Archive for International Security Policy

Studying International Security Policy at SIPA

Nabila recently provided some great advice on choosing your concentration at SIPA.  When I applied, there was no question that I was going to concentrate in International Security Policy (ISP). I was leaving the Army and was interested in continuing to work in the national security space, so it was a natural fit. But I suspect many of you have a wider range of interests or are interested in potentially pivoting to a new career path, and in those cases it’s so important to get a feel for the curriculum and culture of each concentration so that you can find your best fit.

I’m going to hopefully assist in that regard by giving you an overview of the ISP concentration and also dispel some pervasive myths and stereotypes.

Doesn’t everyone in ISP have military or government experience? Will I fit in?

The most common myth is that everyone in ISP is a veteran or someone who wants to follow a very defined path into the government. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As Leon Trotsky noted, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Whatever your career aspirations, security issues affect every sector and understanding issues of war and peace is essential to anyone that desires to one day lead in government, international non-profits, or even private sector companies. I have friends in ISP that have backgrounds as Army Special Forces Officers, private sector consultants, paralegals, diplomats, and human rights workers. And as far as coursework, the concentration requires no prior academic training in international security or any particular professional background. For more on the diverse backgrounds of ISP concentrators, read this great blog post by ISP graduate Samantha Taylor.

What career paths do ISP students pursue after SIPA?

ISP students are prepared for a wide range of career paths in U.S. and foreign government agencies, intelligence, think tanks, defense analysis, cybersecurity, consulting, journalism, legislative staffs, and international organizations. For U.S. students, the majority of these positions are in Washington, D.C., but there are increasingly opportunities in New York City as well, especially in cybersecurity.

What are the courses like?

Almost all of your ISP courses will be small seminars of 10-20 students. Columbia offers more courses in security studies than all but a few other universities, and SIPA and the Political Science department (you can take graduate level Political Science courses while at SIPA) have numerous full-time faculty members focused on security issues.  During your two-year program, there will be approximately 30-40 ISP courses to choose from. The courses cover a wide variety of areas including intelligence, cybersecurity, defense analysis, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, terrorism, and regional issues, among others. You can view the entire curriculum here, but the best way to see what ISP courses are like is to experience one for yourself. This semester, ISP courses available for class visits include War, Peace, and Strategy; Methods of Defense Analysis; Contemporary Russian Security Policy (taught by the former Deputy Assistant Director of CIA for Europe and Eurasia); Intelligence and War; and several others. Register for a class visit here!

What extracurricular opportunities does ISP offer?

The ISP concentration starts off the year with an annual fall retreat to a campground north of New York City. I went my first year, and it was a great way to meet classmates, second year students, and several professors. In the spring, the concentration usually takes one trip to DC or a military installation. Last year, the trip was a staff ride to Gettysburg and the U.S. Army War College led by Professor Stephen Biddle. There is also a spring crisis simulation held at SIPA and run by ISP students. Last year, students explored the conflict in Yemen in a realistic, one-day simulation.

There are also an unending amount of incredible guest speakers that come to Columbia, and many of those of interest to ISP students are hosted by the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. Just in the past year, students have attended events with former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

Applying to SIPA as a Veteran or Active Duty Service Member

The transition from military service to graduate school can be intimidating, and veterans may have many concerns including how to express their experience in the application, funding opportunities, and whether they will fit in at Columbia. As a veteran and current SIPA student, I can confidently say that Columbia University is an extremely welcoming community for veterans. Columbia University has a long history of supporting veterans (Dwight Eisenhower was President of Columbia from 1948-1953!), and Columbia currently has the largest student veteran population in the Ivy Leagues. Except for funding opportunities, all of this applies equally to both U.S. and international veterans.


Patrick Dees, MIA ’20, speaks to a student about the Columbia SIPA Veterans Association (CSVA).

Tell your story!

