Note from Admissions: We are introducing our new group of program assistants with the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. You can meet Catherine Born MPA ’22 and Nick Chun MIA ’22.


Rachel Tang is a second-year MIA student concentrating in Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy (HRHP) and specializing in Technology, Media and Communications (TMaC). She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, earning a Foreign Language and Areas Study (FLAS) fellowship in Thai. 

Prior to SIPA, Rachel served as an AmeriCorps member at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and worked with the refugee and immigrant community in Los Angeles. She is passionate about human rights and migration issues. As a U.S. State Department Rangel Fellow, Rachel will enter the U.S. Foreign Service to serve as a Foreign Service Officer after graduating from SIPA.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

One of the most important factors in my decision to come to Columbia was the diversity of New York City and at SIPA. Approximately half of SIPA’s student body come from overseas and all have diverse professional backgrounds. I knew this would give me the opportunity to learn from other perspectives and prepare me to engage with foreign counterparts in my career. NYC is a global city and there is so much to learn, eat, and explore. Whether it was in or outside of the classroom, opportunities to learn and experience new things are exciting and infinite. 

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?

Prior to SIPA, I worked at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Los Angeles, a non-profit resettlement agency. I oversaw the employment program and managed job training for refugees, asylees, and other immigrant groups. By summer of 2019, I transitioned into a new role at IRC-LA where I launched outreach efforts to ensure the inclusion of refugees and immigrants in the 2020 Census. My work at IRC-LA was casework and grassroots-based, which I feel compliments my current studies at SIPA that focus more on the policy and advocacy side of international/public affairs.

What most surprised you about SIPA after you arrived?

I knew before arriving that SIPA professors are giants in their field with incredible experience and expertise; this was one of my deciding factors to come to SIPA. What surprised me, however, is that professors take the time to make themselves available and accessible to students. Whether it’s through office hours or concentration/specialization-led events, students are able to connect with SIPA professors across all disciplines.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? Why or why not? How did you perform in those classes?

I think quantitative experience is a common concern among many prospective students, including myself when applying to SIPA. I did not have much prior quantitative experience and opted to take introductory macro and microeconomics courses the summer before my first semester. I felt this gave me a solid foundation for SIPA’s economics series and I ended up performing better than I expected. Recitations and office hours also helped immensely for understanding course materials for all courses but especially for econ and quant. For students who feel quant isn’t their strong suit, they might consider spreading out their econ and quantitative analysis courses throughout different semesters.

What are your goals for the second year?

Some of my major goals for this year is to make up for the missed opportunities of having a remote first-year experience. I hope to strengthen the relationships I’ve already made with professors and colleagues in addition to creating new ones. I’m excited to become more involved with campus life this year, as it’s been an incredible experience to see campus lively again (while Columbia continues to take precautionary measures). Last year, my approach towards classes was to meet as many core MIA requirements as possible; this year, I look forward to fully immersing myself in my concentration/specialization courses and to end my last semester with an impactful capstone project.