Note from Admissions: After introducing Catherine Born MPA ’22, Nick Chun MIA ’22, Rachel Tang MIA ’22, and Catalina Wedman Alfaro MIA ’22, we are excited to introduce our final new program assistants at the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid this semester.
Shavon Bell is a second-year dual master’s student between Columbia SIPA and Sciences Po Paris. From SIPA, she will receive an MIA with a concentration in Economic and Political Development and a specialization in International Organizations & UN Studies. From Sciences Po, she will receive a Master of International Public Management with a concentration in diplomacy.
Shavon’s professional experience prior to her dual master’s studies reflect her Panamanian heritage and her deep roots in New York, where she grew up. She has interned and worked with multilateral organizations based in New York and Paris, where she gained a broad understanding of key areas in international affairs, such as inclusion, peace & security, humanitarian crises, and Latin American politics. Shavon speaks English, Spanish, and French and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History of Art from Brown University.
What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
As a native New Yorker, I had always known Columbia for its reputation as a vibrant and intellectually curious community. Visits to the campus for concerts or college visits evolved into pointed conversations about SIPA once I had returned to the city after my studies at Brown. As an intern at the Mission of Panamá to the United Nations in New York, I spoke with a number of SIPA alumni who were working as consultants and full-time staff members at the UN. Their experiences highlighted the breadth of material covered at SIPA, the school’s practical approach, and the applicability of their studies to a future career with multilateral organizations. In that time, I also spoke to alumni from Sciences Po Paris, from whom I learned of the university’s equally strong intellectual life, extensive relationships with practitioners in Paris, and role as an intellectual hub within France and the European Union more broadly. With this in mind, the dual degree program between SIPA and Sciences Po was the perfect fit.
What were you doing before you came to SIPA?
Before beginning my studies at SIPA, I was at Sciences Po Paris, where I took courses on international governance and diplomacy as part of my Master of International Public Management. As part of the dual degree program, I can pursue two specific focus areas for two distinct master’s degrees, building bridges between knowledge from the fields of international public management and development. At Sciences Po, I had the opportunity to think critically about the international governance structures that exist, the power differentials that exist within them, and how they can be improved. Equipped with that knowledge at SIPA, I can draw linkages between these questions as they relate to international development, such as aid flows, development programming, and coherence between development projects and national objectives.
What’s your internship experience been like?
In the 5 months prior to my studies at SIPA, I interned at the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD), based in Paris. Working within their communications department, I formed part of the Spanish-language communications team, with whom I created communications strategies for OECD publications and web materials. Although conducted entirely online because of the pandemic, the internship allowed me to deepen my knowledge of multilateral organizations and to gain a foundational understanding of the reporting, research, and advisory functions of the OECD.
What advice do you have for current applicants?
I suggest that applicants to SIPA or to the dual degree program have clear reasons for applying to their chosen program of study. Don’t worry – it would be unrealistic and unnecessary to have a detailed 10-year plan at the ready for personal statements and the like. However, I see this more as having a clear sense of direction, an internal compass for your professional and personal life. We cannot predict exactly where we will be as mid-career professionals, but we can ask certain questions about how specifically the opportunities at SIPA and in New York, and in my case, at Sciences Po and in Paris as well, will help us to work on particular themes or towards solving particular global challenges. Having this clarity will not only aid you in the eyes of the admissions committee, but it will help clarify your own decision making when you arrive at SIPA or at your partner school.
Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? Why or why not? How did you perform in those classes?
Upon applying to SIPA, I had more quantitative professional experience than quantitative academic experience, as my undergraduate studies emphasized written communications and critical thinking more than quantitative methods. But even before applying to SIPA and to the dual degree program, I sought opportunities at my internships and at my previous job that would build my quantitative skills, such as working with datasets or conducting economic analysis of countries in crisis. By the time I arrived at Sciences Po, where I did my quantitative coursework, I felt prepared. In my applications, I clearly addressed this professional experience in my application, as it would not be evident from my transcript alone. That is to say, I would advise applicants to get creative with their quantitative experience when writing their applications. You don’t have to worry if you have not taken every applied economics course that your school had to offer. Try to think back on your internships, your job experiences, extracurriculars, or any volunteering that you did!