Author Archive for Diane Nguyen

Do you even lift?

Hi everyone, I’m Diane – a member of the Admissions team here at SIPA (and the in-house certified personal trainer 💪) . I’d like to introduce a few resources about adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, wellness and self-care as a Columbia University student. With the academic rigor of the MIA/MPA programs, internships, extracurricular events, or even family obligations, it can be overwhelming at times to try to balance these various commitments. What students may not realize or tend to forget is that a healthy lifestyle is valuable in managing your stress, boosting productivity, and setting you up for success in your academic goals.

A great resource to start with is Columbia Health – here you’ll find information about the benefits of physical activity and tips/advice on how to incorporate this into your everyday life. This can range from walking, cycling, yoga, weightlifting, etc. My advice is to start with a measured, attainable goal in a specific timeframe. For instance, establishing a goal of walking 10,000 steps per day within two weeks is attainable; you can start out with taking 1,000 steps the first day and gradually increasing this number day-by-day. If you want to implement resistance training – you can begin with two full-body workouts in the first week, then increase to 3 workouts the next. These small steps will allow you adhere to an active lifestyle much easier.

Within Columbia Health, there are a couple of programs that explore wellness and self-care from a holistic approach. The Alice! Health Promotion program houses health promotion initiatives and services like women’s health, stress coping, sleep assessments, men’s health, alcohol awareness, etc. The Gay Health Advocacy Project is another program that is committed to LGBT students and provides services and resources to students from all identities and orientations such as STI testing, peer counseling, birth control education, hormone therapy, and much more.

The main gym on campus is Dodge Fitness Center, which is a tri-level center that boasts two weightlifting areas, two cardio areas, an indoor track, aerobic rooms, basketball court, squash courts, and swimming pool. In order to access the gym, you’ll need to purchase a membership which isn’t included in your tuition and fees. Note: It’s better to purchase a package for the entire academic year because it’s more cost-effective. As a CU employee, my membership came out to be approximately $30 per month for the fall and spring semesters; it’s less expensive as a student. The prices for the academic year will be made available later this summer.

For those who enjoy lifting, the strength training areas, primarily found on the second floor and make up a portion of the ground floor next to the basketball court, are decked out. There’s your standard dumbbell equipment, cable machines, bench press, squat racks, as well as Olympic lifting platforms with bumper plates. It can get crowded, starting from 5 PM onwards, but if you have time in the mornings or during the day, you’ll find what you need to get your lift on.

The cardio areas are robust and can be found on the top level and part of the ground floor. There’s plenty of treadmills, elliptical machines, spin bikes in addition to a couple of Stairmasters and rowing machines. Cardio machines are readily more available but during evening peak times (5 PM and later), you can reserve your spot for a machine 30 minutes in advance. Guests are limited to 30 minutes of usage. The basketball court is usually open except for university events and intramural sports.

I highly encourage you to visit the Health office and website to explore your options. Establishing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a full-time, graduate student will really make a difference in how you handle different situations, balance competing priorities, and take care of your body physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Meeting Africa’s funding gap to meet the SDGs and how an MDP student is part of this ambitious objective

Africa faces an annual funding gap of $1.3 trillion if it is to meet the SDGs by 2030. MPA-DP student Ji Qi traveled to Kigali, Rwanda, as part of the program’s summer placement, to work at The Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa and look at how development banks can improve their performance against international best practices and benchmarks to contribute to the achievement of the #SDGs in the continent. In his own words “I’m really glad to be part of this ambitious continent-wide initiative which can help turn the development banks into the true driving force behind Africa’s sustainable development.”


Program Assistant Introduction: Kier Joy

Kier Joy, 2nd year EPD student

Our next program assistant introduction highlights one who has previously been featured before on the blog – Kier Joy!

Kier Joy is a second-year student at SIPA studying Urban Social Policy and International Conflict Resolution. He was raised a military brat, having lived all over the U.S. and in the UK. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 2017 with a dual degree in International Affairs and Political Science. During undergrad, Kier worked as the director of a state-level legislative research fellowship, applying his passion for policy and progressiveness to legislative issues. Also in undergrad, he studied abroad at the University College London and spent a summer in Washington D.C. as a Rangel Scholar. Kier is also a 2017 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship recipient under the United States Department of State. Through this position, he has spent a summer working as a foreign policy fellow on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee and spent a summer interning in the political section at the US Embassy in Mexico City. Upon graduating from SIPA, Kier will join the Foreign Service as a Political Foreign Service Officer. He hopes to have a life-long career in the Foreign Service and become a U.S. ambassador to a post-conflict country. In his free time, Kier likes to listen to music, attend concerts and music festivals, and explore new restaurants in the city.