If you’re a veteran or active duty service member applying to SIPA, the most important thing is to tell your unique story in your essays. As a school of international affairs, SIPA values your experience in the military greatly. You have spent considerable time executing national security policy, and you’ve likely had a front row seat to interesting events that you may even find yourself studying in the classroom. Your military service also demonstrates a commitment to public service, and you’ve certainly had valuable leadership experience. All of these things strengthen your application, so make sure to include them in your essays in plain language.

I recommend asking a friend with no military experience to read your essay to ensure that you’ve removed or explained any military jargon. I used Service to School, a free service that pairs you with a mentor that has gained admission to a program similar to the ones you are considering, and I found it to be extremely helpful.

Apply for all funding opportunities

Columbia has numerous resources to help veterans fund their education. Columbia’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs has an extensive website full of detailed information on funding opportunities. I highly recommend you review it. Almost all of the veteran-related funding opportunities are unfortunately only available to U.S. veterans or active duty service members.

The first step is to ensure that you apply for all GI Bill benefits for which you are eligible. If you are eligible for 100% of benefits under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, SIPA offers additional funding through the Yellow Ribbon program. You will receive an email when the Yellow Ribbon application opens, and SIPA makes every effort to fund every eligible candidate.

Second, you should apply for funding from Columbia University. If you submit your application by the fellowship deadline, SIPA will automatically consider you for scholarships. You will also have the opportunity to apply for assistantships at the end of your first year. Information on these and other internal funding opportunities can be found here.

Third, you should research outside funding opportunities. Columbia provides a list of the opportunities most applicable to veterans and service members here. One of the opportunities I applied for, and was honored to receive, is the Tillman Scholarship. Columbia University is a University Partner school, and there are several Tillman scholars currently at Columbia. The Tillman scholarship provides not only funding, but extensive professional development opportunities and access to an amazing community of veterans, spouses, and active duty service members.

Join veterans’ organizations at Columbia and SIPA

The most important thing at SIPA is to find your community. SIPA has a large and active veteran community led by the Columbia SIPA Veterans Association (CSVA). The CSVA is happy to assist prospective students, and they host several events to welcome new student veterans. Throughout the year, CSVA holds events and socials to build the veteran community. Last year, veterans had the opportunity to attend discussions with Lieutenant General Christopher Cavoli, the commander of U.S. Army Europe, and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. CSVA also hosts one of SIPA’s most popular events, “Beer and War Stories,” in which student veterans and other guests share their experiences with fellow students and answer questions about the military in a casual, open discussion over beer and food.


Members of the Columbia SIPA Veterans Association meet with the Commander of U.S. Army Europe, Lieutenant General Christopher Cavoli

Opportunities after SIPA

While many assume that all veterans choose the International Security Policy concentration and pursue defense-related careers, veterans at SIPA have found their niches in a wide variety of fields. SIPA’s Office of Career Services can connect students with an alumni who volunteers as SIPA’s career coach for transitioning veterans. The U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia University (Milvets) is the undergraduate student veteran group, but their events are open to all veterans. They host numerous career panels and networking opportunities throughout the year. Whatever your interests are, SIPA will provide you with avenues to explore potential careers and take advantage of your valuable military experience.

Program Assistant Introduction: Stuart Caudill MIA ’20

Note from Emily: It’s a new semester, which means we have new program assistants with us in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. For those of you who spent the last year with Julia, Kier, Dylan, Samantha, and Niara, fret not — they’re all employed and working on exciting things around the world. Maybe you’ll see them at a SIPA recruiting or alumni event.

Until then, please meet the first of our new program assistants, Stuart Caudill. Our other new PAs – George-Ann Ryan, Nabila Hassan, and Steven Reid – will introduce themselves the rest of this week.


Stuart is a second-year MIA student concentrating in International Security Policy and specializing in Technology, Media, and Communications. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2013 with a B.S. in International Relations and Arabic. After graduating from West Point, Stuart served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer for over five years. After SIPA, Stuart plans to pursue a career in cybersecurity.

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?

