Archive for Meet Seeples

A View from the Class: Ryan Dahm MPA ’21

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. 


Hello, I am Ryan Dahm, a first-year Master of Public Administration (MPA) candidate, concentrating in International Security Policy and specializing in Management. I am also honored to be the recipient of SIPA’s Michael and Polly Brandmeyer Fellowship.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

I served five years in the U.S. Army as an infantry platoon leader, company executive officer, battalion communications and signal officer (S6), and battalion operations officer. I participated in many multinational efforts in the North Sinai Peninsula, Eastern Europe, and as a part of a NATO Battle Group in Bemowo Piskie, Poland. Being stationed in Europe and operating in an international environment were the most thrilling aspects of my professional life.

Why did you choose SIPA?

Columbia SIPA was my dream school after I commissioned out of the ROTC program at my undergraduate school majoring in international affairs and economics. SIPA’s diversity and predominantly international student body was something that appealed to me. I also knew names like Professors Dipali Mukhopadhyay, Thomas Christensen, and Richard Betts from my academic studies in international relations, and I wanted to go to the school that had the most renowned academics in diplomacy and international affairs.

Why did you choose to focus your SIPA studies on International Security Policy and Management?

Although I voluntarily separated from the military, I knew my future was in the American foreign policy or national security apparatus. The International Security Policy program seemed like the perfect fit. I also wanted to civilianize my leadership style through SIPA’s management courses. Dr. Kirsti Samuels, a lecturer at SIPA and an experienced leadership trainer and coach, mediator, and facilitator, has taught me valuable leadership concepts that I hope to utilize in the future.

What are your plans this summer?

I was chosen as a Harold W. Rosenthal Fellow in International Relations, a program by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, and will be interning this summer at either the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction section, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), or the Bureau of Refugees and Migration at the U.S. State Department.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your studies and post-graduation plans?

It has definitely made me appreciate in-person education and the resulting relationships developed with fellow classmates. I think students will need to be more mindful about proactively pursuing opportunities.

What are you looking forward to studying and doing during your second year at SIPA?

I am looking forward to taking any class taught by Dr. Peter Clement, our intelligence officer in residence, Professor Thomas Christensen, or Dr. Kirsti Samuels. I am also excited to attend the Latin American Student Association (LASA) party and class boat party. Neither disappoints.

What makes SIPA unique?

In addition to its world-renowned faculty, SIPA attracts bright students with a unique mindset and motivation. Being a part of SIPA reminds me of military camaraderie—everyone has a shared mission to contribute in public service, just in civilian attire.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?

Learning about China’s foreign policy from a giant like Professor Thomas Christensen was the academic highlight of my life. Having spent fifteen months in the Middle East and four years in Europe, it was thrilling to learn from a leading expert about East Asia, a region I knew little about.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I will likely join the Foreign Service or the U.S. State Department’s Civil Service.

A View from the Class: Maria José Pinto MIA ’20

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. 


Hello, I am Maria José Pinto, a Master of International Affairs (MIA) candidate, concentrating in Economic and Political Development (EPD) with a specialization in Gender and Public Policy and a regional specialization in Latin American Studies.

What did you do before attending SIPA?

After graduating from the Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Peru, my home country, with a degree in business management, I worked with Carolina Trivelli, former Minister for Social Inclusion and Development in Peru, on a financial inclusion initiative focused on vulnerable populations, and later, for the British Embassy as a Science and Innovation Fund coordinator in the Economic Development Department. Besides working on international aid cooperation initiatives, I had the chance to discover my passion for gender equality, as the Embassy gave me flexibility to work on issues that were close to my heart. I designed a project to eliminate gender roles within the Peruvian national STEM education curricula, to encourage girls to go into STEM studies.

Why did you choose to concentrate in EPD and specialize in GPP?

I believe that before policy makers can effectively shape public policy, it is essential they understand the needs of those they hope to help. EPD gives you that opportunity through its focus on fieldwork, providing equally important quantitative and qualitative experiences.

Before coming to SIPA, I was hesitant about pursuing a career in gender studies. However, after listening to Professor Yasmine Ergas, Director of the Gender and Public Policy specialization, speak about gender studies during my first week at SIPA, I immediately registered for the specialization. The focus that SIPA gives to this specialization is incredibly useful for today’s world, as it perfectly combines gender and women studies and public policy.  It’s one of the best choices I’ve made during my time here, as it gives me an opportunity to apply my passion to my work.

What are some of your most memorable SIPA experiences?

I am grateful for all of the SIPA experiences I have had during the last two years. No other place in the world has made me feel like I fit in more. These two years have been as academically challenging as professionally fruitful, as I have taken advantage and enjoyed all of the resources SIPA has to offer.

