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.

May 22

Hello, I am Mohammad Salhut, a May 2022 graduate from the SIPA and Columbia Business School dual degree Master of International Affairs (MIA) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. At SIPA, I concentrated in International Finance and Economic Policy.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

I operated my late father’s small business, a C-Town Supermarket not far from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York.

Why did you attend graduate school and why did you choose to attend SIPA?

My rationale for coming back to graduate school was predicated both on my longstanding commitment to investing in my own intellectual development and on coming to an institution that would allow me to study economics with some of the sharpest minds in the world.

How did running your late father’s business help prepare you for SIPA?

Running a small business was the greatest challenge, personal and professional, I have ever experienced in life. It was rewarding in that it further developed my capacity to adapt to new challenges while strengthening the sense of self-reliance with which I was raised. That experience prepared me well for SIPA in that it gave me an appreciation for the practical application of some of the theoretical frameworks we learn in foundational courses, particularly microeconomics.

Why did you choose the MIA with a concentration in International Finance and Economic Policy?

I decided to pursue an MIA for two reasons – the first being its compatibility with the dual degree program with Columbia Business School. Second, I had interest in developing the nascent Hebrew skills I developed during the time I spent in Jerusalem in my childhood; that made the choice an easy one.

My decision to specialize in International Finance and Economic Policy was the product of my professional interest in learning about the policy dynamics that are relevant to financial markets and the state’s role within them.

What has been your experience at SIPA?

Most of my curricular and extracurricular energy focused on the field in which I am professionally interested. To that end, I had the opportunity to undertake a few internships, one in the venture investing arm of a financial institution, another in a technology investment banking group, and a third with a shareholder activist investment firm. I also organized and managed a capstone project with the Bank of Israel, focused on financial inclusion for Palestinians residing within Israel, including Jerusalem. In every respect, SIPA has supported the interests I have, in and out of the classroom; I’m forever grateful for that.

How did the dual MIA/MBA program impact your SIPA experience?

The challenge of being in the dual degree program is one I saw as an opportunity: spending twenty-five percent less time in either institution meant taking less classes with a lot of my classmates. That meant I had to take the initiative to build substantive social relationships, with faculty and my peers alike. It led me to be very intentional about my curricular and extracurricular experiences during my time here. Ultimately, the dual MIA/MBA program was extremely rewarding, both academically and professionally; the programs complemented each other wonderfully.

What are your thoughts as you graduate from Columbia and SIPA?

Alas, my time as a graduate student at Columbia University sadly comes to an end this month. While I am excited by and ready for the next step on my adventure, it feels like I still have so much yet to do at Columbia and SIPA. I look forward to being an alumnus who is involved with the individual schools I attended and the broader institution; Columbia changed my life and is one of the greatest assets to the American socioeconomic fabric.

Are there particular SIPA experiences that stands out?

There are three professors to whom I am grateful for being mentors, friends, and supervisors. They made my time at Columbia a truly extraordinary one.

First, my dear friend Professor Edmund Phelps, who took me under his intellectual wing at the Center on Capitalism & Society: thank you for teaching me a thing or two about the essential values that drive innovation in America. Working for him was one of the truly great honors and pleasures of my adult life.

Second, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, who I serve with on a task force exploring economic policy remedies to address the challenges automation will create for economies in the developing world: thank you for always challenging me to think harder about the important questions.

Third, Professor Richard Clarida, who chose me to be his teaching assistant following his time as Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve System of the United States of America: thank you for helping me develop my sense of moral obligation to make future civic contributions.

What are your post-graduation plans, and how has SIPA prepared you?

I plan to work in investment banking in New York City, focusing on financial institutions. SIPA has helped me develop a discerned understanding of the regulatory dynamics that are most salient to all of the companies with which I will be working, ranging from young FinTech firms to older banks or insurers. That informational capital will surely pay a dividend in my work.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

I want to extend a second profound thank you to Professors Phelps, Stiglitz, and Clarida for their mentorship, friendship, and invaluable time. I am forever humbled by their confidence in me.

I also want to express my heartfelt appreciation to Professors Ed Leonard and Andrew Laine of Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. They first opened their doors to me when I was a cold-calling teenager looking for an opportunity to learn about biomedical engineering. They hired me in their labs, taught me what was possible for individuals with the courage to take initiative, and exposed me to the wealth of experiences that define this period of learning in my life.

Finally and most importantly, I want to articulate in written word my boundless appreciation for my late father, Ahmad Salhut. He showed me a lot of tough love, trusted me with immense responsibility, and saw potential in me when others did not. He was an immigrant to the United States from Jerusalem who worked tirelessly to build an incredible small business in the Bronx. Today, thanks to him, I have three Ivy League degrees. Love you forever, Dad!

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

View all interviews in this series