State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

A Former Teacher Learns to Be an Effective Change Agent

Students in the MPA in Environmental Science & Policy program enroll in an intensive, 12-month program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Throughout this one year program, they are immersed in science, policy and economics courses that combine Columbia University’s hands-on approach to teaching public policy and administration with pioneering thinking about the environment. The 62 students come from a wide variety of backgrounds ranging from Sociology to Engineering and come to us from 17 different countries. To learn more about the program, please visit

Q & A with Cindy Hollenberg, current MPA Environmental Science and Policy Student

Cindy Hollenberg
Meet Cindy Hollenberg, MPA ESP Class of 2012

1.      What drew you to the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP)?

I was drawn to the program first because of my love for science, my concern for the environment, and my realization that, to make a difference I would need to be in a position to influence policy decisions. The program’s interdisciplinary nature resonated within me. Secondly, as a nontraditional student I was particularly enthused about the intense, one-year aspect of the program. I could justify quitting my job and not being employed for one year, but not longer.

2. What were you doing before you started the program?

I was a high school public school teacher in rural New Mexico, teaching various physical sciences, Spanish and communications.

3. What area of environmental policy and management are you most interested in?

I’m interested in various areas:  waste reduction and mitigation, water conservation, appropriate alternative energy strategies, and climate change mitigation technologies.I have a difficult time choosing just one for the same reason that I was drawn to the program – I want to learn about and do it all!

4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through the program?

Besides learning more about the scientific aspects of environmental issues, I hope I will learn to understand the social, political, and economic implications and challenges of environmental policy decisions.  By understanding more about them, I believe I can be a more effective change agent.

5. What is your favorite class in the MPA-ESP program so far, and why?

My favorite class so far was climatology. Partly, it was the one science I really didn’t know anything about before, but partly it was a very dynamic class, led by a dynamic professor. The class also helped me understand the importance of systems-based thinking and appreciate the connections between what most people think of as separate phenomena. Besides that, we got to manipulate really cool maps.

6. How has collaborating with your fellow students in class projects benefited you professionally and personally?

Personally, working collaboratively has helped me realize the complexity of the issues that we face. The science is complex, the political arena is complex, and the economic interactions are complex. Add to this the complexity of each individual’s experiences and perspectives. What I thought I knew may need to be tempered by this new knowledge that someone else brings to the table.

Professionally, it has helped me realize that I can contribute to a group effort in a significant way, even if I don’t have all the answers. And so can everyone else at the table. Learning from others while working with others is a skill I’ve had to cultivate in order to survive.

7. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MPA-ESP program to further your career?

At this point, my goal is to work in some capacity for the federal government, perhaps through the EPA. I believe that I am and will always be a teacher, even if I never step foot in a classroom again. I see my skills being utilized in analyzing and translating complex environmental concepts for those who have a stake in the outcome of policy decisions. I don’t know what form this will take. Perhaps community outreach, program implementation, or project management will suit. Whatever form it takes, I will continue to learn as well as share knowledge so that the maximum benefit can be achieved.

“. . . to know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived – this is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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12 years ago

Bravo Cindy! I wish you much success in creating positive change!!

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