Welcome to the final post of our two-part series introducing the International Fellows Program (IFP)! This post will provide insights from Kara Fitzgerald Lance Truong, who were former students (‘19-’20 cohort) and currently serve as IFP’s Graduate Program Assistants.

Commonly referred to as IFP, this year-long interdisciplinary SIPA program has existed for half a century and unites 30 graduate students from across Columbia University. IFP selects 10 first year SIPA students, 10 second-year SIPA students, and 10 students from the University’s other graduate programs. The course also comes with a $9000 stipend, in-person or virtual trips to the United Nations and Washington D.C., and amazing opportunities to engage with expert practitioner guest speakers. I’m currently participating as a second-year SIPA student. You may have seen IFP in the optional portions of the SIPA application.

Kara Fitzgerald is a second-year MIA student concentrating in Economic and Political Development. Originally from West Chester, Pennsylvania, she is completing the current semester remotely from Cairo, Egypt. Prior to SIPA, Kara worked with The American University in Cairo and Ashoka Arab World. At SIPA, Kara has pursued a focus on international law and organizations and the foreign policy of human rights.


Lance Truong is a second-year MIA student concentrating in International Security Policy and specializing in East Asia. He is currently on leave from the Australian foreign service and before SIPA was posted to Australia’s Consulate-General in Chengdu, China. Lance majored in Japanese Studies and Journalism as an undergraduate at Australia’s Monash University, where he studied abroad in Japan twice.


What made you want to apply for IFP as an in-coming SIPA student?

Kara: I was really excited about the opportunity to engage in a high-level seminar right away at SIPA. This was something I had missed since graduating from my small liberal arts college, and I knew that I would have plenty of large lectures in my first year at SIPA through core requirements. Of course I was also attracted by the perks of meetings and events with senior leaders in policy, media, and advocacy.

Lance: I came to SIPA from the Australian foreign service, and one of my main goals studying in the U.S. was to learn more about its foreign policy and its way of looking at the world. IFP was the perfect program for me in that sense, both in terms of class content but also the incredible access Fellows have to leading policymakers, journalists and other prominent figures in the U.S. foreign policy space.

How has your IFP experience enhanced your SIPA experience, complimented other academic or professional coursework/ opportunities, and prepared you for your final year at SIPA?

Kara: One of the most important things that the IFP did for me was to immediately place me in a close community of students from across Columbia’s graduate schools. As a new graduate student, that was immensely beneficial and helped me to integrate quickly. SIPA can sometimes put students into silos, in particular based on their class year and concentration. The IFP does the opposite by bringing together such a diverse group of students.

On a course material level, the IFP is also a great primer for many other courses because it explores the long story of the US role in the world. The tensions, turning points, and debates that we discuss in the IFP are broadly relevant.

Lance: IFP’s combines both a historical and forward-looking focus to the United States’ role in the world. This, along with the opportunity to hear from people in the field contributing to that role, is an excellent practical complement to the more theoretical focus of other SIPA classes.

The opportunity to discuss and hear the viewpoints of students across Columbia is something unique to IFP. Not only does it greatly enrich your learning experience, but it is also a fantastic way to meet people outside of the regular SIPA circles.

What is one tip or piece of advice you have for prospective IFP applicants?

Kara: The core of the IFP is the discussion-based, year-long seminar on the U.S. role in world affairs. Your application should highlight how you will bring an interesting perspective to those conversations— drawing, for example, on your professional experience and career interests.

Lance: Another aspect your application should highlight is how IFP will contribute to your goals at Columbia and your broader career trajectory.

IFP has certainly been one of the highlights of my SIPA career. Learning from graduate students across the university in this year-long seminar has broadened my understanding of the international system as we know it and the U.S.’ changing role in it. Additionally, by taking U.S. Role in World Affairs I & II, you are ⅔ of the way to completing the Regional U.S. Specialization! Additionally, either of these courses can satisfy the MIA Interstate Relations Core Requirement or count for the International Security Policy Concentration.

If you’re interested in applying, make sure to complete the IFP optional essay when submitting your application. You can find that application link here. Thanks for reading the last installment of this series introducing you to IFP. We hope it sparked your interest in applying and we look forward to reading your application!