Author Archive for Zulpha Styer

Schooling myself at SIPA

Every Wednesday during the semester, I would make the four-block stroll from SIPA to PS 36 Margaret Douglas, a primary school in Morningside Heights. If the children were in the playground, I could hear their unbridled laughter and shouts from almost a block away, and it would always make me smile. My 45-minute sessions with my mentee, who was in kindergarten in my first year and then Year One in my second year, quickly became the highlight of my week and my time in New York City. 

I first learned of the opportunity to volunteer in my first weeks at SIPA, through a standard university-wide email asking for students to sign up. I was excited by the chance to continue benefiting from volunteering and start building connections to my new local community. Read Ahead had a vision I was keen to contribute to: ‘students have the opportunity to unlock their full potential through mentoring relationships based on a love of reading.’

Columbia University has partnered with Read Ahead for almost 22 years and has two schools in the area specifically set up to better accommodate the university calendar. The partnership makes volunteering as a university student easier because the Read Ahead Coordinators are familiar with semester breaks and you get to see friends who are also mentoring and meet new ones. Once I was accepted into the program, there was a tailored volunteer training at Columbia before I first wandered into the brightly decorated corridors of PS 36 to meet the child I’d been paired with.

At first, she was very shy and I would get only monosyllabic answers to any questions. So I spent the first few weeks reading different books and seeing if anything piqued her interest. We eventually found a book that she became obsessed with, and at last count, we had read it together at least 50 times (sometimes multiple times a week) and she had memorized most of the words to ‘Clay Mates’ by Dev Petty. Every week we read, drew, colored and played games together. I was often the victim of a very unfair game of Uno or Headbandz but she repaid my silent suffering a thousand times over with great portraits and artwork, like the two pictured in this blog.

I also enjoyed being able to visit a school and see the US education system up-close. My mother is a teacher and principal, and I worked in education funding before coming to SIPA, so I’ve always felt connected to schools even after leaving school myself. It was my first experience with US school cafeteria food because we met during lunch so the children ate, and that’s how I first saw chicken and waffles (with maple syrup!). 

As an Australian and South African, my accent leans more towards British-Commonwealth English with distinctly round vowels so I often have to “correct” my pronunciation of words, like “fast” or “park” so that my mentee doesn’t accidentally adopt my strange hybrid accent too. If I forgot to change my pronunciation or word choice, sometimes she would just stare at me blankly, as if I were indeed speaking a foreign language. 

With schools closed, the program is temporarily suspended while the world adjusts to COVID-19. I was delighted to receive an email from the Read Ahead staff this week inviting me to send my mentee a written message along with photos and a video message. So I sent her the YouTube read-aloud version of Clay Mates (watching it made me very nostalgic) and introduced her to my cats, hoping she won’t be too mad at me for not visiting her for so many weeks already.

I wish I could have spent more time as a Read Ahead Mentor, perhaps just long enough for us to read all of the Harry Potter books together. And though we’re now 9,951 miles away from each other, I hope our love of reading will continue.

SIPA in London: The 2020 Global Public Policy Network Conference

Pictured: SIPA Delegation to the conference with Dean Merit Janow and Dean Cory Way.

On Saturday February 29, the London School of Economics (LSE) School of Public Policy hosted the Annual Global Public Policy Network Conference for 2020, which was focused on Global Innovative Public Policy Solutions.

SDG Fellows and Deans, from L-R: Alexon Grochowski, Dean Cory Way, Emily Boytinck, Devina Srivastava, Dean Merit Janow, Zulpha Styer, and Dan Poniachik. Absent: Vera Yang. Photo Credit: LSE Public Policy School

SIPA is a proud founding member of the Global Public Policy Network, which represents seven of the most prestigious public policy schools across the globe. The network includes LSE, the School of Public Affairs at Sciences Po, the Hertie School in Berlin, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Tokyo, and the Fundção Getulio Vargas (FGV) at the Escola de Administração de Empresas​ in São Paulo.

​The annual conference has been a highlight of the network since it was founded in 2005, and presents a unique opportunity for students and deans to consider contemporary issues of global public policy and network with colleagues. SIPA students really enjoy meeting colleagues from the other schools and sharing their passion for tackling wicked problems.

