Archive for Fall2016

Classes, a UN assistantship all in a semester’s work for Ashleigh Montgomery, MIA ’17

There are so many amazing opportunities for assistantships, internships, or other extra-curricular activities at SIPA. Many students will be elected to leadership positions with the various student-run groups at SIPA, work as Teaching Assistants, Program Assistants, or Departmental Research Assistants, or even have an internship during the semester. The classes at SIPA are often time-consuming, requiring a lot of work outside of class time to complete assignments, making it difficult to balance classwork with other responsibilities. It is not an easy task to manage both, so we thought it would be useful to get a student’s perspective on how to effectively manage your time if you choose to work in any capacity during the semester. Today we will highlight one of the many SIPA superstars that somehow find time to do it all.

Ashleigh Montgomery is pursuing her Master of International Affairs degree at SIPA with a concentration in Human Rights and a specialization in Gender and Public Policy. During her first year at SIPA, Ashleigh worked as the Program Assistant for SIPA’s Day at the UN initiative under Professor Lindenmayer, who served as the Assistant Secretary-General to Kofi Annan. She is the Community Outreach Officer for the Human Rights Working Group and is a Board Member for the Women in Peace and Security Working Group. This past summer, Ashleigh spent 10 weeks as a Women, Peace, and Security intern with UN Women in Timor-Leste, where she worked on the National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security. As a grantee for the Women’s International Leadership program at International House, she led a team that created a video, an exhibition, and a book that explores feminism in different cultural contexts. She was also awarded a Davis Projects for Peace grant to supervise Peacebuilding Workshops in Burundi this past summer, where she worked with local partner organizations to remotely project manage the workshops throughout Burundi. She has served as a volunteer for the non-profit Burundi Friends International (BFI) since 2014, and co-founded Women Vision Association, an organization working on women’s empowerment and English learning projects in Burundi. Before coming to SIPA Ashleigh worked at a group home for abused children, then served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana, where she taught life skills at the local primary school.

Ever busy, here’s how she says she manages it all.

This interview was lightly edited for brevity and/or clarity.

Where did you work and what were your responsibilities?
I was the Program Assistant for SIPA’s Day at the UN initiative, working under Professor Lindenmayer. Many students apply for the initiative and after review and selection of applications with Professor Lindenmayer, students are placed in one of their top three choices of UN departments. Students then shadow this department for 1-3 days, gaining an inside look at what it means to work at the UN. I coordinated each student’s visit, liaising among myself, Professor Lindenmayer, UN staff members, and the students. I then gathered all necessary follow-up documentation for each student’s visit. The initiative culminated in a panel I helped organize, in which the UN hosts and SIPA students shared their experiences with each other and with the initiative.

Why did you decide to take on extra work during the semester?
I wanted to work on something I believed in and was excited about. While I love learning (like nerdy sitting in the front of the classroom love), I am inspired by application outside of a classroom setting, which working on this initiative allowed me to do. One of the reasons I chose SIPA was because of its access to opportunities and proximity to the UN, and I really wanted to take advantage of this right from the start. Working on this initiative allowed me to build relationships with UN staff, and to connect other students with the UN.

What were the challenges you faced working during the semester?
For me, the workload was erratic. One week two UN departments would want to schedule student visits and the next week eight departments would. So my hours were never set and the time commitment was constantly in flux. As the visits were arranged around dates that worked for both the UN departments and the students, this was something that was out of my control. Of course, midterms, papers, and finals don’t shift just because you can’t anticipate your weekly workload, so the lack of control over my shifting hours was a challenge. Another challenge was that given the nature of UN work, there were many times when I went through the entire process of scheduling a student’s visit, only to have the UN staff go on mission or be called into an international meeting right before, thus forcing me to reschedule the visit. This happened several times, and there was one student who this kept happening to over and over!

How did you overcome them?
In many ways the lack of control over my schedule was just something I had to learn to deal with, as it wasn’t something I could change. Setting a schedule for myself in terms of what tasks needed to be done on which days of the week allowed me to create consistency and routine, which gave me a plan to stick to even when visits were shifted around last minute.

What was the most rewarding part of working during the semester?
One of the commitments asked of students participating in this initiative was to submit an account of their visit. Through these accounts and by speaking with students, I learned that some were offered internships and other possibilities because of the initiative. It was rewarding to read about their excitement about the various experiences they had (getting to sit in blue chairs in the Security Council, spending time on the 38th floor, where the Secretary-General’s office is, attending closed meetings they otherwise wouldn’t have attended, etc.) and to see what was demystified about working for the UN. Some students had dreams of working for the UN since childhood, so it was great to play a small role in them building relationships with UN staff.

