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.

June 28

Hello, I am Reed Kessler, a May 2023 graduate candidate in SIPA’s five-year joint degree program with Columbia’s School of General Studies (GS). At SIPA, I am pursuing Master of International Affairs (MIA), concentrating in International Security Policy with a specialization in International Conflict Resolution.

What did you do before attending SIPA?

As a five-year student, I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts from GS this past May while simultaneously completing my first year at SIPA. My undergraduate degree was in human rights with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies.

Prior to GS, I was a professional athlete on the U.S. Olympic team in showjumping, competing and training extensively across North America, Europe, and Asia. While traveling to compete, I developed an insatiable curiosity for the dynamics of international relations and the American position in the world, which brought me back to school in 2018. My competitive nature is easily translatable to academics at Columbia, and I hope it will continue to serve me well in a career in public service.

Alongside my athletic career, I have served as an ambassador for JustWorld International, an NGO affiliated with equestrian sport that partners with local NGOs in Honduras, Guatemala, Cambodia, as well as in the United States, to provide underprivileged children with access to education, nutrition, health, hygiene, and cultural development programs. As an ambassador, I am passionate about helping to spread awareness for the organization, fundraising with pledges of my career winnings and volunteering with projects in both Honduras and Cambodia. I was honored to also serve as a sitting board member for one of JustWorld’s partner NGOs, People Improvement Organization in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for three years.

Additionally, I was a consultant on a commission for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), under former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid al-Hussein; the project aims to help protect vulnerable Olympic athletes and bring greater visibility to gaps of accountability within sports, which was brought to the public eye during the last years with the misconduct by USA Gymnastics and the emergence of SafeSport as a Congressional Mandate. The IOC released our report in January.

Just before starting at SIPA, I completed an internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Washington Regional (UNHCR) Office in the Protection and Solutions Unit, where I learned a tremendous amount about the asylum and refugee resettlement processes both internationally and within the U.S. immigration system. UNHCR solidified my desire to work in public service and specifically to work on transnational, multilateral issues.

Why did you choose to attend SIPA?

I was fortunate to take several engaging SIPA classes during the first two years of my bachelor’s program. Professor Richard Betts really sparked my passion for security policy and inspired me to gear my academic path towards SIPA. Aside from that, SIPA is renowned as one of the best policy schools in the world and nothing compares to learning from some of the greatest scholars of our time in the classroom.

How did your pre-SIPA experiences prepare you to attend SIPA?

My athletic career taught me discipline and ambition. I gained a great deal of international experience at a young age which piqued my interest in U.S. foreign policy. JustWorld gave me an early sense of fulfillment in serving others; this fulfillment is hard to come by in sports which is a more self-focused career. UNHCR solidified my aspiration for a career in public service and showed me the individual faces of people affected by policy decisions for better and for worse, thus reaffirming my desire to work towards strengthening policymaking to tackle transnational issues.

Since starting at SIPA, have you had an opportunity to work or intern with any concentration or specialization related organizations?

This spring, I completed my first internship with the U.S. Department of State. I worked in the Political Section of the Permanent Mission to the United Nations, supporting the office of the U.S. Permanent Representative and other U.S. Ambassadors to advance U.S. priorities on all political and security matters at the United Nations. I am currently serving in my second internship with the Department of State in the Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) Bureau’s Negotiations Support Unit (NSU). CSO aims to anticipate, prevent, and respond to conflict that undermines U.S. national interests, while the NSU specifically works to support U.S. officials at every state of negotiations, from strategic planning to implementation, advising on both the negotiation process and the substance of peace talks.

What are you looking forward to studying or doing during your remaining time at SIPA?

I am looking forward to taking a few more classes while I still have time, including Contemporary Russian Security Policy with Professor Peter Clement, Negotiation & Conflict Resolution with Professor Seth Freeman, and International Strategy with Professor Thomas Christensen. I am also looking forward to making the most of the access SIPA provides through internship opportunities in hopes of landing one more working experience alongside coursework in the fall.

How has SIPA affected you?

SIPA has given me the self-confidence to enter my field. I believe the classwork, relationships, and the prestige of the program will make me a desirable candidate through internship hiring processes, and hopefully, as I begin applying for full-time jobs. SIPA has given me a network of talented peers and outstanding teachers and mentors.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?

I have made friends with brilliant students who I have no doubt will be future leaders in their fields, and I have been lucky to study with outstanding scholars and practitioners. It’s hard to name a particular experience when my entire time at SIPA has been full of special moments.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I am still exploring different areas of foreign policy work, but I have really enjoyed my experiences at the State Department. I’m interested in the Foreign Service, foreign policy work on the Hill, or potentially UN Peace Operations. And my partner Paulo and I are getting married right after graduation!

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

View all interviews in this series