I attended the conference as a Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Fellow to present a project developed with five of my  SIPAcolleagues over the past year. We were part of a cohort of students from SIPA, Sciences Po, Hertie and Lee Kuan Yew who benefitted from a year-long program that included SDG leadership modules in Paris in January 2019, New York City in May 2019, and the opportunity to present in London in 2020. The SIPA team project was ‘StandUp’, a bystander intervention training program for South African boys that seeks to reduce rape and gender-based violence.

SIPA Students Kim Loan and Khanh Vu present on their project to improve mental health resources in Vietnam. Photo Credit: LSE Public Policy School

We were accompanied by SIPA teams who had been selected to compete in the GPPN Competition. The teams selected to attend had the opportunity to present their projects to the Deans of these prestigious schools of public affairs. It was wonderful to hear the range of issues that GPPN students were working on – from improving the social reintegration of recovering drug addicts in São Paulo, wealth redistribution through investment bonds in Italy, and birth assistance tools for isolated communities in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Just like SIPA students, GPPN students have fascinating backgrounds and perspectives and bring their passion to the projects they’ve been working on.

Conference attendees were also lucky enough to have a skills training session from Dr Barbara Fasolo on Deciding in a Risky World. Dr Fasolo is an Associate Professor of Behavioural Science at LSE, and also heads up their Behavioural Research Lab. Her workshop was timely and relevant because she used the COVID-19 pandemic as a case study for how individuals make decisions, particularly when assessing risks.

Another benefit of attending SIPA is that as a GPPN member school we also offer our students access to international dual degrees programs, to pursue interest for public policy in different university and national settings. Students like Theotis Sharpe MPA ’20 benefit from experiencing SIPA and NYC, and the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.

You’re invited to visit a SIPA class

We welcome you to experience being a student at SIPA with a class visit. Until late April 2020, you have the opportunity to meet SIPA faculty and current students in their natural habitat – the classroom. 

If you’re in NYC or planning a visit, please register for a class at least one week before. Prospective students may attend a maximum of one class by two different professors (two classes total) so choose wisely. You can use the Course Curricula to find out more about each class and you can use the SIPA Faculty Directory to learn more about the professors. 

Here’s a list of classes I recommend but you should look through the calendar and see what interests you most.

The Core: Economics and Budgeting

If you’re interested in finding out more about the core economics curriculum or you’re a potential International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) student, Professor Andrea Bubula teaches Macroeconomic Analysis for International & Public Affairs Monday through Thursday morning. This class is one of the two macroeconomics courses that are part of SIPA’s core curriculum (this class has more calculus). Professor Bubula is an exceptional teacher and he also serves as the IFEP Concentration Executive Director.

You can join me and Professor John Liu in Budgeting and Financial Management for Government on Thursday afternoons. This is one of the options to complete the management/financial management curriculum (requirements are different for MIA and MPA candidates). Professor Liu is a New York State Senator and previously served as the Comptroller of the City of New York from 2010-2013. This is a great class to discuss the politics of government spending, and to hone your Microsoft Excel skills to analyze budgetary data.

Concentration: Urban and Social Policy (USP)

I spend my Wednesday evenings studying Urban Social Policy with Professor Yumiko Shimabukuro, who is my favorite professor at SIPA. As a student of social policy, I took her Comparative Social Welfare Policy class in my first semester and she made an indelible impression on me. In this class, we’re learning about social issues in urban settings like educational inequality, child abuse, and other obstacles to greater inclusion.

Professor Christina Greer is at SIPA on Thursdays to lead students in examining Race Policy & American Politics. This class is a highlight of my time at SIPA and helped me to better understand American history, politics, and society. Professor Greer has phenomenal political nous and I learned so much from her, particularly in our class discussions of current events.

Specialization: Technology, Media and Communications (TMaC)

On Tuesdays, you can learn the Art of Creating Social Impact Campaigns from Professor Stephen Friedman. Professor Friedman is an Emmy-award winning creator of social impact campaigns and was the President of MTV for seven years. He is incredibly generous with his time and insights, and in 2018 a student campaign on maternal mortality developed in this class was picked up by MTV.

Specialization: US Regional

The US Role In World Affairs with Professor Stephen R Sestanovich is the second installment of the International Fellows Program (IFP) curriculum. Professor Sestanovich is the IFP director and has had an impressive career, including as an ambassador-at-large. He is the George F. Kennan Senior Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy. He also teaches Contemporary Diplomacy on Thursdays.

