State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

MPA Students Learn about Urban Ecosystems in NYC Parks

Ferdie Yau of the NYC Parks Natural Resource Group speaks to ESP students about restoration projects and community engagement at Hunt’s Point Riverside Park.

On Friday, July 27, the students in the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) program took a field trip to Randall’s Island and Bronx River Park. The trip was organized and led by Columbia Professor Matthew Palmer who teaches Principles of Ecology and Urban Ecology during the program’s summer semester.

“I organize these field trips for the course so that the students can get first-hand experience in urban ecosystems and be able to interact with environmental professionals about the work they do in urban ecology,” said Professor Palmer. “By inviting guest speakers from city agencies and non-profit organizations to join us on these excursions, the students have the opportunity to build their professional network and hear about different careers in the field.”

The students spent the first half of the day taking tours of the wetland site at Randall’s Island with Randall’s Island Park Alliance (RIPA) members Victoria Ruzicka and Anne Wilson. The tours helped students to gain insight into the restoration projects that take place in urban areas, like New York City. The RIPA tour guides highlighted not only the need to understand the ecology of wetlands and the threats facing these ecosystems, but also the importance of grants, public and private support, and community engagement to a successful restoration.

The second half of the trip was led by Ferdie Yau of the NYC Parks Natural Resource Group, who accompanied the MPA-ESP students to Hunts Point Riverside Park and the Bronx River Park. This portion of the day-long excursion focused on the community engagement side of urban restoration and the role of local investment in restoration and cleanup projects. Yau explained how the role of urban green spaces extends beyond providing multiple ecosystem services like flood prevention and carbon storage – these spaces also contribute to healthier communities.

The day concluded with a tour of the facilities of Rocking the Boat, a non-profit organization that strives to empower inner-city youth through boat building, rowing and sailing, and assisting with restoration projects on local waterways. By working collaboratively, Rocking the Boat participants are able to build their self-confidence, and learn the skills necessary to set and achieve goals.

ESP students conclude the field trip with a group picture at Bronx River Park.

“We know that the environmental policy decisions we’ll be making after school won’t be happening in a vacuum, so having a human element of this ecology-focused trip was a good reminder of that,” said current MPA-ESP student Kendall Singleton. “People have to be invested in their environment to become stewards of it. Between the park tours and the visit to Rocking the Boat, we were able to witness the positive results of these stewardship efforts throughout the day.”

Students in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) program enroll in a year-long, 54-credit program offered at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), in partnership with the Earth Institute. Throughout this one year program, students are immersed in courses that combine Columbia University’s hands-on approach to teaching public policy and administration with pioneering thinking about the environment. During the summer semester, students learn the fundamentals of environmental science, while the fall and spring semesters focus on teaching the policy and economics necessary to becoming successful environmental analysts and managers. Please visit our website to learn more about the program.


Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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