In my first semester, I was elected President of Women in Leadership (WIL), a SIPA organization that contributes to women’s development at the School. Our board strived to showcase SIPA’s proud student diversity in all our activities, as each of our five board members came from a different region in the world. During the summer, I worked at the Inter-American Commission on Women at the Organization of American States (OAS) and was assigned to a project on women’s leadership in the Americas. This was such an exciting experience for me, as it was my first time working for a multilateral organization, and also because I met incredible figures for Latin American politics, including Maxima Apaza, indigenous congresswoman and activist in Bolivia, and Luis Almagro, OAS Secretary General.

In this, my last semester, I am working on my EPD Workshop with the Self-Employed Women Association (SEWA) from India. My team and I are developing a business plan for SEWA’s social enterprise, an outcome of their partnership with Airbnb to increase women’s income through rural tourism. I will travel to India soon, and couldn’t be more excited. This is also my second semester working for Professor Ergas, as a program assistant for the Gender and Public Policy specialization. Professor Ergas has opened an incredible spectrum of opportunities and possibilities for me. Last semester for example, we organized a talk with the Foreign Affairs Minister of Sweden, who is advocating for a feminist foreign policy. After the event, Leymah Gbowee, Liberian activist and Nobel Laureate, thanked my colleague and me for helping to organize the event. It was a memorable moment!

How as SIPA affected you?

I was a completely different person before coming to SIPA. The challenges that one faces here definitely make you grow as a person and as a professional. Being surrounded by similarly minded people who want to change things and fight for injustices is invaluable. I leave SIPA with a feeling of hope, knowing that with SIPA students as future leaders, we are moving towards a better world. I am so thankful for this experience.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I definitely want to pursue a position in Washington, DC; hopefully, doing gender-related work with a multilateral organization. I fell in love with the city while working there this past summer. I would like to work in DC for a couple of years before returning to Peru to contribute to my country’s development, particularly in the gender equality sphere. Ideally, I will work for either the Ministry of Women or the Ministry of Social Inclusion and Development, and one day, run for office, with the objective of reducing the gender gap in Peru and Latin America.

A View from the Class: Erika Bañuelos MIA ’21

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. 


Hello, I am Erika Bañuelos, a Master of International Affairs (MIA) candidate, concentrating in International Security Policy (ISP) with a specialization in Technology, Media, and Communications (TMaC).

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

I graduated from Brown University with a degree in Science, Technology, and Society (STS). Upon graduation, I was selected as a Fulbright grantee, working for nine months as an English teaching assistant helping to implement the Global Classrooms, a Model UN program, in a middle school/high school in Madrid, Spain. After returning to the U.S. in May 2019 and before starting at SIPA that fall, I interned for a U.S. Representative from Arizona on Capitol Hill, where I performed research and wrote memos concerning healthcare technology and research, foreign affairs, and legal frameworks and regulation around blockchain technology.

Why did you choose to attend SIPA?

I chose SIPA because I want to pursue an interdisciplinary graduate degree that will fill the gaps in my existing knowledge of world politics and economics, while further pursuing my interests in science and technology policy, specifically cybersecurity. I also want to have the opportunity to live in New York City to gain an understanding of how numerous sectors collaborate to address issues at various scales – whether at the municipal, state, federal level, and beyond.

Why did you choose to concentration in ISP and specialize in TMaC?

I chose ISP and TMaC because they are related to what I studied as an undergraduate, that is, my concentration in STS. A large focus of my STS concentration was theory based – examining the process of scientific discovery and discussing the establishment of scientific policies. Pursuing a MIA with a focus in ISP and specialization in TMaC takes my studies a step forward, away from the theoretical frameworks I had studied to being able to understand the manner in which various policies in the scientific and technology realm affect people and governments on a day-to-day basis. One of my undergraduate professors emphasized the importance for policymakers to become well versed in the technological realm, and conversely, for technologists to develop the skills to write and talk to diverse public audiences about complex subject matters. My goal as a graduate student at SIPA is to develop the skills and confidence to be able to do both.

How has your SIPA experience been so far?

SIPA students strive to create a collaborative environment. My recent experience as a participant in the annual NYC Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge, hosted in cooperation with the Atlantic Council and run by students in SIPA’s Digital and Cyber Group, showed me just that. Thirty-two teams from across the country came together to compete in a cyber policy and strategy competition to develop policy recommendations for tackling a fictional cyber catastrophe. I was part of a team that really tried to teach and learn from one another in order to work together on a policy challenge consisting of hypothetical cyberattacks on various infrastructure and services across New York City.  Because of this competition, I learned about the New York City Cyber Command (NYC3) – an agency that leads the City’s cyber defense efforts to prevent, detect, respond, and recover from cyber threats. This initial interaction and exposure to the agency’s role in protecting one of the most populous municipalities in the country paved the way for my current internship with NYC3 as a policy intern. My internship will allow me to refine my policy development tradecraft; develop practical, policy-related research skills; confidently communicate on security topics, terms, technologies, and concepts; and have a practical understanding of computer networking concepts.

A View from the Class: Sarah Alshawish MIA ’21

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. 