How did you juggle classwork and the assistantship?
This might sound counter-intuitive, but I manage time better when I am involved in projects outside of just classwork. If I have ten hours to work on assignments, study, etc., chances are I will waste at least six of those hours and be productive for four (possibly even less). However, if I only have a two-hour gap in my day, I will be productive for the entire two hours, largely because if I waste the only time I have I won’t get anything done.

What would you recommend to other students considering taking on an internship or assistantship during the semester?
I would recommend that you have a clear vision of what you want to get out of your time at SIPA, and spend your time outside of the classroom pursuing this vision! Don’t take on an internship just to have an internship; make sure it aligns with your career aspirations, goals, and most importantly, with your passion. It is definitely manageable to do both during the semester but it will be challenging and there will be a time you question things like your sanity. This is normal for SIPA so embrace it! I would also recommend taking time to reflect on your successes and what you could have done better once the semester is over. Professor Lindenmayer asked me to share with her how many email exchanges I had during the initiative, and it was heartening to have concrete evidence of all the work I had put in!

 [Photo courtesy of Ashleigh Montgomery, MIA 2017]

NYC housing advice from a SIPA alumna and real estate agent

*This has not been edited for content. SIPA does not recommend one real estate agent, salesperson, representative, or company over another. This is not an endorsement of the agent or company’s services.

By Melissa Amin Diaz:

As a SIPA alum, I had to go through the painful process of renting an apartment in New York City. I knew I wanted to live in a central location off campus that was not too far from SIPA or the attractions in Midtown and Downtown, but I was not fully aware of the rental process. When I arrived to New York I immediately realized that my expectations were far from reality.

In this blog I wanted to share a guide on what you need to know and what you will need to do to find the right apartment, for the right price, in the smoothest way possible. Hopefully this will help you avoid the stressful moments I had to pass through.

Before starting your search, prioritize your wants and needs. Determine what is important for you. The three main variables when choosing an apartment are price, location, and size. Prioritize them in order of importance for you and keep them in mind when you start your search.

Determine your Financials
Having your financials clear is a critical preparatory work. Many landlords require an income of 40 to 50 times the monthly rent. They will also do a credit check on you and expect it to be above 700. This means that to rent a studio apartment for $1800 a month, you must prove an annual income of at least $72,000 a year ($1800 X 40) and have a credit score of around 700. Another way to determine how much rent you can afford is by determining 30% of your income. Real Estate professionals say 30% of your annual income is  an appropriate amount to spend on rent.

After determining how much rent you can afford, consider the upfront and ongoing monthly expenses that come with renting an apartment. The upfront expenses include: application fees, broker’s fees, first and last month rent, and security deposits. Rental application fees  are between $65 to $100. Brokers usually charge between 12%-15% of annual rent or a one-month rent. The security deposit is usually a one-month’s rent, but it’s refundable at the end of the lease if no damages are incurred in the apartment.

This is a good example of your upfront expenses for a $1800 studio apartment in Upper West Side.

First and last month Rent $3,600
Application Fee $80 ($65-$100)
Broker’s fee $3,240 ($1800 x 12×15%)
Security Deposit $1,800 (1 month’s rent)
Total $8,720

The ongoing monthly expenses are your utilities and cable/internet bills. Electricity and gas are your usual charges and will vary depending on the building and zone you decide to rent. Water is usually included on the monthly rent.

Regarding monthly ongoing expenses, utilities vary depending on the building and usage. Cable and Internet can be $80 approx.

At this point you might be asking, what if I can’t prove I have an income of 40 times the monthly rent? What if I have no credit history or have a poor credit score? There are three options to consider:

  1. Find a Guarantor
    A guarantor is someone who guarantees payment on the lease. They need to prove an annually income of 80-100 times the monthly rent and will have to sign paperwork plus provide financial documents such as pay stubs and tax returns to the landlord. Lets say you want to rent the Upper West Side studio apartment for $1800 per month., Your guarantor has to prove an income of at least $144,000 a year showing his or her tax returns and personally guarantee your lease. Guarantors don’t need to be relatives, but most landlords prefer that they be from the Tri-State area (NY, NJ, CT).
  1. Pay for a Guarantor
    There are institutions that provide the guarantees for renters that do not meet the lease terms landlords require. Insurent is one of the biggest companies in NYC. The average Insurent guaranty fee for non-U.S. parties without U.S. based credit and social security numbers is 110% – 115% of one month’s rent. For international students, Insurent qualifies them based on their parent/father being a Responsible Party solely on the Agreement. The parent will just need to have an annual income of a minimum of 50x the monthly rent in their home country or have cash liquid assets at banks/marketable securities at banks/brokerage firms of a minimum of 80x the  monthly rent in their home country or elsewhere. The application is free of charge. The required documents are Copies of passport and Visa  and School ID, copy of passport of parent acting as the responsible party to Insurent, and Copy of letter from accountant confirming the parent’s funds.
  1. Bigger Security Deposit or Upfront Rent
    Committing to a bigger security deposit with the landlord or paying your rent upfront might also be the solution. These options vary depending on the landlord and what information you can provide in the process.