While you’re on Columbia’s campus, you might enjoy the Guided Historic tour to learn more about the history, architecture, and sculpture of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus. There’s also a self-guided walking tour and, for those who can’t make it onto campus, there’s also the option of a virtual tour.

You are always welcome to drop by the office, Monday- Friday, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM (excluding holidays) and you don’t need an appointment. We would be happy to share more information with you about SIPA and you can speak to one of the current students, like me, who are working as Program Assistants this year. Directions and travel information may be found on the SIPA page. You can always call our office or email us should you have questions before your arrival on campus.

Program Assistant Introduction: Zulpha Styer MPA ’20

Zulpha is a Master of Public Administration student (SIPA Class of 2020) with a concentration in Urban and Social Policy and specializations in Management; Technology, Media & Communications; and the U.S. Region. Before SIPA, she worked as a senior policy advisor to the Australian Government and then the New South Wales State Government across a broad range of policy areas. Her undergraduate studies were in Law, Development Studies, and Politics and International Relations, and she has a Master of Laws.

Can you talk about your Capstone experience?

In Spring 2019, I was a member of the joint SIPA-Columbia Law School team working on an implementation plan for Peru’s Mining Vision 2020. Our advisor was Professor Jenik Radon, who has a depth of experience and knowledge of natural resource management. Our fieldwork happened during spring break, and we conducted meetings and interviews with stakeholders in Lima, San Marcos, Huarmay, and Arequipa. It was the first time I had traveled to Latin America and I really enjoyed the dynamism and hospitality of Peru. I also visited Cusco and Machu Picchu with my teammates after our fieldwork was done. It was a memorable and unique experience that helped me grow professionally and personally.

What’s your internship experience been like?

My summer internship was the fieldwork component of the Applied Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution course with Professor Zachary Metz, one of my favorite classes at SIPA. I spent my summer break with Internews at their Regional Headquarters for Asia in Bangkok. Internews is an international non-profit organization that supports local communities to produce and disseminate trustworthy news and information. My specific role was focused on projects on peaceful pluralism, religious freedom, and violent extremism in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Internews’ work in the Asian region spans from Afghanistan to Vanuatu, and it was fascinating to learn so much about the challenges and opportunities facing the region. It was also my first time in Bangkok, which was a great opportunity to experience Thai culture and learn how to prepare for monsoonal downpours while wearing office-appropriate attire.

Have you taken classes at other Columbia Schools?

In Fall 2019, I took an amazing Columbia Law School class taught by Professor Lee Gelernt, who is the Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. The class was called ‘Post-9/11, the Trump Administration and the Rights of Non-Citizens’ and it developed my understanding of the U.S. approach to immigration and national security. Professor Gelernt was very generous in sharing his insights, including his experience of being on the frontlines of challenging the separation of families at the Southern border. During our semester with him, he was interviewed by Hasan Minhaj on The Patriot Act for the episode on seeking asylum!

Do you feel like you have gotten to know some of the faculty members?

Yes, I was initially very surprised by how approachable and helpful my SIPA professors were. In my previous studies, I had only gone to office hours if I needed guidance on course material but the SIPA faculty are so generous with their time and advice that you can speak with them about your career aspirations, professional development, their experiences, and their best tips on what to do in NYC. I have formed valuable relationships with professors in the Urban and Social Policy concentration, and being a teaching assistant helps you build connections too.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? How did you perform in those classes?

I had very limited quantitative experience before coming to SIPA so the quantitative aspects of the application and the core class were very nerve-racking for me! I had dropped all mathematics for my final year of high school because I thought I would never need it for my future career in law and policy.

As someone who came to SIPA terrified by the prospect of having to do anything vaguely quantitative, I was able to build new skill sets and gain comfort with quantitative analysis with exceptional support from wonderful professors and teaching assistants. In the end, not only did I survive the quantitative core classes, but I took the more calculus-heavy macroeconomics course and I voluntarily enrolled in two advanced data analysis classes. This semester I am taking Data Analysis for Policy Research and Program Evaluation (affectionately known as Quant III) with Professor Harold Stolper. Studying with Professor Stolper, whose work was instrumental in the Fair Fares campaign, allows me to understand the real-world value of being able to work with datasets and how that can make a meaningful contribution to policy debates.

Photo: Hiking in Battir, Palestine, over the winter break with Palestine Trek. Photo credit: Meron Hailu MPA ’20.

"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

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