The President is here… just another day at SIPA

September 19th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

His Excellency Serzh Sargsyan, President of the Republic of Armenia, will give a talk at SIPA on Armenia and foreign policy – opportunities and challenges on September 24. There will also be a very interesting discussion with Director David Phillips on Destroying ISIS on Monday. 

In addition to the discussion on the crisis in Ukraine with Alexander Dynkin, Director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow and adviser to the prime minister of Russia, Professor Robert Jervis, Valerli Kuchynskyi, the former Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN, and Professor Kimberly Marten. 

Wow!  I haven’t even made my way down the event calendar


Looking for money to pursue an international and language study program?

September 18th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

Make sure the Boren Fellowship is on your radarThe Boren Fellowships provide funding to U.S. citizens who are pursuing international and language study in world regions critical to U.S. interests, such as Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East.  Boren Fellowships for graduate students provide up to $30,000 for language study and international research.  Boren Fellowship awards are made for a minimum of 12 weeks and maximum of 24 months.

Recipients of a Boren Fellowship accept a Service Requirement to work for the federal government in the national security arena. Award recipients are not guaranteed a federal job after graduation – they must secure a position themselves.

The 2015-16 application deadline is January 27, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. EST.  Boren Fellowship applicants will be notified of their status by mail in late April.

For more information about the application process, click here.


Interview with SIPA MIA Candidate, Lauren Podber

September 16th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

Lauren Podber

Lauren Podber

Degree: Dual (BA/MIA)
Concentration: International Security Policy
Specialization: Regional: Middle East

Lauren is a second-year SIPA student pursuing an MIA degree with a concentration in International Security Policy. During her time at SIPA, which has overlapped with her final year at Columbia’s undergraduate School of General Studies (GS), Lauren has worked for Court Square Capital Partners, a private equity firm, as well as choreographed for Fordham University’s Dance Team. During the Summer of 2012 and of 2013, Lauren interned in the Intelligence and Cyber Operating Unit, at a defense contractor in Northern Virginia. This summer, in addition to working at Court Square and Fordham, Lauren continued studying Persian/Farsi, which she has been learning over the course of the past three years. Before coming to Columbia as an undergraduate in 2009, Lauren was a professional dancer. She graduated magna cum laude and phi beta kappa with a degree in Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies from Columbia University in February 2014.

What did you do before coming to SIPA?

I worked as a professional dancer before coming to SIPA. Although I was formally trained as a classical ballet dancer at the Joffrey Ballet School and Kirov Academy of Ballet, I ended up working as a professional dancer/cheerleader for the New Jersey Devils, a hockey team, as well as several smaller teams managed by the owners of the Devils. I also worked for House of the Roses Volunteer Dance Company: a non profit organization providing free, onsite dance instruction to homeless and at-risk children in transitional shelters and community centers in NYC and the Bronx.   In 2009, I came to Columbia’s undergraduate School of General Studies to pursue a degree in Middle Eastern Studies.


On the left: a group of House of the Roses dancers after a performance at “Project Dance” in Time Square, in 2010.




On the right: NHL Playoffs 2009. I’m second from the right, and the palest of the group! lauren3









What attracted you to SIPA?

The professors! I heard about the program from a friend in GS, and I remember looking at the online course bulletin for ISP (International Security Policy) and deciding right then and there that I needed to apply. I was so excited to sign up for so many of the courses. In addition, continuing at Columbia, allowed me to take an extra year of Persian/Farsi with my favorite language teacher. Lastly, as someone who would have finished college at 28, it allowed me to complete a masters degree more quickly, which should hopefully be beneficial in the job search!


What kind of work do you hope to do when you graduate?

I’m most interested in the Middle East and Central Asia. Hopefully, I’ll end up working somewhere where I am focused on Iran, and get to continue learning the language. Given the ever-changing global landscape, this could be completely irrelevant five years from now, so I’m keeping an open mind!


Can’t make it to campus, find us on the road

September 15th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

We’re visiting a few places this week so if you can’t make it to Columbia University in Morningside Heights, NYC then find us off campus.

Tonight (Monday, September 15) we’re heading south to midtown east (not that far away but for those who are already working, playing or living in the area, it’s just a faster and easier commute).  We’re participating in an admissions fair with a number of APSIA schools so you can meet a few of us in one evening.  And if international affairs is your kind of thing, you can also participate in a panel discussion with CFR experts discussing the New Middle East.  To register for the event, click here.  There is a small fee to attend the panel discussion but the fair is free (use “APSIA” as the promo code).