Incoming students: Don’t forget to review the Welcome Portal for tips from the Admissions Office on house hunting (such as the webinar), and the on-campus housing application form.

Determine Living Style
Now its time to determine the living style you want. These styles have an economic impact as well. The three most common options are: Finding roommates, living alone, or subletting.

Sharing an apartment with roommates allows you to afford a bigger place in a neighborhood you like more. They help cut monthly rent and up front / ongoing expenses. If you decide to have a roommate, make sure you find someone who is compatible with you.

Living alone is the most expensive option, but gives you complete privacy.

Subletting an apartment or room can be the cheapest and easiest option. You don’t have to pay a broker’s fee, you usually don’t have to submit paperwork and financial requirements leases ask for, and you just move in with no need to buy furniture or set up utilities.

Find your Neighborhood
New York City is made up of five boroughs, including Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Within them, there are different neighborhoods, each with their own mood and vibe, as well as different price ranges and public transportation methods.

  1. Convenience in transportation
    Living close to the metro, preferably a station that has an express train stop or a location that doesn’t need to change trains or bus line, would make your life easier and save you a lot of time. For example, Red line trains go north to south direction through eastern Manhattan. If you choose a location close to the red line you can get to downtown Manhattan or upper Manhattan much faster and cheaper than taking a cab. Make sure you choose a neighborhood that public transportation is convenient and fast to get to class.

2. Price
Manhattan is expensive. However, prices will vary depending on the neighborhood you choose and the time of the year. You can find better deals in Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, but make sure you follow the same rule of living close to a metro station that offers a convenient way to get to class without too many complications.

3. Moods and Vibe
New York has something for everyone. They don’t call it the capital of the world for nothing! Visit the neighborhoods that you think you will like to live before starting your official search. Make sure the mood and vibe of the area is what you are looking for and will be happy  with.

Remember to start your search 30-60 days ahead of time. If you search too soon or too late, you may not see the best of what’s available.

Apply and Sign Lease
Once you find the apartment you like, move fast. New York City is a competitive city and desirable apartments come on and off the market quickly.

These are the documents you and/or your guarantor will need:

  1. A letter from your employer stating your position, salary, length of employment and opportunities for bonuses
  2. Your last two pay stubs
  3. Your last two years of tax return
  4. Your last two months’ bank
  5. Contact information for previous
  6. Verification of other assets, if a
  7. Photo ID (Driver’s License, Passport, )

Revise the lease before signing it. Make sure the terms of the lease, the rent payment, security deposit and all clauses in the lease are right and clear  to  you.  Remember  this  is  a  long-term commitment.

Congrats, you got accepted!
Once you get the keys to your new apartment, get creative. Give it your personal touches and make it feel like home. Learn how to live in a small space and take advantage of every inch of your new apartment or room. If you have any questions, please contact me at [email protected].

*This has not been edited for content. SIPA does not recommend one real estate agent, salesperson, representative, or company over another. This is not an endorsement of the agent or company’s services.

A Peek into the ‘Gender and Armed Conflict’ Class

This semester I enrolled in a new course offered by SIPA’s Gender a Public Policy Specialization called Gender and Armed Conflict: Contemporary Theory and Practice for Advocates. The course is taught by Lisa Davis who is a Clinical Professor of Law for the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic at CUNY School of Law. She has worked extensively in the field of human rights, gender and LGBTQ rights, particularly in conflict and disaster settings.

As part of the course, each student is writing a report on a particular human rights issue for women and LGBTQ persons in the context of the ISIS conflict. Our findings will be compiled into three jointly published reports that will be submitted to the international community, specifically The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, The U.N. Security Council, and the International Criminal Court.

Our research for these reports also involves interviews with relevant international conflict experts and local advocates working in Iraq and Syria. Professor Davis has been working with international human rights organizations such as MADRE, as well as local organizations in Iraq and Syria to address these issues, and she has several contacts that we can use for these interviews. These interviews will help to inform our analysis so we write a report that accurately reflects the realities on the ground.

