Last year Peter Zheng MPA ’20 shared his reflections on his first year at SIPA. He catches up with us after finishing his second and final year at SIPA during what is the most unusual semester anyone has ever experienced.

Along with landing a job at Facebook, Peter joins the Board of Directors of the Jericho Project, a nationally-acclaimed nonprofit ending homelessness at its roots. The 37-year-old nonprofit serves 2,500 New Yorkers annually, with programs dedicated to veterans, young (and mostly LGBTQ) adults, and families.

Read on to see what Peter was up to in his second year.

It’s been about almost a year since I reflected on my first-year experience. Boy – if I knew then what I know now, I probably would have run away to Antarctica. Just kidding! I heard it’s cold there. But there are cute penguins…

My final year at SIPA was mixed with stress and uncertainty but also excitement and immense happiness. Unfortunately, COVID-19 resulted in one of my family’s small businesses shutting down so I ended up back in Pittsburgh to help my parents apply for governmental assistance under the CARES Act, specifically the Payroll Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Assistance under the U.S. Small Business Administration. Typically, I handle 40% of their finances in school but with all of their stressors that came along with COVID-19 and our other small business, I ended up running 100% of their personal and business finances.

This experience was extremely stressful as I had my own commitments, so to add two people’s finances, two restaurants finances, & 20 employees, without revenue coming in, was an extreme shock. I’m thankful that Columbia implemented universal pass/fail and my professors were insanely supportive and understanding. They would tell me about negotiation tactics with landlords, delayed assignments and exams, and provided moral support through phone calls. In the end, things turned out super positively!

In terms of next steps, I will be working at Facebook in their business integrity department. This will be my first full-time job out of university and it will be exciting to leverage my MPA degree and technology expertise to shape global policy for Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Oculus.

What is most exciting about this role are my colleagues. They’re insanely passionate and smart, and super wonderful humans! Facebook is currently building out their internal venture capital arm and spearheading AR and VR acquisitions so it’ll be a great opportunity to be at the forefront of global innovation with the post-Covid-19 world.

5 Reflections After Two Years at SIPA:

  1. Become involved with organizations and groups outside of Manhattan. When your entire life revolves around 10 streets above and below Columbia’s campus – it can get pretty boring. You were sold on the NYC experience so go out there and get it!
  2. Emotional intelligence is far superior than intellectual intelligence. Be able to read a room, how to ask people about their days, and having a conversation for the sake of a conversation.
  3. Schedule time to relax and decompress. Work-life balance doesn’t really exist and we naturally gravitate towards work so schedule in fun. You can psychologically condition yourself to destress. Future you will thank the present you. J
  4. Embrace a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. Just because we are in grad school does not mean our past experiences leading us here will be enough to catapult us into the next phase of our lives.
  5. Treat yourself with radical compassion! Life is hard so let’s not make it a rat race.

Click here to read Peter’s reflections after his first year at SIPA from May 2019.