This week we’ll also be in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Mexico, and the US capital (Washington, DC).  For a list of where you can find us to learn more about SIPA, visit our website, under “On the Road.”  If you’re in New York and able to visit our lovely campus, come and attend an information session.


It’s Friday… and still thinking SIPA.

September 12th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

It’s Friday and all day the halls were bustling with activity — even though there are very few classes going on in the International Affairs Building today.  The academic year has begun and for the next eight months IAB will be busy.  After leaving a financial aid meeting, it was refreshing to join students at the Welcome Back reception.  The fascinating stories of our students’ summer adventures and their plans to better the global community  … makes our job of getting them here worthwhile.

One of  our newest members (from the Class of 2016) posted why she chose to come to SIPA on her personal Blog… Hope Hila doesn’t mind that I am linking to it here.  Reading her blog may give you another reason to study at SIPA and pursue a MPA degree… or it may just instill in you a reason to make a social impact… which is AWESOME too.


Meet our newest Admissions Program Assistants (PA)

September 11th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

Each year we are blessed to have an enthusiastic core group of SIPA graduate students serve as Admission Program Assistants (PA).  For prospective students interested in hearing the SIPA student perspective, the PA is here to provide that insight.  Chances are you will meet one or two or all of them during the admissions process — either in the office, online or on the telephone.

We will post a few Q&A responses from each of them in the next few days so you get to know who is on the other end.  Our wonderful PAs come from different backgrounds and experiences and bring a diverse perspective.  They will also be a great resource on what to do (and not do) as you consider going back to school … since they’ve all been where you are now.

Eric Medina  fall 2014

Eric Medina, MPA 2015 is concentrating in International Security Policy with a focus on the United States (specialization)

What was your previous professional experience?
I spent 10 years in the United States Army. I was assigned to Fort Bragg, NC for the majority of my career. My first international assignment was a combat deployment to Afghanistan with the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne). My last international assignment was as the Military Development Liaison Officer to the United States Embassy in the Philippines.

What kind of work do you want to do when you graduate?
I would like to work in the Intelligence Community as a policy advisor for senior government officials.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?
The best part has been the friends I’ve made. The diversity of the student body never ceases to amaze me. The opinions and perspectives they bring to conversations regarding domestic and international policy is by far something I have not experienced elsewhere.

Do you feel like you have gotten to know some of the faculty members?
Yes, the faculty at SIPA is exceptional. Not only are there brilliant scholars, but also many are still current practitioners in their field. The experience and insights they bring into the classroom is immeasurable.


The Visit

September 10th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

It’s not mandatory to visit our school but it can be helpful in your search when you are trying to identify the right school for you. It also gives the admissions office an opportunity to get to know you as a person, beyond what they see in your application.

Plan your visit ahead of time.  It allows you to schedule your time strategically and plan your travel to and from the school so you can maximize your visit.  Contact the admissions office to make an appointment to meet with a counselor, arrange a class visit so you can observe a class and professor in action, join a campus tour and meet with current students.  You can also schedule an appointment to sit down with other staff and faculty in the department of your academic interest.

Read and research the school and program before you visit.  You’ll want to make the most of your time with the people you meet so ask intelligent questions; don’t waste the time asking questions you can easily find on the school’s website and program brochure.  The website and brochure are designed to answer the most common questions from prospective students, and you’ll make a much stronger first impression if you have done your homework.

If you have time, I would also recommend visiting the Financial Aid Office. You should begin your search for financial aid while you’re researching schools; even if you don’t know if you will apply and attend if admitted.  It’s a good idea to think seriously about how you’ll finance your degree if you do eventually come to SIPA.

At the Financial Aid office, you can ask about scholarships, assistantships, and grants offered through the school, as well as external funding sources (such as student loans and special funding specific to your field of study).  Find out what the eligibility requirements are, whether you need to supplement your application with additional documentation or materials, and what the deadlines are to be considered for school funding.  Keep in mind that external scholarship application deadlines vary so make sure you submit by the specified deadlines.  Start your search for financial aid early and don’t miss opportunities to get funding.

If you have time in your schedule, you should explore the city or town — If you decide on a school (hopefully it’s SIPA), you’ll have to live in that city for two years so it’s important to know if it offers the quality of life you expect and want for yourself (and your family – if you have one coming with you).

