State of the Planet

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MPA Student Hopes ESP Program is Path to Capitol Hill

Current MPA in Environmental Science and Policy student Maggie Dewane hopes to utilize the knowledge that she gains from the ESP program to pursue a career with the federal government after graduation.

Prior to joining the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP), current student Maggie Dewane was working as the Executive Assistant to United States Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, while also serving as the Senator’s Projects Specialist for military, veterans’, foreign, and women’s affairs. Having studied Diplomacy and International Relations as an undergraduate, Maggie hopes to complement her negotiation skills and policy knowledge with the scientific reasoning she has learned in the ESP program.

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

Respecting the environment and its wildlife has always been my passion. Growing up, I knew that I wanted to teach others about protecting our natural world – that we share this planet with other beings. The MPA-ESP program synthesizes a working knowledge of how and why our planet functions the way it does with effective negotiating and policy-making expertise. For me, I was enticed by the idea of being able to one day take this accumulation of skills to Capitol Hill. It is all too often that we see our lawmakers making decisions without proper scientific support. I believe that the MPA-ESP program aims to close that gap.

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

Prior to beginning the MPA-ESP program, I was working as the Executive Assistant to United States Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey. Based out of the Newark, NJ office, I managed Senator Lautenberg’s affairs while he was in-state and interacted frequently with other Members of Congress. When the Senator was in Washington, I served as a Projects Specialist for military, veterans’, foreign, and women’s affairs. I organized national profile events like the announcement of returned funding to Planned Parenthood from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, presented project briefings to congressional staffers at the Library of Congress, and navigated the federal bureaucracy for New Jersey residents through daily casework.

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

I would say that I am most interested in climate change mitigation and economic development through sustainability measures.  Right now, we are seeing high temperature and CO2 levels in the atmosphere due to increased anthropogenic (human) activity. Many of us have seen the Keeling Curve – the graph that conveys carbon dioxide levels within the atmosphere over the last five decades. Carbon dioxide has increased significantly and scientists are currently studying what the “maximum” level is that earth can withstand while remaining safe for human and natural ecosystem survival. Creating sustainability plans for developing nations will contribute significantly to the success of global climate change mitigation.

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

I am very excited to graduate from the program in May with a firm comprehension of the science behind today’s environmental issues – knowing how to quantify problems and relay those numbers and data into everyday terminology that a non-scientist can understand. By demonstrating the importance of maintaining economic and planetary sustainability and justice, I hope to influence policy, lawmakers’ decisions, and individual people’s mindsets. Having studied Diplomacy and International Relations in my undergraduate career, I look forward to complementing my negotiation skills and policy knowledge with scientific reasoning.

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

Climatology has been my favorite class so far, which is funny because it was also coincidentally the toughest for me! The course taught us about atmospheric and oceanic circulation, solar radiation, global wind patterns, the differences between weather and climate, and how all of these aspects fit together to create the world we live in. It was an extremely practical course that explained WHY we need to care about curbing climate change. I hope to revisit this course’s material throughout the program.

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

Since I do not come from a scientific background, I found it extremely beneficial to work with other students in our lab coursework this past summer. Learning from my peers who specialize in this material was both informative and fun. After all, these are the scientists I will be collaborating with in my future career. This program encourages group work which builds professionalism and some terrific friendships. It also alleviates some of the stress when you can laugh with a classmate over figuring out what stoichiometric equations are!

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

Being surrounded by such like-minded people certainly emboldens my own sustainability awareness. Regarding specific activities, I have joined a Task Force as led by our Earth Institute Student Government representative in which we hope to craft proposals for university-wide sustainability practices (such as calculating carbon footprints for the entire campus, eliminating plastic bottles in vending machines, and more). This semester, I plan to join some of the SIPA clubs like the SIPA Energy Association and the Journal of International Affairs. I’m also eager to assist the Office of Career Services at SIPA with preparation for the annual DC Career Conference over winter break.

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

Upon graduation, I hope to return to the United States Congress as a Legislative Aide for environment and energy issues in the Senate. The legislative process and research associated with it fascinate and exhilarate me. I want to support suggested policy with accurate and cohesive data and statistics. I anticipate (and hope) that my career will be within the federal government, and that ultimately I can work my way up the ladder to become a Member of Congress myself. Hopefully with the help of my classmates – the leaders and scientists of tomorrow – we can leave a mark that defines us as innovative guardians of this incredibly diverse world.

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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