressive and fully engaged in the discussion. I really enjoyed that experience and it was instrumental in me choosing SIPA.
  4. Location!! Being in the heart of New York City, SIPA students have access to so many businesses, multilateral organizations, local government and non-profits. I love having the opportunity to catch a train to midtown and network with practitioners in the field any time of the week. The world is truly your backyard here! 

What experiences do you think prepared you to attend SIPA?
When I graduated from my undergraduate institution in Texas I had always planned on going straight through and going to graduate school. Many mentors and people I had worked with gave some great advice, and told me to take time and work before pursuing my master’s degree. So, this is exactly what I did. This time off from school and working in the field allowed me to realize the things I really am passionate about and the things I want to learn to continue building my skill-set. Working at a domestic violence agency for three years imparted me with so much knowledge I was also able to bring this experience to the discussions within classes.   

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?
For the longest time I didn’t want to leave Texas, because it is my home, it is where my friends and family are, I was comfortable and had a great job I loved, however, once I made the plunge to move and attend grad school, I know I made one of the best decisions of my life. I have been able to meet phenomenal classmates and made friends who challenge me every day and allow me to not get comfortable. 

Can you comment on the quantitative rigor in the curriculum?
My head was definitely spinning the first week of school! I knew SIPA is known to be quantitatively challenging, but I, whew – I was not ready. The good thing is most of these classes ask you to do your homework in groups so you will not suffer alone.

How was your internship experience been like?
I worked with the John A. Reisenbach Foundation this summer. I absolutely loved my experience at the foundation, the mission and the people that we serve, and my boss was amazing. I was tasked with board of director development work, drafting their new strategic plan and conducting site visits to grantee non-profits all over NYC. We work with great companies like Facebook so it was neat getting to be in their office and working with their staff, as well. After the completion of my internship, they offered me a position as Program Officer. 

How did you obtain your internship?
SIPA has a jobs portal called SIPALink where employers will post jobs and internships to recruit SIPA students. I applied to directly through the link and the rest is history!

[Photo courtesy of Rahel Tekola | Rahel (left) working this summer ’17 at the Facebook New York Office]