Tenzin Dawa Thargay is a first-generation Tibetan American from Boston, Massachusetts and second-year student in the Master of International Affairs program. He is concentrating in Energy and Environment with double specialization in East Asia & U.S. and a Weatherhead East Asian Institute Certificate in Chinese Studies.
Before SIPA, Tenzin researched intersections of protest and energy as a Fulbright Scholar in Seoul, South Korea. He is a University of Massachusetts Amherst ‘18 graduate, earning dual degrees in political science and Chinese; he was also the undergraduate commencement student speaker. As a U.S. Department of State Rangel Fellow, Tenzin will enter the U.S. Foreign Service to serve as a Foreign Service Officer after graduation.
What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?
The best part of my SIPA experience has been meeting amazing students from all across the world. SIPA’s student body is at least half international. As a policy school of international and public affairs, interacting with classmates from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds has really expanded my understanding of what life will be like working in international affairs and the importance of learning from others. Similarly, domestic students such as myself also have an opportunity to serve as cultural liaisons to our international colleagues about the diversity of the American experience.
Do you feel like you have gotten to know some of the faculty members?
Yes I have! While SIPA is a large policy school, it’s certainly possible to know professors well. You just have to make the effort to reach out and schedule office hours. While it may seem scary or not the norm from where you come from, reaching out to professors is highly encouraged. Concentration programs will often host events for students to meet their faculty. Through reaching out to faculty inside and outside Columbia, I’ve been able to get a research position with the Center for Global Energy Policy.
Have you taken classes at other Columbia Schools?
Yes! As of this fall, I’ll have taken 7 classes outside of SIPA. I’ve enjoyed taking classes in the Law School, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and School of Professional Studies to satisfy requirements for my EE concentration and Weatherhead East Asia Institute Chinese Studies Certificate.
One of the biggest draws to attending Columbia was pursuing an interdisciplinary education by cross-registering with other programs to fulfil my degree requirements. It’s been a great way to meet students from other programs, challenge myself intellectually, and explore other parts of the university. Most of my courses outside of SIPA have been Mandarin language and East Asian area studies courses. Just make sure to watch out for cross enrollment dates so you can get into the classes.
Can you comment specifically on some exciting things about your concentration?
Energy and Environment (commonly referred to as “EE” in SIPA; we love acronyms!) has over 90 advanced EE courses to take within SIPA and the University. One of the most special opportunities is the EE Practicum. The EE Practicum is essentially a research-based team capstone project that allows EE students to design a research project on an EE issue, find a client, assemble a team, a find faculty mentors.
My team of 3 first-year MPA students and one Sustainability Management Master’s student partnered with Mercy Corps to look at scalability of solar panels for refugees in Uganda’s Bidibidi Settlement. This was a rewarding professional and personal experience as it gave me management skills, a taste of what consulting is like, and how to think like a policy maker to craft solutions to pressing EE issues. The Practicum also provides up to $5000 in funding (varies per year) and we got an additional $2000 from the Earth Institute to travel to Bidibdi for a site visit over spring break. However, that was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID-19. The Practicum also counted as an EE elective course so I was able to get course credit. My Practicum experience was a great preparation for the second-year capstones and I feel like I will have had two capstone experiences thanks to the Practicum.
What are your goals for the second year?
I’m spending my fall at home taking courses remotely. Though this isn’t the way I would have imagined things, some of my personal goals are: to stay on top of all my online courses, stay in touch with my friends and faculty as much as possible, exercise to take care of my mental and physical health, and enjoy time with my family. Academically, I’m really excited to build on my first year knowledge base. I’m taking excited electives inside and outside of SIPA to deepen my understanding of energy, the environment, and China.
What advice do you have for current applicants?
My best advice to current applicants would be to map out your life experiences. Applicants haven’t often had to write reflective personal statements in a long time, so doing this introspective exercise could be helpful when planning your essay. Putting everything down on paper lets you clearly see your experiences and understand your path/ story. This will help plan why you want to come to SIPA, how you are a good fit for SIPA and why SIPA is a good fit for you, and where a SIPA education will take you next.
I’d also suggest applicants stay very organized through the process and stay on top of deadlines. Making a folder on your computer for all parts of your application will make the process more manageable. Finally, make sure you have a supportive team to help you stay on track. Life is busy. But if you have a friend, mentor, family member, etc, help you meet your personal deadlines, you can make it to the finish line.