A Welcome Back Message to the SIPA Community

September 08, 2020

Dear Members of the SIPA Community,

Welcome new students, and welcome back everyone returning for the fall term!

We have shown over the past six months that we can recreate and sustain the SIPA community online – a great thanks to all who have contributed.  And this week, while we offer our full fall curriculum online, we also will offer nearly 25 percent of these courses via HyFlex classrooms in the International Affairs Building, an important first step toward a safe return to campus. Let me extend a particularly enthusiastic welcome to new students who are joining us, both online and in-person this fall. Our entire team is here to do everything we can to support you – as well as all of our students joining us from around the world.

As we start a new academic year, I write to share a few thoughts about the upcoming term and to give you a brief preview of some of the remarkable people, activities and events that will be part of our upcoming year.

As described by President Bollinger in his recent communication, this fall term will be unlike any in Columbia’s or SIPA’s long history. In this time of COVID-19, all of us have had to make adjustments in response to the virus and there will continue to be uncertainty in the weeks ahead.  Please know that I am grateful to each of you for your flexibility and your commitment to SIPA and to each other as we continue academic life at SIPA.

While the pandemic has forced all of us to make many changes, I know that we still enter this academic year with excitement and hopefulness. Of course, what has not changed is our commitment to providing a world-class education for our students, a unique and deeply engaging intellectual environment, and numerous extraordinary opportunities for learning and the development of new skills and experiences.

This is a special time to be at one of the world’s leading policy schools, where members of our community are thinking about the many challenges our world faces and how to mitigate and respond to them. Our faculty are offering a variety of exciting new courses and seminars, e.g. on crisis management and global leadership, online disinformation campaigns, data analysis for policy research using R and environmental advocacy, as well as new courses and workshops focused on COVID-19. The fall will also bring a US presidential election in November and all of its ramifications.  For many reasons, we know that the 2020-21 academic year is likely to be a unique period to be at SIPA.

As always, and perhaps even more true today than in years past, SIPA faculty, program directors and staff have planned an extraordinary range of programs and activities this fall, including nearly 250 courses this term and just as many in spring. In addition, there will be a total of nearly 100 capstone projects and other co-curricular activities this year. This summer SIPA announced a wide ranging diversity initiative, aimed at making SIPA an even more meaningfully diverse and inclusive school. As we move forward, we will seek your involvement as we hope to work closely with students, faculty, staff and alumni. 

If you have not done so, I urge you to visit the University’s COVID-19 Resource Guide  to familiarize yourself with the University’s plans for the fall term, including requirements for those planning to return to campus.  The health and safety of our in-person community depends on working together to implement those important community norms and University requirements.  We also recently updated our Fall Q&A document, which includes a variety of SIPA-specific information for students.

I invite you to learn more about fall term in the below preview. Whether you will join us remotely or in person, I look forward to your contributions to SIPA’s dynamism and vibrancy.

I am excited to start the term with you!

Sincerely yours,

Merit E. Janow
Dean, School of International and Public Affairs
Professor of Practice, International Economic Law and International Affairs

Fall 2020 Preview

Class of 2022

Please join me in welcoming the SIPA Class of 2022. In all, nearly 295 students have started in our two-year MIA/MPA/MPA-DP programs. They join more than 100 new students in our MPA-ESP, MPA-EPM, EMPA, and PhD programs.  Welcome to SIPA!


New Faculty, Visitors and Research Scholars

This year we welcome two new full-time faculty members as well as several visiting professors and senior research scholars:

  • Rumela Sen, Lecturer (full-time): previously a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Political Science Department, she pursues research on civil conflict, post conflict governance and state building. She will teach the core Politics of Policymaking course within SIPA’s MPA program, as well as political development for the Economic and Political Development Concentration.
  • Harold Stolper, Lecturer (full-time): he previously served as Senior Economist for Community Service Society of New York, where he analyzed the differential impact of public policy on low-income and minority groups. This term he will teach the application of “R” to data analysis, as well as Quantitative Analysis II.
  • Sivaram Varun, Senior Research Scholar: a foremost expert on clean energy technology, he has joined SIPA’s Center on Global Energy Policy.  A physicist and bestselling author, he previously served as Chief Technology Officer of ReNew Power, India’s largest clean energy company, and prior to that, as Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations, among other positions.
  • Janee Potts, Adjunct Assistant Professor, and Natalie Vanatta, Adjunct Assistant Professor: they will co-teach the course, “Cyber Risks and Vulnerabilities.”  Both are deeply experienced cyber experts with extensive military service, including positions at the Army Cyber Institute at the U.S. Military Academy.

In addition to the above appointments, we are very pleased to welcome back to teach in the spring His Excellency Toomas Ilves,former President of Estonia; Keiko Honda, former CEO of the World Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency; and Nobuchika Mori, former commissioner of Japan’s Financial Services Agency.

George W. Ball Visiting Professor

I am also pleased to share that Ambassador Christopher Hill will serve as the George W. Ball Adjunct Professor at SIPA in Spring 2021.

