News & Stories

Forced Apart by COVID, Members of the SIPA Community Grew Closer

Posted Oct 18 2021

In March 2020 as Columbia moved to remote instruction, SIPA’s Information Technology (IT) and Academic Affairs offices jumped into action to provide Zoom access to faculty, staff, and students, as well as hardware, support, and training (in person and virtually).

To facilitate the new hybrid instructional environment planned for the 2020–21 academic year, IT staff developed and implemented a hybrid flexible, or HyFlex, design in 18 International Affairs Building (IAB) classrooms during July and August of 2020—a significant challenge given short staffing, supply-chain shortages for equipment, and a constantly shifting technology landscape. By fall, though, all the classrooms were upgraded with cameras, projectors, ceiling microphones, lavalier microphones for instructors, ceiling speakers, touch-screen podium monitors, and large monitors to allow for student-faculty Zoom interaction.

During the 2020–21 academic year, SIPA offered a slate of 565 course sections (including 33 new courses), 25 percent of which were offered in the hybrid format.

In addition to teaching online and in person, faculty lent their expertise to help address the global crisis and expand understanding of the policy implications of the pandemic.

Students also availed themselves of more than 430 remote career events, including 137 employer information sessions. According to SIPA’s Career Advancement Center, more than 2,200 students from 57 countries have signed up for online career events since March 2020. Across those events, 185 alumni joined as panelists or employee representatives.

Students facing unexpected and severe financial hardships were eligible for emergency funds from both SIPA and the federal government. Since the beginning of the pandemic, SIPA has distributed 423 awards totaling $514,810 to students. In addition, SIPA granted $1,000 awards to 407 continuing students in the MIA, MPA, and MPA-DP programs to assist with expenses they may have incurred during the summer.

Safety was the focus of the University’s Facilities and Operations team, who installed nearly 300 social distancing decals and signs, touchless faucets in every restroom, hand sanitizer stations, and water bottle fillers throughout the IAB. While many worked from the comfort of their homes during the worst of the pandemic, Facilities and Operations staff maintained a cleaning regime that surpassed CDC standards.

As faculty and students grappled with a new hybrid academic reality and Facilities and Operations safely maintained our physical space, SIPA continued its mission of convening policy leaders from across disciplines and time zones. Although the move to fully virtual events posed some challenges, it also offered the opportunity to connect with members of the SIPA community who would have been unable to attend events in Morningside Heights: nearly 725 alumni from 73 countries attended online events during the past academic year.

From an ongoing series that investigated central bank responses to COVID-19 to pre- and postelection panels, participants enjoyed interacting with distinguished guests, as well as attending the occasional Zoom happy hour or story slam. The School also staged virtually its two annual signature events, SIPA graduation (for two consecutive years) and the 20th Annual Global Leadership Awards Gala.

In the coming months, life will fully return to the IAB. SIPA’s rich culture of academics, scholarship, and convenings will adapt to address the policy challenges of a post-pandemic world, and our global community—brought even closer by distance—will continue to connect in new, hybrid formats.

This story appears in the most recent issue of SIPA Magazine, published in October 2021.