Hopefully, during your visit, you’ll get a sense of the school, the culture of the students and faculty, the facilities, and the community.  If you are planning to visit SIPA, let us know or just swing by the office (We’re open: Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm).  See you on campus.

What’s going on at SIPA? Monday, September 8 – Friday, September 12

September 5th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

Classes have begun and we already have a set of events planned at SIPA next week. You can find a full list of events on our website. But here’s a short list of what you could find yourself doing next week:


The Being Young Forum: From Silicon Valley to Zhongguancun: Who Will Be More Innovative, Young People in the U.S. or China? Dean Merit E. Janow of the School of International and Public Affairs and President Debora Spar of Barnard College invite you to participate in a special televised discussion on campus.

Architecture and Diplomacy: Transatlantic Approaches: The presentations and panels of professionals in architecture, history, and government explore the “architecture of diplomacy” across the Atlantic. A reception and an exhibition of Columbia architecture students’ works will follow the event.


Origins of Environmental Law Lecture Series: The Structure and Role of Congress in Environmental Policy

This lecture by Leon G. Billings and Thomas C. Jorling will provide a comprehensive overview of the factors that influence environmental policy and the political climate, such as the structure and personalities of the members and staff of the Senate subcommittee, and the role of lobbyists, administration staff, and the media. It will look specifically at how the media portrayed major environmental legislation and how commentary from figures such as Rachael Carson and Barry Commoner may have influenced Congress in the 1960s and 1970s.

The New Brazil: Achievements and Challenges: A talk about Brazil’s need for more savings and investment, better education, and a reduction in the “Brazil cost” of doing business. This talk is part of the course Political, Social, and Economic Development of Brazil (Instructor Sidney Nakahodo).


Perspectives on Public Integrity: Ben Olken Maximizing Illicit Profits: Understanding How Corrupt Officials Choose How Much to Charge for Bribes: Professor Benjamin Olken of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Jameel Poverty Action Lab will discuss the quantitative methods employed by leading economists to tackle corruption worldwide.


ISIS in Iraq, Syria, and the U.S.: Saltzman Institute members and frequent media contributors Austin Long and Stuart Gottlieb will discuss the growing regional and global threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

A Talk by Ambassador Ian Kelly: A talk by Ambassador Ian Kelly about his experiences dealing with Russia during his foreign service career; he’ll also discuss opportunities at the State Department.

Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien: A discussion about the work of Taiwan’s celebrated filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien in conjunction with the Museum of the Moving Image’s retrospective “Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien.”



September 4th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

The anticipation is over.  The 2015 SIPA MIA/MPA application is now available online.  If you are interested in applying for the 2015-2016 academic year, please create an account and get started.  Select an email address you use regularly and a password that you will remember.

There are two entry points to our 2-year MIA/MPA program — Spring and Fall.  Please select the appropriate term you wish to begin your program of study.  Spring applicants should submit their application by October 15; spring applications are reviewed on a rolling basis which means the earlier you submit your application, the earlier you will hear back from us.

If fall is a more ideal time for you to begin your studies,  you should submit your application and all supporting documents no later than February 5, 2015.  There are two additional (and equally important) application deadlines to take note.  If you like to plan early, we offer, for the first time, an EARLY ACTION option.  If you submit a completed application by November 1, 2014, the Admissions Committee will review and render a decision before the new year.  An early decision is only offered to those who meet the November 1 deadline.  Applications submitted after November 1 will not receive a decision before March 14.  And if you wish to be considered for a SIPA merit scholarship, you must submit your application by January 5, 2015.  Admitted students who are selected to receive a SIPA fellowship will be notified in March of their award.

Looking forward to “meeting” you.

>> 2015 SIPA Application<<


New Student Photo Series #8

August 25th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

Hawa Ansary is an incoming Master of International Affairs student.  She will be concentrating in International Security Policy and plans to specialize on the Middle East.

Hawa Ansary, born and raised in Afghanistan moved to the United States in 2007 for college.  She has not been able to visit Afghanistan but her passion to give back and stay connected remains.   Hawa is currently working for the Embassy of Afghanistan.  As an Afghan woman who missed 5 years of her education under the rule of Taliban she is dedicated to help educate women not only in Afghanistan but around the globe.  Hawa has been working with the Muslim Women’s Association that promotes and provides access for the many unprivileged Muslim women in the U.S. She is also volunteering for Razia Rays of Hope Foundation, a non-profit organization that built and continues to fund the first school for girls in Ansary’s village, Day Saabz, Afghanistan.


