SIPA | A View from the Class

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

September 2020

Hello, I am Max Scherzer, a second-year Master of Public Administration (MPA) candidate concentrating in Urban and Social Policy with a specialization in Management.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

Prior to SIPA, I was an Associate Program Officer at the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) in Washington, D.C. There, I oversaw and co-implemented projects with local partner organizations in South Asia that bolstered democratic institutions through economic reforms. I worked with local organizations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar to fight corruption, increase transparency, and advocate for underserved groups like women and young entrepreneurs. CIPE is a core organization of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Why did you choose SIPA?

There are several reasons. First is the ‛University’ aspect. I attend SIPA, but I am very much part of a broader University community. As students and future practitioners of public policy, we have to be real with ourselves: public policy is niche, and it is not how most of the rest of our world ‛talks’. At the same time, we know it is a fundamental tool to improving the world we inhabit. Having access to courses and faculty in other schools, going to events around campus, and tapping into multidisciplinary resources all push me to better learn how to translate the rest of the world into public policy to ultimately transform people’s lives.

The balance of hard-skill and soft-skill classes is a big draw. My brain tells me to dive into all of the books I can get my hands on, but my bank account tells me I also need to build some hard-skill credentials to reenter the workforce in a strong position. Concentration curricula are designed to encourage students to dabble in both. For example, on Thursdays, I hop from a class discussing seminal texts on global inequality to the next class learning bivariate regressions in Stata.

Finally, New York City. I applied to schools up and down the East Coast, but nothing beats my hometown.

Why did you choose to concentrate in Urban and Social Policy?

It is a good question: how did the South Asia economic development guy become an Urban Policy concentrator? I think coming home and moving out the ‛D.C. bubble’ had a big effect. Here, I felt compelled to get involved in my own community. I signed up for the Kings County Democratic Committee to get involved in local politics and volunteered around the neighborhood. In doing so, I realized there is more to the world than the D.C. circuit, and there is a lot of work to be done in my own backyard – only amplified by our current political moment.

Urban and Social Policy provides an opportunity to apply what I learn in the classroom to what I see around me in New York City. The motivating factors that propelled me to international development in my previous career – social justice, equity and economic opportunity, rights to a decent life – are all just as righteous pursuits here at home. The Urban and Social Policy concentration provides me with the tools to build the skills needed to tackle these issues.

Can you talk about your internship experience this past summer?

I was extremely lucky to have two internships. I spent my morning and early afternoons with a local nonprofit affordable housing organization, the Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY). Afterwards, I worked with the Office of the New York City Public Advocate (OPA).

At MHANY, I worked on an economic development/affordable housing project in Hunts Point, Bronx that supported local minority and women-owned businesses and offered 750 new units of affordable housing. I also helped to launch a pilot reading program for 350 children and families in MHANY residences and was engaged on food aid programs for residents as well as in MHANY town halls as the civil upheaval unfolded in New York City. I am extremely grateful to SIPA and the SJS Charitable Trust for its generous summer internship grant that made this internship possible for me.

At the OPA, I provided policy research, memo writing, and data analysis on a range of topics to inform draft legislation and frame issues for policy and legislative staff and the Public Advocate. I researched and wrote on economic aid programs for small businesses in New York City; municipal fiscal and budget constraints; police abuse and misconduct; and housing concerns. I also analyzed the 750-page fiscal year 2021 budget, wrote code in R to analyze weekly crime reports, built maps in GIS, and used Stata to crunch databases on police misconduct records.

I would not have been able to confidently take on these roles or be considered without the backing of SIPA and my urban policy coursework. Fun fact: the executive director of MHANY is a former student of Professor Ester Fuchs, the director of the Urban and Social Policy program, and I was introduced to the OPA through a SIPA student, after a student-led panel where she discussed her OPA internship from the prior summer.  

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your studies?  

COVID-19 laid bare our societal inequalities. As a public policy student, I felt compelled to act. I got involved in COVIDWatcher, a project between SIPA and Columbia’s Department of Biomedical Informatics. COVIDWatcher surveys thousands of New York City residents and businesses on an ongoing basis to measure the impacts of COVID-19 and to help determine policy solutions. Professor Ester Fuchs leads the project out of SIPA. I have been involved with COVIDWatcher since March 2020, helping to do outreach to community organizations and conduct census research to match our survey data. This year, I expect most of my course-related research to revolve around the socioeconomic disparities of COVID-19 in New York City.

Are there particular SIPA experiences that stands out?

I must give shout outs to Professors Harold Stolper and Ester Fuchs. I went to Professor Stolper’s talk last spring on over-policing and discrimination in the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority and knew instantly that I wanted to take whatever course he taught. I am now in his Quant II course learning valuable statistical analysis skills but applied to topical issues. In our first class, Professor Stolper had us think critically and engage on the Black Lives Matter protests and COVID-19 from a statistical lens. Moments like that remind me why I came to SIPA.

Professor Fuchs also stands out for her openness to considering anything students may suggest, and because it is plainly evident how much she cares about the students in the Urban and Social Policy program.

I am also a Reader for Accounting this fall and will be a Reader for Macroeconomics in the spring, and I work-study with the great folks at SIPA's Office of Career Services!


A View from the Class is brought to you by the SIPA Office of Alumni and Development.