A couple of weeks ago, two Iraqi advocates came to class to discuss their work and the difficulties they face protecting women and LGBTQ persons in Iraq. We had the opportunity to ask them questions that were relevant to our respective reports, and to discuss what they believed would be most important to include in the report. It was incredible to be able to hear from people that are on the ground providing services for women and LGBTQ persons, and to hear their inspirational stories. We will also have visits from advocates from Syria to discuss their experiences in relation to the ISIS conflict.

Professor Davis’s experience as a practitioner has enriched our class and helps to bring our studies out of the theoretical realm and into the real world. Once we are finished with this course, we will be able to say we gained the skills necessary to conduct interviews, and to write a report that will be submitted to an international body. Professor Davis also stresses the importance of remembering that these reports will have a real impact on the advocates in Iraq and Syria that are working every day to protect women and LGBTQ persons.

Classes like this are what make the SIPA experience so special. Being able to submit a report to a high level international body on an issue I am particularly passionate about is not your everyday experience in graduate school, and I am honored that I have the opportunity to participate in this process. The Gender and Armed Conflict course at SIPA is just one of many courses that provide this type of real-world experience, allowing students a peek at what their professional careers might involve.

If you’re interested in previewing this class or another, sign up for a class visit here.

[Photo courtesy of Lisa Davis]

Seeples Spotlight: Qiuyuan Huang

Qiuyuan Huang is currently a second-year MPA student at SIPA. She graduated from Peking University in China in 2015 with a dual degree in Finance and International Relations. During college, Qiuyuan once interned with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as a research assistant, where she did political risk analysis for overseas investment. She has also been the research assistant to Prof. Jong-Wha Lee, Former Chief Economist of Asian Development Bank, in the summer of 2014. She researched on the development of Renminbi Internationalization, China’s government public expenditure on human capital, and reviewed policy analysis of BRICS Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. After joining SIPA, Qiuyuan further developed her interest in macro-economic policy through courses and researches. During the summer, she interned with the S&P Global Ratings, one of the top rating agencies in the world.

[please note this Q&A has not been edited]

What’s your summer internship experience been like?
I have been interned with S&P Global Rating during the whole summer. I worked as summer associate in the global economics and research team. My primary job is to research on U.S. macroeconomics and wrote reports and interpretations on economic indicators for weekly publications and quarterly forecasting. I performed statistical computing and smoothing techniques to analyze and display economic and financial market trends.  Besides doing research and writing reports, I presented research findings to senior economist and chief economist at S&P. Being able to present to these economists is exciting but also stressful. Usually they would ask a lot of questions during my presentation, so I need to be fully prepared and clear about every point I am talking about.

How has the internship prepare you for the future career?
This internship is definitely a challenging one and I have learned a lot from it. I have covered various economic topics, including U.S. business cycles, infrastructure investment, minimum wage, income inequality, corporate repatriation tax, etc. My supervisor is a senior economist and he gave me instruction and advice on my research topic and methods. I have always been interested in macro-economic policy and political risk, and working in a rating agency is among my top career choices. This internship has given me hands-on experience in S&P and I really my time here. I am still interning with S&P for the fall semester, working two days a week. For now I am not sure whether I could get a full-time offer at S&P, but I am actively seeking for opportunities.

How did you obtain your internship?
This internship position is posted on the SIPAlink, and I  submitted my CV through the portal.  After that I took three rounds of intense interviews and was luck enough to pass them. I thinks SIPAlink is a good place for internship hunting. There positions posted are relevant and most of employers may have some corporation with Office of Career Office, so SIPA students could get some advantages applying through SIPA link.

What are your goals for the second year?
There are many books I plan to read. Most of them are about economics, political science and American culture. Also I would like to know more people here at SIPA. The first year went by so quickly and I felt I didn’t spend enough time getting to know more people. SIPA students came in from various backgrounds with exiting stories. So during the second year, I would like to attend more events and make more friends here. Besides, I decide to further develop my quantitative skills through classes.

What is one course that you particularly recommend?
One of the courses I would like to recommend is Asian Financial Market, This course focuses on financial crisis in Asian countries, mainly ASEAN-10, Japan, Korea, China, and India. It gave an overview of history, status quo and future prospects of the financial markets in Asia. We also analyzed economic and financial policies in Asia. I think this course would be really helpful to those interested in Asia financial market. You could have an better idea about what is going on now, and what to expect for the future after studying what happened in history.