Summer 2014:  Hawa Ansary and Former Afghan Ambassador to Bulgaria at a fundraising event showcasing traditional Afghan clothes.

Summer 2014: Hawa Ansary and Former Afghan Ambassador to Bulgaria at a fundraising event showcasing traditional Afghan clothes.



Great Moments at SIPA: 2013 – 2014

August 22nd, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

As we prepare for the start of the fall semester on September 2, check out our reel of video highlights from the past year: Watch now »

If you want to see what’s going on at SIPA, click here for our events calendar » .

And if you can’t be here, we also posts some of our events online.  Watch some of our past events online:  Watch now »


New Student Photo Series #7

August 20th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

We’re only a few days from Orientation.  Students are stopping by the office to “introduce” themselves.  And even though this new class is just starting, we feel like they’ve been around for a while.  We’ve gotten to know them during the admissions process so it’s very exciting to finally see all of them in person.

As we count down to Orientation, we’ll post the rest of the photo contributions from our new students so you may share their adventures before arriving at SIPA.

Our next submission comes from Bartosz Garbaczewski who will be pursuing his Master of International Affairs, concentrating in Energy and Environment and specializing in Advanced Economic and Policy Analysis.


This coming September I will officially join the family of  Columbia University | SIPA – a family of incredibly diverse backgrounds and experiences! I look forward to meeting you all, and sharing personal interests and passions, as well as  professional experiences in and beyond classrooms. 

As we all arrive in NYC and arrange for housing for the upcoming academic year, here are some facts about myself, which I would like to share.  I am originally from Poland where I spent the first twenty years of my life. Since the last nine years I studied, worked and lived in six countries around the globe including Germany, England, China, Canada, the Netherlands, and Qatar. My professional experience is in the energy industry, where I have spent four years working across downstream and upstream businesses in one of the world’s largest oil majors.  

As a keen traveler, I am sharing three photographs, which I took in Qatar, Thailand and most recently in Sri Lanka.

Cheers,  Bartosz


Qatar : "Stopping for a picture with camels in Al-Shahaniya in Qatar in March - a place where every visitor should stop to catch a camel race during the season..."

Qatar : “Stopping for a picture with camels in Al-Shahaniya in Qatar in March – a place where every visitor should stop to catch a camel race during the season…”


Sri Lanka : “Stilt fishermen fishing from their poles in Unawatuna in Sri Lanka presented a view worth capturing with my camera this July”


Thailand : “While visiting Thailand in May I visited Damnoen Floating Market – one of the most famous Thailand’s floating markets.”









New Student Photo Series #6

August 14th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

Max Arvid Anderson will be joining SIPA in two weeks.  He will be among 200+ new students pursuing the Master of International Affairs degree this fall.  Before beginning his studies, Max spent his summer in the Economic and Social Council Chamber at the UN Headquarters in New York.


The silly grin on my face is due to some over-the-top self satisfaction, the fatigue is due to spending the summer working. The picture was taken last month, when the draft resolution on General Assembly Revitalization was adopted by consensus in the Ad Hoc Working Group on GA Revitalization. The GA Revitalization process is a yearly affair (like so many things at the UN), and was formalised after the 2005 World Summit. This year I had the privilege to function as negotiator on behalf of the European Union and its Member States. The other main stake holders are the NAM, certain members of the Security Council and UN Member States who value the GA and the UN reform process. This year proved particularly difficult due to well known political sensitivities when it comes to the selection and appointment of the next UNSG, due to take place in 2016. On a more consensual note, we managed to agree that the Security Council elections for non-permanent members should take place earlier than October; to allow smaller UN Member States to adequately prepare for the two years they spend there.

International Student Funding: some resources for your search

August 8th, 2014 by Maggie Pittman

If you are an international student, you may be faced with some challenges in identifying funding sources available for studying in the US. But each year, approximately half of SIPA’s students are international, and each of them has found their own way to meet the costs associated with furthering their education overseas.

As you are probably aware, SIPA offers a number of scholarships for first year students, and scholarships and assistantships for students in their second year of study. All of these awards are available to international students. All applicants for admission are automatically considered for funding during their first year, and all interested students should apply for second year funding during the application period (typically early in the spring semester). Some international students borrow student loans from private lenders while studying here (loans from the US Government are not available to international students). For more information and a list of lenders that international students at Columbia University have had success with, click here. Please note lenders require international students to have a US citizen or permanent resident as a co-signer.
SIPA’s Financial Aid Office has an extensive database of external funding opportunities; while it is not designed only for international students, it does include many awards available to international students, and that is a criteria by which you can search the database.

