The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students.

Rishika Surya is a first-year Master of International Affairs (MIA) candidate concentrating in Energy and Environment with a specialization in Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis. She is also part of SIPA’s International Fellows Program.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

Before SIPA, I worked for the Government of India as a member of their policy think-tank, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI). I assisted India’s senior-most legislators and bureaucrats in formulating national/sub-national policies for the sectors of low-carbon development, air pollution, and climate change. As an undergraduate, I studied civil engineering and biological sciences, and became fascinated with the problem of balancing infrastructure growth with ecological impacts. My work at NITI brought the problem home to me as I saw first-hand the various challenges developing nations face in formulating environmental policies that can align with their growth needs.

Why did you choose SIPA?

There were multiple reasons why SIPA was my top choice right from the beginning of my application process. First, it was the flexibility of SIPA’s curriculum, which allowed me to choose a concentration and a specialization. I wanted to develop deep knowledge through the concentration and the toolset to comprehend through the specialization. I also loved the fact that SIPA does not limit its students to a particular path and that SIPA students have a vast menu of course options to choose from across Columbia University.

I also was impressed by the vast array of options that SIPA provides for soft skills development. The professional development core requirement is useful for international students, like myself, who are stepping into an unknown job market. Then there is the broad number of student clubs and activities that keep students engaged and help build lasting friendships. Finally, I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship from SIPA and be selected for the International Fellows Program. I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to join a school that could only be described as a “dream.”

Why did you choose the Energy and Environment concentration?

For as long as I can remember, I have been passionate about the environment, and I consider the issues associated with it to be the most complex ones facing humanity. My experience working in environmental policy before joining SIPA further strengthened my commitment to this field. The Energy and Environment concentration is a perfect fit for me. For my specialization, I chose Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis because I believe that the use of analytical tools in policymaking enhances impact considerably.

How would you describe your experience at SIPA thus far?

My decision to move to New York City in the midst of a pandemic was certainly not easy, but it has worked out for me. Staying close to the campus makes me feel as if I am a part of a community. I love using the library, walking around the Morningside campus, and interacting with my classmates, as much as Covid-19 allows. The University and SIPA have done a great job of transitioning to virtual classes. Not for one moment have I felt that I am getting anything less than the best education possible. And, despite not being able to interact in-person as much, SIPA students are doing a pretty good job of building a cohesive group! I have learned more than I thought possible over the last few months in my interactions with world-renowned scholars, industry experts, and illustrious alumni, and I am excited to continue doing so.

What are you looking forward to studying or doing during your remaining time at SIPA?

I am looking forward to taking challenging courses related to the environment, quantitative analysis, and more at SIPA and across the University. I also was recently selected to serve on the board of the SIPA Energy Association, and I am excited about working with my peers to organize fun events for people interested in the energy field.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?

I don’t know where to start!

All of my courses are exemplary – I am learning so much about topics such as international politics and economics, which I have not previously studied. I really enjoy mathematics, so the Quantitative Analysis-I course taught by Professor Alan Yang really excites me. I am also taking the Energy System Fundamentals class with Professor Travis Bradford, which should be a compulsory course for anyone who wants to pursue the energy field.

As an international fellow, I also have the privilege of taking Professor Stephen Sestanovich’s course on the U.S. role in world affairs, which has exponentially added to my SIPA experience. The class gives me the chance to interact with graduate students from other schools at Columbia and is widening my horizons every day. I am grateful for the experience.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I want to continue in the field of environmental policy, particularly clean energy, with a special focus on using data analytics to enhance decision-making.