State of the Planet

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MPA Student Builds Basis for Policymaking

Current MPA-ESP student Max Litt believes that by understanding the earth sciences within a policy context he will be better prepared to grapple with modern environmental challenges as a policymaker when he graduates from the program.

Prior to joining the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP), current student Max Litt was working for the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), an environmental non-profit founded by actress Bette Midler to revitalize underserved parks and public spaces. Max’s experience on the operational side of environmental policy motivated him to enroll in the program because it forced him to see the challenges that managers face when trying to bring new environmental initiatives to fruition. Max chose the MPA-ESP program because of its science component and fact that it is only a year-long commitment.

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

The curriculum of the MPA-ESP program was by far the biggest draw for me. I looked at a number of different MPA programs, but MPA-ESP is one of a kind, especially with regard to the program’s science component. By understanding the earth sciences within a policy context, MPA-ESP graduates are better prepared to grapple with modern environmental challenges. I also liked that the program is only one year, which means that we can get right to work!

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

Before starting the program, I was working for New York Restoration Project (NYRP), an environmental non-profit founded by actress Bette Midler to revitalize underserved parks and public spaces. My work was focused on implementing Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative MillionTreesNYC, an ambitious plan to plant and care for one million new trees in the city by 2017. Being on the operational side of environmental policy opened my eyes to the challenges of bringing policy to fruition.

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

At this point, I haven’t yet narrowed my focus. If I had to choose now, I would say that I am particularly interested in issues of transportation and the environment. But then again, I am also concerned about climate change adaptation, multi-scale landscape impact analysis, energy and finance. My plan is to use electives and an internship to create a trajectory for myself. Fortunately, it’s still early enough in the program to do this!

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

One skill that I hope to cultivate is cross-disciplinary communication. Environmental problems are complex, and require multi-dimensional solutions that draw from both the physical and social sciences. The MPA-ESP program builds competency across various fields of study in order to nurture effective analysis and communication.

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

The summer schedule was focused on science, and coming from an environmental science background it is hard for me to choose a favorite. All of the instructors did a great job of balancing concepts with real world applications. That said, I think my favorite course that I have taken so far has been climatology. I was amazed at how Professor Smerdon was able to take a subject as complex as the global climate and teach the fundamentals in a six-week introductory class.

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

The MPA-ESP program is all about collaboration, especially in the Workshop course. My project team studied the New York State High-volume Hydraulic Fracturing Waste Tracking Program, and each team member brought a different perspective to the issue. We also found ways to complement one another’s work through our diverse background and skills. As workshop manager, I had the chance to facilitate research and briefings, as well as to hone my project management skills. On a personal level, everyone in the group got along well and we even managed to have some fun.

7. Beyond the classroom, what, if any, extracurricular sustainability-related activities have you engaged in with your fellow Environmental Science and Policy students?

This summer, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion on the Rio+20 Conference with many of my classmates. The panel was moderated by Juan Felipe Rengifo-Borrero, MPA-ESP class of 2012, and the topic of the discussion was the panelists’ views on the outcome of the conference. It was definitely a unique opportunity to get the panelists’ candid assessments of matters of international environmental policy.

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

I intend to use the expertise I gain from the MPA-ESP program to craft effective policies that resolve pressing environmental challenges. The MPA-ESP degree is designed to create environmental sector problem-solvers. I am excited to be part of the valuable network of students, faculty, and alumni that comes with being in the MPA-ESP program.

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.

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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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