Zulpha is a Master of Public Administration student (SIPA Class of 2020) with a concentration in Urban and Social Policy and specializations in Management; Technology, Media & Communications; and the U.S. Region. Before SIPA, she worked as a senior policy advisor to the Australian Government and then the New South Wales State Government across a broad range of policy areas. Her undergraduate studies were in Law, Development Studies, and Politics and International Relations, and she has a Master of Laws.

Can you talk about your Capstone experience?

In Spring 2019, I was a member of the joint SIPA-Columbia Law School team working on an implementation plan for Peru’s Mining Vision 2020. Our advisor was Professor Jenik Radon, who has a depth of experience and knowledge of natural resource management. Our fieldwork happened during spring break, and we conducted meetings and interviews with stakeholders in Lima, San Marcos, Huarmay, and Arequipa. It was the first time I had traveled to Latin America and I really enjoyed the dynamism and hospitality of Peru. I also visited Cusco and Machu Picchu with my teammates after our fieldwork was done. It was a memorable and unique experience that helped me grow professionally and personally.

What’s your internship experience been like?

My summer internship was the fieldwork component of the Applied Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution course with Professor Zachary Metz, one of my favorite classes at SIPA. I spent my summer break with Internews at their Regional Headquarters for Asia in Bangkok. Internews is an international non-profit organization that supports local communities to produce and disseminate trustworthy news and information. My specific role was focused on projects on peaceful pluralism, religious freedom, and violent extremism in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Internews’ work in the Asian region spans from Afghanistan to Vanuatu, and it was fascinating to learn so much about the challenges and opportunities facing the region. It was also my first time in Bangkok, which was a great opportunity to experience Thai culture and learn how to prepare for monsoonal downpours while wearing office-appropriate attire.

Have you taken classes at other Columbia Schools?

In Fall 2019, I took an amazing Columbia Law School class taught by Professor Lee Gelernt, who is the Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. The class was called ‘Post-9/11, the Trump Administration and the Rights of Non-Citizens’ and it developed my understanding of the U.S. approach to immigration and national security. Professor Gelernt was very generous in sharing his insights, including his experience of being on the frontlines of challenging the separation of families at the Southern border. During our semester with him, he was interviewed by Hasan Minhaj on The Patriot Act for the episode on seeking asylum!

Do you feel like you have gotten to know some of the faculty members?

Yes, I was initially very surprised by how approachable and helpful my SIPA professors were. In my previous studies, I had only gone to office hours if I needed guidance on course material but the SIPA faculty are so generous with their time and advice that you can speak with them about your career aspirations, professional development, their experiences, and their best tips on what to do in NYC. I have formed valuable relationships with professors in the Urban and Social Policy concentration, and being a teaching assistant helps you build connections too.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? How did you perform in those classes?

I had very limited quantitative experience before coming to SIPA so the quantitative aspects of the application and the core class were very nerve-racking for me! I had dropped all mathematics for my final year of high school because I thought I would never need it for my future career in law and policy.

As someone who came to SIPA terrified by the prospect of having to do anything vaguely quantitative, I was able to build new skill sets and gain comfort with quantitative analysis with exceptional support from wonderful professors and teaching assistants. In the end, not only did I survive the quantitative core classes, but I took the more calculus-heavy macroeconomics course and I voluntarily enrolled in two advanced data analysis classes. This semester I am taking Data Analysis for Policy Research and Program Evaluation (affectionately known as Quant III) with Professor Harold Stolper. Studying with Professor Stolper, whose work was instrumental in the Fair Fares campaign, allows me to understand the real-world value of being able to work with datasets and how that can make a meaningful contribution to policy debates.

Photo: Hiking in Battir, Palestine, over the winter break with Palestine Trek. Photo credit: Meron Hailu MPA ’20.