After graduating from West Point, I spent over five years leading intelligence operations for the U.S. Army. I served as an intelligence officer for a Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan, led intelligence soldiers providing direct support to the initial operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and coordinated offensive cyber operations in support of U.S. Cyber Command. These experiences sparked my interest in cyber policy and led to my desire to pursue graduate study in international affairs.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

First, I was drawn to the interdisciplinary and flexible MIA curriculum, especially the ISP concentration that benefits from the significant number of political science faculty focused on security issues.

Second, I was particularly attracted to SIPA’s increasing focus on the intersection of technology and policy, with its Tech & Policy @ SIPA initiative and other efforts.

Third, I wanted to have access to the resources of a large, top-tier university. The opportunity to take courses across almost all of the schools and departments at Columbia is an incredible benefit for SIPA students.

Lastly, I had always wanted to live in New York City. Columbia students have access to world-class museums, theater, restaurants, and nightlife that in my opinion is unmatched by any other city.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?

In November 2018, I competed in the New York Cyber 9/12 strategy competition sponsored by the Atlantic Council. The competition is held at SIPA every year and is organized by the student Digital and Cyber Group. The competition drew almost 30 teams from top universities, and the program also included speakers and demonstrations by a wide variety of people working in the cybersecurity industry and in government. This included speakers from the Department of Homeland Security, Morgan Stanley, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Flashpoint. The competition was a great experience, and it significantly increased my knowledge of cyber policy while also providing an opportunity to practice public speaking and presentation skills.

How did you find the core curriculum at SIPA?

The core curriculum provides a common experience (and a dose of common suffering) that really helps first-year students bond. In many of the core courses we complete problem sets and projects in small groups, and that was a great way to meet fellow students from other concentrations who I otherwise wouldn’t interact with at SIPA. I also found that the core curriculum exposed me to important aspects of public policy and international affairs that I would have otherwise overlooked. For example, the two course economics sequence gave me an in-depth understanding of international economics that has broadened my perspective, and I’ve noticed its usefulness even in daily life as I’m able to better understand current economic events when I read the newspaper. While the core curriculum is relatively quantitative, I found that the math refresher that SIPA provides during orientation really prepared me for the economics and quantitative analysis courses.

Do you feel like you have gotten to know some of the faculty members?

I definitely do! While some of the core courses are large, almost all of my other courses have been small seminars. Even in my large core courses, the professors had extensive office hours to meet with students. I’ve also met faculty members at a lot of events such as networking happy hours and concentration-specific retreats. The International Security Policy concentration, for example, goes on a weekend retreat to a park outside New York City every fall and several professors, including Dr. Richard Betts, attend every year to get to know students. This year I’m also working as a research assistant for a professor, and that’s a great opportunity to work with faculty members closely and get involved in research projects relevant to your specific interests.

What advice do you have for current applicants?

One of the most useful things I did when I was applying was to make a proposed class schedule. I put all of the mandatory courses on a spreadsheet and then filled in the electives I wanted to take from the course listings available on the SIPA website. This is a great way to compare different schools you may be considering. You’ll be able to get a holistic view of what your graduate program will be like and what specific skills you’ll develop. This is also really helpful as you write your statement of purpose as you’ll be able to explain in more detail why SIPA is the right fit for you.

A View from the Class: Kelsey Orr MPA ’19

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. In this issue, we feature recent SIPA graduate, Kelsey Orr MPA ’19. Kelsey is SIPA’s Michael and Polly Brandmeyer Fellow and concentrated in International Security Policy with a specialization in Management.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?
While earning a bachelor’s degree in politics and international affairs and Asian studies at Furman University in South Carolina, I interned at the U.S. Department of State, Southwest Airlines, and the Scottish Parliament. Some of the highlights of my undergraduate experiences included studying Japanese language and serving as a U.S. Youth Delegate to the 2015 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila, Philippines.

Why did you choose SIPA?
I always wanted to live in New York, and as a U.S. Department of State fellow and future Foreign Service Officer, I knew that my career would take me all over the world, but my home base would be Washington, D.C. Before entering this career, I felt it was important for me to broaden my experience as much as possible and make connections outside of Washington, D.C. Living and studying in New York has certainly done that.

