We’re introducing our new group of program assistants with the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. We started with Zawadia; now please meet Sevita.

Sevita Rama is a Troy, Michigan, native who is currently in her second year of the MPA in Development Practice (MPA-DP) at SIPA, specializing in Technology, Media and Communications (TMaC). After graduating from Rice University with a BA in Cognitive Sciences and Policy Studies, she worked in North Africa on economic development projects with various NGOs and local implementing organizations for four years, and developed a passion for supporting rural communities through food systems. She also believes greatly in the power of community-based storytelling and is continuing to build on this interest at SIPA. In 2019-2020, Sevita was a Foreign Language and Area Studies scholar for Arabic and the Middle East/North Africa at Columbia.

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?

Right before SIPA, I had started with Oxfam’s Egypt Country Office, which is based in Tunis, Tunisia, due to the organization’s previous work critical of human rights under the current regime. Little did I know this experience in remote project management would serve me well when everything shifted online with COVID. I worked on a project that aimed to strengthen the social enterprise ecosystem across North Africa and create linkages across the region that would improve inclusive economic growth. Prior to this, I worked with other implementing organizations and consultancies that also focused on economic development in both Egypt and Tunisia.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

When I lived in Cairo in 2017, a friend was leaving to start his degree at SIPA. I had never been eager to get a master’s degree, but I realized that I would need one to advance in development and that I needed a break from ‘doing’ and meeting deadlines by the skin of my teeth to actually sit down and delve deeply into the structures that shape work in international development. I also wanted to move away from economic development as a broad focus and look more closely at rural development work around food systems and agriculture, which was some of my most rewarding professional experience in Egypt. When I finally decided to take the leap and prepare my application, I spoke at length with the friend I met in Cairo who was just wrapping up his degree at SIPA. His confirmation about the practical nature of the DP program and the tight-knit cohort made me excited to join SIPA’s class of 2021 and start a degree that combined rigorous academic coursework with tangible outcomes.

Did you choose to attend SIPA to change careers, or to gain experience in a career path you already had experience in?

A bit of both – I wanted to keep working in development and project implementation/management, but I also wanted to build up some expertise and work in agriculture and food systems that would allow me to work with multilateral (UN) organizations that focus on these issues. I wanted to try working at a new scale of programs by looking at the funding mechanisms and geopolitics of these decisions. Something new I wanted to try was developing a portfolio of storytelling work through photography and video, which is now why I am in the TMaC specialization. I have taken some great courses that have allowed me to produce podcasts, videos, and journalistic writing pieces that I can share and publicize far beyond the university’s walls while I am here and after I graduate.

What most surprised you about SIPA after you arrived?

As a DP we have a week of “pre-orientation” before the rest of SIPA gets orientation, called “Getting Started Week.” I was surprised to be able to bond so strongly with my cohort through the beginning stages of our program and during our retreat. It was also incredible to be around people who all had such different experiences with the development sector and were excited to discuss, analyze and “nerd out” about the field.

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

I would consider myself as having less quantitative experience than many of my peers. Although my Bachelor’s was in a STEM field, my quantitative experiences in undergraduate coursework was limited to biology-related subjects, and it had also been quite some time since I had done any intense problem sets. Studying for the GRE helped me brush up on my quantitative skills to feel prepared for Macroeconomics and Quantitative Analysis. I was worried about making it through these courses, but ultimately a combination of strong teaching teams, good group work, and being patient with myself helped me get through. I still don’t feel very inclined to take many additional quantitative courses beyond the requirements because my focus is still in project/program implementation and management, but I am excited about my Budgeting and Financial Management for Government class this semester and apply some of that knowledge to program budgeting in the future.