We also recommend that students thoroughly investigate all forms of assistance from government or private sources in their own countries. Many international students at SIPA have been supported by their governments, employers or other agencies while studying here. There are also resources available from entities in the United States and elsewhere that may be helpful, and the following websites contain information that may be of use to international students seeking funding (and it’s not too early to start looking now for second year funding opportunities):

New SIPA Student Photo Series #5

August 1st, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

Orientation is in a few weeks so we’re going to share more of the New SIPA Student photos before all the new students arrive on campus and ask what happened to their submission — oops.

Today we have two submissions to share with you.  The first one is from Bartłomiej Walentyński, MPA 2016.  When you meet him call him Bartek.

Each year a student organization, which he was a member during his studies at Warsaw School of Economics, organizes a conference devoted to emerging markets (Emerging Markets Business Conference). This year they hosted this event at the Warsaw Stock Exchange and hosted students from Peru and India. It was great time to discuss many aspects of economic development not only with the students from different countries but also with prominent speakers (CEOs of banks, rating agencies, consultancies etc.).

Warsaw Stock Exchange

Warsaw Stock Exchange


Our second submission comes from Brazil.  Eloy Henrique Saraivade Oliveira, MPA 2016.  He had an opportunity to enjoy the World Cup in his home country and cheer for Brazil!

The below pictures were taken during the semifinals in Belo Horizonte (his home city).  It was a great time to get to meet new people and enjoy the party!

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4

A word about official documents

July 31st, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

We are getting ready to release our 2015 application and some of the wording came into question… What do we mean “don’t mail transcripts to our office” when you are submitting an application?  This does not mean we don’t want to see them or that they are not reviewed by the Admissions Committee.  Actually, contrary to what we say about not sending your transcripts, we actually do need to receive official transcripts. eventually.  If you are admitted and decide to enroll at SIPA, official documents must be mailed and received by us before you may register for classes.

However, as an applicant, you may scan and upload unofficial transcripts to your application.  Your application will be reviewed with your unofficial records.  And you may be admitted with these records.  However, in order to enroll, we will need to verify your documents.  So please have your university or college send us official copies of your academic records (after you have been admitted).  This also applies to GRE, GMAT, TOEFL and IELTS scores.  These can all be entered by you into the application for review but again, they will need to be checked and verified with official records from ETS, GMAC, and the Cambridge Assessment Organization if you decide to enroll at SIPA.  Allowing you to upload and enter information into your application, allows us to process your application without unnecessary delays, then we can send them off to the Admissions Committee for review… so the fun may begin.

We offer enrolling students a few months to request and send in their official documents so no need to panic… Unless you’re a procrastinator and wait until a few weeks before Orientation (when course registration occurs).  Our Office of Student Affairs will put a hold on your account if we do not have a record of your official documents so you will not be able to register for classes… and isn’t one of the main reasons for coming here to take classes?

Key point:  Scan and upload unofficial documents for application review but don’t delay in having official documents sent to the Office of Admissions if you are admitted and plan to enroll.


New SIPA Student Photo Series #4

July 24th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

Our newest photographs submission comes from Adriana Popa, an incoming SIPA student (MIA 2016).

Originally from Romania, Adriana has lived, worked and studied on three continents and graduated with High Honors from Swarthmore College.  Upon graduation, she was awarded a Davis Project for Peace grant in India, where she worked for the summer of 2012. Currently residing in New York City, and working for the Global Institute at KKR, she is buying her time in the “real world” before returning to academia.

Diving the Reef Barrier in Belize

Diving the Reef Barrier in Belize

At the Lamanai Mayan ruins in Belize

At the Lamanai Mayan ruins in Belize

Skydiving over Long Island

Skydiving over Long Island

Flying over Fire Island

Flying over Fire Island

Seeple Snapshot: Dariela Sosa

July 23rd, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

Students__Dariela Sosa

The Journalist: Dariela Sosa

Age: 28
Nationality: Venezuela
Program: MPA 2014


Snow can be seen out the window falling over Manhattan, as Dariela Sosa addresses her tens of thousands of listeners in Caribbean-bathed Venezuela. “Good afternoon my friends we are airing from the City of New York your program ‘Hoy No es Un Día Cualquiera’ (Today is Not an Ordinary Day),” says Sosa before introducing her guest today, Paul Lagunes, a SIPA professor specializing in the study of corruption.

