State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Sustainable Development Grad Puts Theory to Practice in SE Asia

By Andrew Wilson

Within two weeks of graduating from the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development in May 2012, Patrick Blute found himself launched into a management trainee program with the non-profit Rustic Pathways and on his way to Southeast Asia. Rustic Pathways offers travel programs focused on community service and cultural exchange to both students and families. “My experiences within the sustainable development concentration aided in my ability to do well throughout the interview process,” said Blute about the position he found on Columbia’s LionShare.

Patrick is currently helping to guide high school students who are volunteering abroad by teaching them about sustainability and showing them how these lessons can be applied in their home countries. Student trips focus on visiting such projects as the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home on the Thailand/Burma border. The home houses 27 students from this volatile zone and offers children in need a safe home, proper nutrition, and quality education. Visiting high school students are given the opportunity to learn about Thai-Burmese border disputes, volunteer as English teachers, and work in the home’s organic garden. Participants this year also helped build a preschool in a village outside Mae Hong Son.

When asked if he is able to use the skills and knowledge he learned in the sustainable development program, he replied: “Every day I get to meet more and more high school students who care about sustainable development. I am constantly referring to things I learned in courses like Professor Steckler’s ‘Bangladesh: Life on a Tectonically Active Delta.’ We took students to a char in the Irrawady River that allowed me to share how a char is formed, what challenges are presented to the people who live there and so forth.” The Irrawady River in Burma, which is not only an incredibly diverse biological zone, but also facing severe ecological pressures from humans, is rated as one of the top thirty high priority river basins by the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Center.

Andrew Wilson is an intern with the Earth Institute’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development and working toward a degree in the Master of Public Administration in Development Practice program.

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