Favorite City: London, England
A Tip for Prospective Students: Manage your time well before you fall behind in your studies.
Five-Year Goals After Graduating SIPA: Visit 30 countries by 30.
Fun Fact: Beyoncé once kicked water in my face at her concert.


[Photo courtesy of Kier Joy]

Program Assistant Introduction: Niara Valerio

Niara Valerio, 2nd year MPA - IFEP & GPP student

Niara Valerio, 2nd year MPA – IFEP & GPP student

Class has officially started for the 2018-2019 academic year! With this semester, we have a brand new group of program assistants who will be assisting the SIPA Office of Admissions. We’ll be featuring our new PA’s over the next couple of weeks. For today’s post, let’s give a warm welcome to Niara Valerio!

Niara is a current graduate student at Columbia University studying International Finance and Economic Policy with a specialization in Gender and Public Policy. Niara grew up in New York City and completed her undergraduate degree at Harvard University where she studied Economics and Government. Prior to enrolling at SIPA, Niara worked as an Investment Intern at Women’s World Banking Capital Partners and served as Economic Affairs Adviser to the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union. Niara has a strong interest in women’s economic empowerment and hopes to work for either a venture capital or private equity fund after graduation. She recently started her own ed-tech company, Purpose Tutors, which provides test prep and mentorship to underserved students in the South Bronx. Her hope is to gain the experience to one day start her own fund to invest in female and minority led companies.

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?

I was working as an Economic Affairs Advisor at the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union to the United Nations.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

I wanted to come to SIPA because I was attracted to all the different course offerings and how international the school is. I was especially interested in the Gender and Public Policy Specialization. My focus is on Women’s Economic Empowerment and I wanted to attend a school that allowed me to pursue my interests in both finance and gender.

Have you taken classes at other Columbia Schools?

Yes, I’ve taken several courses outside of SIPA, I took a class at the Mailman School of Public Health “Public Health and Abortion Policy” and one at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS), “Gender, Sexuality and Labor in the Caribbean.” I really valued the opportunity to get to know other students and professors within the Columbia community and outside of SIPA.

Did you choose to attend SIPA to change careers, or to gain experience in a career path you already had experience in?

A little bit of both, I already had some exposure to finance and economics prior to attending SIPA but I wanted to get more experience in Gender and Public Policy. I think SIPA is a great place to blend different interest areas because the course offerings are so diverse. You can really tailor your coursework to suit your own interests.

How did you obtain your internship?

My internship last year was with Accion EAST in their SBA Lending division, I actually applied via SIPA Link and heard back pretty quickly, I was offered the position on the spot, but I think I was very lucky in that regard, that doesn’t usually happen.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?

The people I’ve met for sure! I think SIPA attracts a really dynamic, interesting group of people with unique perspectives; you have the opportunity to be exposed to so many different cultures and backgrounds. I definitely appreciate how much I’ve learned from my classmates.

[Photo courtesy of Niara Valerio]

A View From the Class: Shanna Crumley and Muhammad Alaa Ghanem

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share another installment of A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and SIPA faculty. In this issue, we feature current SIPA students, Shanna Crumley MIA ’18 and Mohammed Alaa Ghanem MIA ’19.

Shanna Crumley, MIA '18.Shanna is a second year Master of International Affairs candidate, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy with a specialization in Management.

Shanna is SIPA’s inaugural James Mead Stephenson Memorial Fellow. The James Mead Stephenson Memorial Fellowship was created by family and friends of the late James Stephenson MIA ’07 to support outstanding SIPA students who are returned Peace Corps Volunteers and exemplify James’s commitment to international development and humanitarian aid. ​

What brought you to SIPA?

As an undergraduate, I focused on developing language skills and gaining international experience through study abroad and internship programs. After graduating, I spent a year interning at the U.S. State Department’s refugee bureau and then at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. In 2013, I moved to Barranquilla, Colombia, to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years, where I focused on education and girls’ empowerment.  I ultimately chose SIPA because it has an unparalleled network of world leaders and thinkers and the name carries a legacy of smart, capable, and well-connected alumni.

Can you describe a little about your Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant project?