Her one-hour interview show is recorded at her studio on the 14th floor of the International Affairs Building and aired on Radio Caracas Radio, Venezuela’s oldest radio station. She started presenting the show daily in 2011 and producers decided to keep her as their radio host on Fridays from New York, when she moved from Caracas to start her degree at SIPA.

Over the last two years, Sosa has conducted interviews with some leading Latin American academics and politicians as well as with some of her fellow students. She says that the idea of her show is to use Columbia University as a platform for important ideas in the Venezuelan debate. She wishes to work in the field of communication and development after her graduation but would like to continue with her show. “Running the show has allowed me to stay connected to Venezuela and to link what I have learned in the master’s program with the necessities of my country”.

A SIPA Faculty Interview

July 17th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

Eric Verhoogen, an associate professor of international and public affairs and economics, followed a somewhat unorthodox path to SIPA. “After college at Harvard, I was a high-school teacher in Los Angeles, and then tried my hand at journalism in Berkeley and at the Nation. Then I was a labor organizer in Minnesota and Ohio. And then I started grad school at UMass Amherst and later transferred to Berkeley.” After earning his PhD in 2004, he came directly to SIPA, where he received tenure in 2010.

In a study of soccer ball manufacturers in Pakistan, Professors Eric Verhoogen of SIPA and Amit Khandelwal, Gary Winnick and Martin Granoff of Columbia Business School found that how workers are paid, and whether or not incentives are offered, can promote or stifle the adoption of a new technology. Below were some additional information Verhoogen shared about the study and some other things he’s working on.

You found clearly that misaligned incentives can compromise the adoption of otherwise beneficial technology. Why is this significant, and what are the challenges inherent in a study like this?

It’s an interesting, important question for economic development and growth more generally. It’s also a hard question to study because it’s hard to observe technology use by manufacturing firms and rare to have information about the actual cost and benefits of technology.

This is partly because technologies vary a lot across firms, and particularly across sectors. And unlike other types of data, it’s hard to collect via survey—sometimes firms don’t want to share information. Economists have other methods to estimate productivity, but they’re all pretty indirect.

Why soccer balls? I realize it’s just a coincidence that we’re in the middle of the World Cup tournament.

With soccer-ball producers [in Sialkot, Pakistan], you have a pretty large number of firms, 135, producing a standardized product using similar technology. So the same basic production process is used by large and small firms alike. We thought we could introduce a new technology that would be useful to these guys, to producers, and focus on the diffusion process.

As the Columbia News story explains, Verhoogen and his team developed a fabric-cutting die that would enable producers to use fabric more efficiently, creating an opportunity to cut costs and increase profits.

Is it unusual that your team of researchers gave the manufacturers a technological advancement? Does it impact the study somehow?

In development economics, there’s been a broad trend over 15 or 20 years, of having more of these experimental interventions. There’s a large literature on technology adoption in agriculture where researchers share information about improved production processes. What’s more unusual about our study is that we are focusing on larger manufacturing firms and especially that we invented the technology we gave out.

So what happened when you introduced the new technology?

We gave the dies out in May 2012, and to be honest we were expecting very fast adoption. We were planning to focus on the diffusion process, seeing how the technology spread to firms we didn’t give it to.

We had evidence to indicate that the technology was working, that it was more efficient, but after 15 months only six firms had adopted the new technology. This was a puzzlingly low adoption rate, so we decided to write a paper about that.

The number-one reason firms didn’t adopt the new technology was that the employees were unwilling to use it. What became clear was that the cutters actually cutting the material are paid a piece rate per pentagon or hexagon. They want to go as fast as possible and don’t care about waste.

Our new technology slowed them down initially, certainly for the first month or two, and given their wage contract they have no incentive to adopt new technology. So we formulated this hypothesis that the misalignment of incentives was a key constraint to adoption.

We did a second experiment to probe this—we explained the misalignment and said we would pay a lump-sum bonus of one month’s salary, about $150, to the cutter if in one month he could demonstrate competence in the new technology.

The incentive program led to a 26 percent increase in probability of adoption of the new treatment. That such a small incentive targeted at workers could have a significant effect indicated to us that the misalignment of incentives is why the technology wasn’t being adopted.