As many of you know, Ambassador Hill was a distinguished member of the U.S. Foreign Service for 33 years, where he served at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy across multiple regions, including Asia, Europe and the Middle East. As Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, he led U.S efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which induced North Korea to catalogue its nuclear activities and freeze and disable its plutonium production in 2008-2009. 

He also was a leading negotiator who helped forge the agreement that ended the Bosnian war in 1995 and was the U.S. envoy in negotiations that ended the Kosovo war in 1999, among many other career highlights.  Ambassador Hill served for seven years (2010 to 2017) as Dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Most recently he served as the University’s Head of Global Engagement and as a Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy until 2020.

As the George W. Ball Adjunct Professor, Ambassador Hill will teach a course on diplomacy and also deliver the annual George W. Ball lecture, among other activities. His extraordinary foreign policy experience will be of tremendous benefit to our students and intellectual community, and we look forward to welcoming him to SIPA this spring.


New Courses

This fall SIPA will offer 11 new courses, with more to be added in Spring 2021.  A few highlights include:

  • The COVID-19 Pandemic: Virology, Public Health, and Economics (Jeffrey Sachs/Glenn Denning)
  • Foreign Policy Crisis Decision-Making (Keren Yarhi-Milo)
  • Multilateral Support for Economic Crisis Management (José Antonio Ocampo)
  • Environmental Advocacy: From Interest to Action (Sara Tjossem)
  • Policy Solutions for Online Mis/Disinformation (Anya Schiffrin)


Upcoming Events

While there will be no in-person events in September and we will continue to monitor conditions for the remainder of the term, we have scheduled numerous virtual conferences, workshops, and discussions on important and intriguing global issues.  Among those already planned for Fall 2020:

  • Tuesday, September 8th, 8:00 a.m. - Recent Lessons For Financial Regulation and Macroprudential Policy, hosted by SIPA’s Central Banking and Financial Policy Initiative.
  • Monday, September 21st, 6:00 - 7:00 p.m.: The Challenges of Financing the Sustainable Development Goals, featuring Navid Hanif, Director of Financing for Sustainable Development, Office of UNDESA.  Comments by Professor Jose Antonio Ocampo.
  • Thursday, September 24th, 8:00 a.m. - Central Bank responses to Covid-19: Implications for Central Bank Independence, featuring Professors Patricia Mosser and Takatoshi Ito.
  • Monday, September 28th, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.: - Speechwriters on Elections, sponsored by the Technology, Media and Communications (TMaC) Specialization.  SIPA will feature additional U.S. election-related events throughout the term, including Race, Inequality and Perspectives on US Elections on October 15th at 6:30 p.m., and The Election Through Foreign Eyes on Tuesday, October 20th at 6:00 p.m.
  • COVID-19: Policy-Making in the Throes of a Global Crisis, open webinar, hosted by Vice Dean and Professor Scott Barrett and University Professor Jeffrey Sachs, most Wednesdays 1-2pm. (Note: SIPA students may take this webinar as part of Independent Study credit.)

Among the events planned this fall by SIPA research centers:

  • The Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) will be partnering with Climate Week NYC 2020 to host a series of virtual, online events on climate change from September 21-27. Run by The Climate Group annually in coordination with the United Nations and the City of New York, Climate Week NYC will feature hundreds of events in New York City and around the world. CGEP will host seven virtual events that link the policies, technologies and investments needed to rebuild the global economy after COVID-19, and accelerate climate policy at the local, state, federal and international levels with a focus on U.S. leadership and policy pathways.
  • Over the fall term, the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies will host a series of panels exploring the COVID-19 global pandemic through the lens of international security. Each panel, featuring recognized experts in their field, will examine the impact of the virus on a key area of global peace and security, and discuss challenges and opportunities likely to exist now and into the future. Panels will convene once a month and address topics such as COVID-19’s impact on great power relations and global institutions; what the pandemic exposed about bioweapons defense; and how and where did the pandemic hit hardest globally, and why?

Please visit the SIPA events calendar for additional events and information.


SIPA Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant

We are pleased to be undertaking the eighth round of the SIPA Dean's Public Policy Challenge Grant Program. Initial proposals for projects are due on September 28, 2020. The program, which is part of the campus-wide Columbia Venture Competition, invites students to turn their policy passions into entrepreneurial ventures–whether for profit or not for profit – and to design cutting-edge projects or prototypes that use ICT and/or data analytics to advance a public policy objective.

This year we are inviting students to consider a venture that is aimed either at facilitating COVID recovery or focused on an area where our world has been disrupted by COVID-19 and where new ventures in support of public purpose are needed and may thrive. As always, we encourage venture ideas in areas that combine technology and data.  Additionally, we will also offer support for projects that address a pressing policy challenge in Brazil. We thank the Lemann Foundation for this opportunity. 

A total of $25,000 in prizes will be awarded to the winning teams. You may learn more about this year’s challenge–as well as previous rounds and projects–on the SIPA website.

Once again, welcome back to SIPA!