August 27, 2013

Spirits were high as SIPA welcomed its newest MIA and MPA students to campus August 26. Hundreds of newcomers descended on the International Affairs Building for bagels and coffee before blue-shirted orientation leaders escorted them to Miller Theater for an introductory program.

Dean Merit Janow greeted students: “I can tell you with confidence that you have made an outstanding choice.”

Welcoming her first fall class since becoming dean on July 1, Janow said that she felt a combination of of privilege and trepidation similar to what a new student might feel. She went on to discuss the school’s founding in the wake of World War II and share some statistics about the 539 newly enrolled students.

As usual, about half of the group came to SIPA from abroad – 53 percent, representing 58 countries. Perhaps the biggest applause line came when the dean noted that 61 percent of the newest students were women.

Janow offered an overview of SIPA’s virtues — the School’s deep ties with institutions around the world, the high level of interaction between faculty and students, a cosmopolitan approach to issues of national, transnational, and global significance.

Among the things that make the School a leading institution, she said, were its position within a great university, the engagment in the world of its extraordinary faculty, and innovation by recently established academic centers like the Center on Global Energy Policy and the Center for Global Economic Governance.

“We are in New York — an extraordinarily global city,” Janow observed. “That means the world comes to us” for events like the annual session of the UN, the World Leaders Forum, and more.

Janow noted that graduates flourish in business, in government, at nonprofit organizations, and increasingly as entrepreneurs. “What we study at SIPA is more relevant with the passage of time.…Over the course of your career, you will hold jobs we cannot now conceive of.”

She welcomed students to a community that has seen some 18,000 alumni pass through, highlighting distinguished individuals and taking care to convey the depth and breadth of the school’s network. Janow noted, for example, that at least 50 alumni work at the New York branch of the Federal Reserve, while hundreds more can be found at central banks around the world. At the United Nations, at leading grantmaking organizations, in ministries of foreign affairs worldwide, in the government of New York City and cities around the world — these are the professional homes of SIPA alumni, from recent graduates to established veterans.

In short, Janow said, “We hope and expect you to develop habits of mind to be leaders. We are delighted to have you with us. Welcome to the Columbia family.”

Following the dean’s remarks, students heard from Dan McIntyre of Academic Affairs, who talked about courses, faculty, and mechanisms for feedback. Nick Mider of SIPASA discussed student government’s role at the school, while Anuj Shah of the Alumni Council shared words about life after SIPA and brief advice from SIPA graduates.

Shah talked about the importance of quantitative work, the value of writing and speaking well, and the opportunity to build a professional network. “Get involved and stay involved,” he said. “Life is hectic, and you have to lean how to balance it all.”

The new students arrived on campus with a sense of the many options before them.

“I’m very excited to be here,” said Adero Miwo Davis MIA ’15, who plans to study International Security Policy. “There’s a lot going on, and I’m concerned about fitting everything in.”

Originally from the Philadelphia area, Miwo Davis has lived in NYC for the past eight years. Most recently she interned for the Kenyan mission to the UN, where she worked on a variety of issues including sustainable development.

Another New Yorker, Michael Stecher MPA ’15, spent six years at Goldman Sachs before enrolling. “When I decided to go to graduate school for public policy, there was no question that SIPA was the best place for me,” he said. “It felt pretty good to walk across the quad this morning.”

Felipe Pacheco MPA ’15 came to SIPA from further afield – the “other” Colombia , where he worked for his nation’s largest financial group, Bancolombia. “I’m excited. I have a lot of expectations but I’m also open to new things.”

Sarah Wall MIA ’15, a native of southern Indiana, plans to explore Economic and Political Development. She said she focused on local issues in the San Diego office of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and is now looking forward to working on international concerns. “SIPA’s global focus and quantitative skills – I appreciate the balance.”

In offering advice, many of the speakers offered variations on the same theme that Dean of Students Caroline Kay touched on in her concluding remarks. “This is the most vibrant university in the world,” she said. “Have fun, because it’s  going to go by fast.”