Why did you specialize in Management?
Knowing I would be a Political Officer at the Department of State, I was hard pressed to choose between the human rights and security concentration tracks because I am interested in the intersection of these two fields. However, with a management specialization, I have been able to take a variety of courses that fit both of these categories.

What have been some of your favorite SIPA experiences?
One of my favorite experiences during my first year at SIPA was working at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights with the Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability program. I helped plan an annual conference that brings together human rights practitioners and scholars and was able to meet many inspiring individuals in the field.

In addition, Ambassador William Luers’s course, Talking with the Enemy, was a great way for me to learn about the history of U.S. diplomacy as well as to discuss current U.S. foreign policy issues. I thoroughly enjoyed studying the decision-making process of U.S. leaders and engaging in debate with the other students in the course.

What did you work on during your last semester at SIPA?
This spring, I am excited to work on the Mercy Corps capstone team to enhance youth participation in humanitarian action in Nepal. Mercy Corps is a global humanitarian organization empowering people to recover from crisis, build better lives, and transform their communities for good.

How has SIPA affected you?
SIPA has been life changing in terms of my worldview and has helped me hone really practical skills, such as conflict resolution, that I know will be useful in my future career.

What are your plans after SIPA?
In June 2019, I joined the U.S. Foreign Service as a Political Officer at the U.S. Department of State. I know that no matter where in the world my career takes me, I have the skillset to be an effective advocate thanks to my education at SIPA.

A View from the Class: Divyam Nandrajog MIA ’19

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. In this issue, we feature newly graduated SIPA alumnus Divyam Nandrajog MIA ’19. Divyam graduated in May with a Master of International Affairs (MIA), concentrating in International Security Policy (ISP) and specializing in Technology, Media, and Communications.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?
I studied law at the National Law University, Delhi in Delhi, India. I was particularly interested in criminal law and how it governed state-citizen interactions. I worked on several research projects on criminal justice involving rights of under-trial prisoners, criminal process re-engineering, and analysis of cases under Indian drug laws.

These projects involved visits to Tihar Jail, one of Delhi’s larger prisons, for data gathering and interviews of under-trial and convicted inmates to better understand and place their cases within the larger criminal process for analysis. The projects aimed for both immediate and systemic impact. One involved assessing under-trial inmates’ eligibility for bail under special provisions of the criminal procedure code. Another project focused on identifying and mitigating procedural bottlenecks and causes for systemic delay in trials under special laws.

Why did you choose SIPA?
I chose SIPA for its ISP concentration that delves into various topical components of the subject and offers students flexibility in concentrating their studies on particular aspects of international security.

How would you describe your SIPA experience?
I really enjoyed my classes in cybersecurity and defense analysis. The professors teaching them bring a wealth of professional experience and detail that makes courses in these subjects extremely practical and readily applicable by graduate students starting out in the field.

How has SIPA affected you?
No two resumes at SIPA are the same. The diversity of backgrounds, approaches, and thought that the student body brings together presents a welcome and formidable challenge to norms and approaches assumed to be settled. The key lies not in isolated points of view but in the bridges we build between them, shaping the process as much as it shapes us.

Are there particular SIPA experiences that stand out?
My studies and work under Professor Jason Healey, first as his student and intern and subsequently as his research assistant, were a highlight of my time in SIPA. The past year was an incredible learning process. The sheer breadth of research I was exposed to under his guidance enriched my studies and learning in a way few other experiences can match. The freedom I was given to conduct my own research on topical subjects in cybersecurity allowed me to further develop my interests, build upon what I learned in classes, and apply it in practical ways.

I also benefited from several interactions with policymakers and industry leadership whose insights have been of great practical value in contextualizing my learning and taking it further.

What are your plans now that you have graduated from SIPA?
I hope to work in cyber threat intelligence and cybersecurity and defense policy.

"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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