My girlfriend and I started grad school at the same time. After working with refugees in Texas, we both agreed that international development was the way to go. We applied to the same schools, and, with a few exceptions, we were accepted to our top choices, DU and Columbia included. Believe it or not, we loved both Denver and Columbia, going back and forth between the two for months.
I obviously went for DU, and she settled on Columbia’s SIPA (See-Pah) Program, headed by the superstar Prof. Jeffrey David Sachs (Korbel bloggers really ought to take a look at SIPA’s Morningside Post). She and I talk a lot about what’s going on in our respective programs, and we’re almost always struck with how little our courses have in common. She doesn’t write 20-page research papers or read hundreds of pages every week. She doesn’t have a part-time job like me and others I know. She doesn’t spend hours a week applying for internships and “networking” for jobs. SIPA doesn’t ask their students to do any of these things, and yet for some reason she seems to be busier than I am. The reason I suspect has to do with Mr. Sachs and his quite grand vision for the world. This vision is embodied in the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), which actively recruits SIPA students to be the (highly productive) long-term executors of his plan.
I’m not trying to argue that Sachs is using his SIPA
program to create an army of MDG zombies to work high-level positions at development posts around the world who will ultimately undermine the current power structure and bring about a new world order. I will mention that if he wanted to do this, he is among the few who could.
I love (and sometimes hate) Korbel’s unspoken appeal to always question authority even when it means walking out of class with a lasting feeling of ambivalence. SIPA on the other hand seems to relish in Sachs’s authority. He has a clear, holistic, and (let’s admit it) charismatic mission that has translated to razor sharp curriculum that emphasizes the technical aspects of development. Rather than the Korbelitian style of in-depth research that asks students to “go it alone”, SIPA emphasizes group projects that reflect the kind of project teams operating in the field.
So, I like both approaches. Despite the endless criticisms and ambiguity about the West’s role in development, Korbel has made me more fluent on a large range of topics. I am a better writer (better than I was before at least), and I’m getting better at motivating myself and managing my time (sort of). Even with these benefits, I’ve looked for ways to learn more hard skills. The Humanitarian Assistance Certificate under Chen Reis has been a great way to link the Korbelian research approach with the kind of skills training needed in the real world. Ms. Reis has worked extensively in field, and because of her experience, HA classes have more group work and relevant hard skills than other courses. Some of the classes have the same feel as our field trainings from Peace Corps. It has been a great way to bridge theory and practice without marrying myself to a particular point of view or personality.