Can you elaborate on the significance of your findings, and the study?

One piece of the big picture is that you have to have employee buy-in. Workers will only cooperate in the adoption of new technologies if they expect to gain—and if they don’t cooperate, they can effectively block it.

Also, by introducing the innovation we were able to actually observe the process and statistically distinguish between different hypotheses, as opposed to in case studies. This was a particularly clean setting, and we have a strong argument that the new technology is beneficial for essentially all firms.

I think this sort of thing happens all the time in many different settings. We happened to be able to observe it in one setting, but we think there are many incremental changes that could be made in different settings, and make a big difference.

Traditional economists sometimes say there can’t be a $100 bill on the sidewalk because if there were, someone would pick it up. We think this is a $100 bill on the sidewalk, but firms aren’t picking it up.

You’re also the director of SIPA’s Center for Development Economics and Policy. How has CDEP been received since it formally launched in November 2013?

There’s a lot of enthusiasm about development economics at SIPA. There’s been a great response from students and faculty members, and also from people outside SIPA.

We have a couple of initiatives that are gaining momentum. One is a human capital initiative for human education and health issues—what leads someone to acquire education, what factors shape education and health, and what are the consequences of that for a labor market. Another is our firms and innovations initiative, which examines issues around industrial upgrading in developing countries— the question of why some countries can grow and thrive in world economy and some less so.

Another coincidence with the World Cup… you’re also pursuing research in Brazil.

In Brazil, with support from the President’s Global Innovation Fund, I have a project on the interaction between labor market regulation and innovation at the firm level.

The question is, how do firms respond to labor market regulation? Economists tend to think of the effect of labor regulation as uniformly negative, but we’re investigating whether there are less familiar but important positive effects on firm behavior.

For example, the minimum wage in Brazil has risen a lot. The minimum wage affects the relative cost of hiring different types of workers, more low-skill than high-skill. If you give firms incentive to upgrade the composition of their workforce that may in turn induce them to use higher quality inputs, to produce higher quality outputs for sale to richer people in Brazil or richer export markets.

You’ve lived and worked in many different and interesting places. After almost 10 years here, how does SIPA measure up?

I very much like being at SIPA and teaching SIPA students because it keeps me grounded in the world. Our students have experience in the world and they’re planning to go back and be involved in things on the ground—I think it’s healthy and stimulating for me to be exposed to them and to be at a place that respects policy-oriented work. I got into this job to make the world a better place and I haven’t given up hope that that’s possible.

No one likes to talk about it, but it’s important to get accurate tuition information

July 16th, 2014 by Columbia SIPA

SIPA, like most schools at Columbia, has its own Financial Aid Office to assist our students.  However, the office responsible for posting charges on student accounts, billing, collecting payments and issuing refunds, is Student Financial Services (SFS), a centralized office serving the entire University.  SIPA’s Financial Aid Office does not send you your tuition bills, collect payments, or the other procedures mentioned above.

The SFS website can be found at

Some important information related to your bill and your student account:

  • SFS will send an email to your Columbia email address (your UNI) on or about August 11 with a link to a preliminary bill, which must be paid in full by September 12.  You can see the billing schedule at
  • Accounts not paid in full by the due date are subject to late fees, which are assessed monthly.
  • Interest-free monthly payment plans are available (see
  • Financial aid that has been fully processed is credited to your account.  Please respond to all requests for documentation from the Financial Aid Office promptly, as failure to do so will prevent your aid from being credited to your account.
  • The state of New York requires all full-time students to have health insurance.  Your bill will include a charge for health insurance, which can be waived if you have equivalent coverage.  For more information, visit
  • If your aid in any semester exceeds your tuition and fees, you will receive a refund of that credit balance approximately one to two weeks into the semester.  Please plan your non-tuition expenses (rent, food, transportation, etc) accordingly.
  • You can receive refunds payments for which you qualify by direct deposit (recommended, otherwise you’ll receive them by a hard copy check through the mail); go to Student Services Online (SSOL) at to set this up.
  • SFS accepts electronic checks for payment via SSOL, but does not accept credit cards.
  • If your bill is being paid by a sponsor or third party, please see for important instructions.
  • See SFS’s website for mailing addresses if you are paying by mail.
  • Remember that the federal government deducts fees from loan disbursements, 1.073% for the Direct Unsubsidized Loan, and 4.292% on the Graduate PLUS loan.