[Photo courtesy of Quiyuan Huang]

How students say SIPA lives up to its international reputation

My name is Hisato Tamiya and I am a first-year MPA student. I am concentrating in International Finance and Economic Policy and specializing in Management. Three months have passed since I started my SIPA life. Before coming to SIPA, I felt uneasy because it was the first time I was leaving Japan to live in a foreign country; nonetheless, thanks to the Admission Committee’s dedicated help, I am really enjoying my SIPA life. In this column, my classmate Yoshihisa Kita and I will give you a snapshot about SIPA life.

Huge Diversity: Where the World Connects
This year SIPA’s degree programs have an entering class of  around 600 people from all over the world. I am excited to discuss a variety of topics with such diverse students. One of my favorite classes is “Politics of Policymaking” with Prof. Christopher Sabatini. In this class of around twenty people, we discuss a wide range of topics, such as foreign policy proposals for the next president, and policy proposals for India to implement conditional cash transfer. When we discussed how to create effective conditional cash transfer policies in India, our Indian classmates gave us concrete feedback. For instance, I was not knowledgeable about income inequality, living standards, and available statistics in India. These details are essential to make our discussion fruitful, and their advice enabled me to discuss policies as if I were in India as a member of a mission team for its development.

In addition, I see these lively discussions between professors and students happening even in a large classes, like “Accounting for International & Public Affairs” by Prof. Alan Brott. Moreover, all of my professors (including those who teach larger classes) work to remember all of our names and faces! When I studied and worked in Tokyo, I never experienced such diverse classes and active discussions, let alone have a professor work to get to know his or her students like my SIPA professors do. I can definitely say that SIPA is a place worthy of its catchphrase, “Where the World Connects.”

Broad Option of Classes
Since my concentration is International Finance and Economic Policy, I am taking these classes this semester:

  • Politics of Policymaking
  • Accounting for International & Public Affairs
  • International Finance & Monetary Theory
  • Decision Models & Management
  • Advanced Techniques in Excel
  • Data Management and Analysis in Excel

SIPA offers hundreds of courses each semester to accommodate the more than 1,000 SIPA students across our eight degree programs. In addition to wide range of classes in SIPA, we can also register for classes at the Columbia University Department of Economics, Columbia Law School, and Columbia Business School, for example.

Students can also attend special lectures by renowned speakers, such as Ban Ki-moon and Robert Merton Solow. When I attended a special lecture by Ban Ki-moon, he lively illustrated his duties in his current job, which gave us concrete images to what it is like to work in intergovernmental organizations. Not only that, I was very impressed his words: “we, who implement public policies, always have to keep both passion and compassion. These great opportunities motivate us to work for public.” For me, it would be impossible to easily obtain these opportunities if I were in Tokyo.

SIPA Community: Connect with Seeples
In order to discuss public policy, we need friends to have heart-to-heart talks. I believe that SIPA is one of the best places to make magnificent friends and counterparts from around  the world. To connect with one another, the SIPA community has more than 40 clubs. I joined the Japan Study Student Association (JASSA), which shares with the SIPA  community the beauty of Japanese culture. We even help prospective students learn more about JASSA and SIPA by listing information on the JASSA website. (Recently, I posted about SIPA’s curriculum.)

In the next half of this blog post JASSA , President Yoshihisa Kita will tell you more about JASSA as one aspect of SIPA life.

Hi! Thank you, Hisato, for introducing me. I’m excited to share my experience in SIPA as a president of JASSA. There are several country/region specializing student bodies in SIPA. Among them, JASSA is focusing on Japanese culture, policy, and economy. This year, JASSA hosted a bunch of students-led events: a Japanese sake tasting, a roundtable on the mega-hit movie “Shin-Godzilla,” and a Japanese art workshop.

JASSA doesn’t only offer cultural events, as we invite a lot of policy experts from outside the Columbia community to participate in the program, such as high-level governmental officials from the Ministry of Finance/Bank of Japan, or executives from Japan Railway. We are pleased to offer opportunities for students to hear directly  from those who work in the policy field in Japan.

Last but not least, JASSA organizes our annual Japan Trip during spring break. This year, Japan Trip celebrated its 10th anniversary, bringing 45 students from 17 different countries to Japan. We traveled tirelessly through Kyoto to Tokyo as a one-week trip. We woke up at 4 am. to visit Tsukizi fish market, while staying up until midnight singing in karaoke. The trip impressed the participants so much that some of them totally changed their view toward Japan!

I think JASSA’s activities represent one of the high points in SIPA life. Students with diversified backgrounds contribute to SIPA community in various ways. It also provides me with opportunities to look back at my home country with different points of view. I am ready to welcome you as a Seeple to share cultures. See you at SIPA, where the world connects.

"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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