I feel so honored to be a semi-finalist in the Dean’s Challenge along with my classmate and co-founder, Gemma Torras Vives. We believe that education is key in creating a more equitable world, especially in a world twisted by conflict and displacement. Our enterprise, A4ED, aims to make learning and livelihood accessible for refugees and vulnerable populations regardless of their status or country of origin. We’re using blockchain technology to help learners document their progress and credentials so that they don’t fall behind as a lost generation.

We just returned from two weeks in Jordan, where we conducted stakeholder interviews, built a network of partners, and immersed ourselves in learning as much as possible about aid and development response to refugees in the region. It was so gratifying to know that we were in the Middle East because the Dean’s Challenge judges believe in our hard work and our vision to prevent a lost generation of Syrian refugee learners and at-risk youth.

Are there particular SIPA experiences that stand out? 

There are incredible professors here who will go above and beyond to invest in your learning and your future. Sarah Holloway’s mentorship has been so meaningful as I’ve developed a passion for social entrepreneurship and put that learning into A4ED.

Another important experience was being chosen as the inaugural recipient of the James Mead Stephenson Memorial Fellowship. James was an incredible alumnus who was passionate about human rights and service, and I am honored to be the first student to carry on his legacy at SIPA and beyond. When I read about James’s life and work, it led me to reflect on my own passion to live as fully and commit to improving the world with dignity like he did.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I look forward to applying what I’ve learned about management and innovation to my passion for humanitarian affairs and development. I will be looking for opportunities to do this at the UN, in development consulting, or in social enterprise. Gemma and I plan to move forward with our social enterprise, A4ED, and I’m excited to see where this year takes us as we develop our idea and prototype the blockchain technology in Jordan.

Mohammed Alaa Ghanem MIA '19A first year Master of International Affairs candidate, Mohammed is concentrating in International Security Policy with a specialization in International Organizations.

Mohammed is SIPA’s SJS Charitable Trust Fellow. The recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, he holds a Master of Arts in Conflict Transformation from the Center of Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University and a postgraduate degree and a bachelor’s degree from Damascus University. He is also an Atlantic Council Millennium Fellow. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News Opinion, Foreign Policy, Politico, The Hill, The New York Post, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, The Washington Examiner, Syria Deeply, and the Atlantic Council’s MENASource and FutureNATO blogs.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

I was Government Relations Director and Senior Political Adviser for the Syrian American Council in Washington D.C., where my portfolio included a wide array of responsibilities ranging from briefing senior U.S. officials and law-makers on Syria to monitoring elections in Aleppo. When the Arab Spring began, I drew on my conflict studies to advise leading Syrian pro-democracy activists on nonviolent resistance strategies, and I quickly found myself dedicating the bulk of my time to helping communities on the ground.

Why did you choose to attend SIPA?

SIPA is part of my journey towards earning a PhD. As an Assistant Professor at the University of Damascus, my professional life was never confined to lecture halls; I am an academic-practitioner. SIPA has a vast menu of options to choose from, and once here, one can also branch out and take courses at other schools. I’m hoping that my time here will not only bring me into contact with formidable Ivy League academics but with practitioners who have grappled with real-life issues around the world as well.

I also came to SIPA to take a step back and reflect on everything I have done over the past seven years before charging ahead again. SIPA will help my interest in examining multilateral affairs and international organizations at the seat of the United Nations in New York, similar to how I learned the ins and outs of policy and politics in Washington, D.C. Also, some of my favorite academics like Will Durant and Edward Said went or taught here, so Columbia is hallowed ground for me, and I remind myself of this great honor every single morning.

What has been your experience at SIPA so far?

Columbia has a lot to offer so you have to quickly figure out your priorities and firmly stick to them. We have received tremendous assistance from our Peer Advisors, who were a great help as I learned my way around SIPA. I should also note that the Admissions Office’s professionalism and unfailing courtesy have far exceeded my expectations. I also greatly enjoyed Professor Richard Betts’s War, Peace, and Strategy course.

I am really looking forward to taking international relations courses with Professors Jack Snyder and Robert Jervis, two stellar academics who I feel quite privileged to have access to as a Columbia student.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I might take a sabbatical for a year to do some fieldwork but the plan is to press ahead until I have earned a PhD. Being a Syrian, though, nothing is certain. Duty might call again anytime, and the needs of my fellow Syrians come first.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Yes, take time to meet and get to know your fellow Seeples. You will meet some of the most amazing people here. Learning about your colleagues and their unique journeys is an education in and of itself. Good fellowship will also help you carry through and meet your academic obligations.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

Boiler Image