Hello, I am Sarah Alshawish, a first-year Master of International Affairs (MIA) candidate, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy and specializing in Management. I am also honored to be the recipient of the Mosse-Noble Fellowship and SIPA Merit Scholarship.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

I earned my bachelor’s degree from Hunter College, City University of New York in 2015, where I was a dual major in economics and history. As an undergraduate, I worked in medical research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where I conducted research on HPV cancer and grew interested in the correlation between economic opportunity and disease susceptibility. Thereafter, I became engaged with the non-profit and local government sectors to learn about social welfare distribution, most recently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA for two years in the New York City Mayor’s Office facilitating access to social services and healthcare for hard-to-reach populations. Working with these communities has been a privilege and has inspired me to pursue my graduate studies in public policy.\

Why did you choose SIPA?

I sought a program that was dedicated to providing students with the resources they need to succeed in their graduate studies and beyond. I greatly admired SIPA’s diverse student body and faculty, as well as its rich selection of classes. SIPA’s course offerings in quantitative skills, management, healthcare, economic policy, and human rights were beyond what I could have asked for. Conversations with current students also highlighted how program administration and faculty go out of their way to provide hands-on learning, networking, and professional development opportunities. The energy and support I saw on campus made me look forward to the prospect of joining SIPA’s community.

Why did you choose to concentration in USP and specialize in Management?

Witnessing the impact of poverty on the wellbeing of urban families inspired me to understand how people and their governments can work together to address systemic policy issues. Raised in a family who struggled financially, my personal and professional experiences have motivated me to understand why challenges persist and the developments needed to create change. I sought to obtain a comparative social welfare perspective and historical framework on how some nations are able to sustain healthcare-for-all programs and other comprehensive social welfare programs. The MIA in Urban and Social Policy and Management was a natural choice for me as it offers expertise on this topic and core training in economic analysis and policy implementation.

How has your public health background influenced your SIPA experiences? How are you drawing on those experiences to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic?

While working in healthcare and the non-profit sectors, I assisted families who could not afford health insurance or who struggled to pay for their existing medical costs. Some had to make difficult decisions as to whether or not to receive treatment, and often sought healthcare only after their medical conditions worsened. At SIPA, I am learning about the short- and long-term implications of poverty on life expectancy and upward mobility and how governments can address areas for improvement in the social welfare system.  Several aspects of public policy are interconnected and my education at SIPA has provided me with the training to consider these intersections when developing policy solutions.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting you? How will it impact your studies as you move into your second year and your post-graduation plans?

The pandemic has made me realize how quickly life can change and how important strong leadership is in times of crises. It has also brought to the forefront unresolved challenges in U.S. urban cities. Those experiencing major health complications are largely from low-income or historically disenfranchised neighborhoods. In my hometown, Elmhurst Hospital is struggling to care for the multitude of patients seeking treatment, with all too limited resources and overworked medical staff. The virus has affected several people I know, and it concerns me that the magnitude of this pandemic could have been prevented.

Access to healthcare in the U.S. needs to be adequately addressed and this event has strengthened my interest in working toward expanding comprehensive social welfare programs, which I believe reflect a government’s commitment to human rights and social justice. I am looking forward to courses in global health, financial inclusion, and tax policy. My current studies have provided me with insight on the current economic challenges limiting the U.S. healthcare infrastructure and the steps local communities can take to deliver change. I hope to continue learning more about these topics in my graduate studies.

How has SIPA affected you?

My experience at SIPA has exposed me to the types of innovations possible in domestic and international policy. I feel much more equipped for a career in public service, keeping in mind that public policy design is best informed by regular and open exchanges between communities and governments, as well as between nations. I am also inspired by my fellow classmates who I am fortunate to have developed lifelong friendships with, among whom have had careers in development and social policy in their home nations or across the U.S.

Can you tell us about some of the classes you are taking this semester?

This semester, I am taking Budgeting and Financial Management for Government with Professor John Liu, which provides brilliant insight into the current budgetary challenges of the U.S. government, including the high costs associated with healthcare spending. I am also taking Innovation and Urban Social Policy with Professor Ameera Horriyat, which encourages students to develop creative solutions for social change inspired by examples from entrepreneurs and community-based organizations. These classes have provided me with excellent perspective on the factors impacting policy decisions as well as how innovative strategies can deliver change at the local level, which can ultimately inspire national and international policy. I am glad to have the opportunity to learn public financial analysis and develop my creative toolbox with the support and encouragement of professors who are dedicated experts in the field.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I have learned so much in my first year and am amazed at the resilience of our community to handle this crisis. My cohort is now scattered across the globe and have shifted to online learning, but we look forward to once again returning to the International Affairs Building and campus life.

I believe that in times like these, it is imperative to have professionals with experience and passion step up and deliver for their communities. With the work of policy thinkers and leaders, including Columbia University professors and SIPA alumni, we can soon arrive at an end to this crisis and better protect ourselves from similar challenges that may lie ahead.

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.

"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

Boiler Image