State of the Planet

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ESP Student Aims to Make Sustainability Part of Everyday Life

Current MPA in Environmental Science and Policy student Tim Grose hopes to use his inclinations as a “measurer, sorter, and organizer” to improve the  human relationship with the environment.

Before he joined the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) program, current student Tim Grose designed and built cloud computing platforms to help organizations working in education, public health, sustainability, and social justice. As a self-proclaimed “measurer, sorter, and organizer,” Tim hopes that his time in the ESP program will teach him how to use these inclinations to improve the human relationship with the environment.

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

I’m fascinated about how humans interact with their surroundings, how we are somewhat aware of this interaction, and how we have some conscious say in altering this interaction. The MPA-ESP program explores these three lines of inquiry in a practical setting.  By spending the summer taking environmental science courses, ESP students become well versed in the language and process of scientific progress.  In the fall and spring semesters, students learn about how to manage and make decisions in order to translate this progress into action.  ESP produces graduates that can link the world of environmental science with the world of policy in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

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

Before I started the ESP program, I designed and built cloud computing platforms to help organizations working in education, public health, sustainability, and social justice improve their management, monitoring, and evaluation systems. I am part of the team at Vera Solutions, which is both a B Corp and Echoing Green fellow. We are trying to bring the focus on data-driven decision making to the realm of social change.

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

There’s a lot here. I’m interested in the economics of environmental management. We are in a time of many tradeoffs, so we’re looking at how we can better incorporate the environment into our regular decision making processes as a society.  Doing so requires that humans to achieve greater scientific literacy and that we measure the services ecosystems provide to us.

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

At heart, I’m a measurer, sorter, and organizer. I want to learn about how to use these inclinations to improve our relationship with the environment. Right now, for instance, I’m learning about how to analyze spatial datasets with Geographical Information Systems (GIS).  I’m taking a Sustainability Metrics class in order to figure out how to track, as the United Nations Brundtland report described it, our ability to meet “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”  This summer, I worked with a group of fellow students to examine water scarcity and access in Yemen.  We looked at scientific literature, socioeconomic reports, and news articles to get at the causes of and potential solutions to the problem.  The program teaches us about how to ask questions and how to find meaningful answers to those questions.

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

I really enjoyed my Climatology class this past summer with Professor Jason Smerdon. We learned about how a few elegant principles give rise to our complex climate.  It is also informative to hear about climate change from a scientific rather than a political perspective.

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

The ESP students are from such a wide range of experiences and places. Sharing these different perspectives certainly enriches our time here but also helps us develop a more comprehensive understanding of environmental policy. Environmental policy has a different vibe in NYC than in Florida or California or China or Norway or Rwanda.  For example, some Scandinavian and island countries already prioritize reducing greenhouse gas emissions whereas larger, developed countries, such as the United States, are slower to respond.  And large growing economies, like China and India, are expected increase their footprints substantially.

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

We have taken field trips to Gowanus Canal, an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund clean-up site in Brooklyn, and the massive Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.  We also explored Van Cortlandt Park, Pelham Bay Park, Randalls Island, and the Fountain Avenue Landfill closure project.  For urban ecology, we split into groups, and each team explored the ecology of a few blocks of a particular street, observing the movement of energy and materials in a city setting.  We also spent a day at the Earth Institute’s Lamont-Doherty Observatory outside of the city, where we toured the campus and listened to scientists talk about some of the fascinating things they have researched, from measuring the extent of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to taking core samples from the ocean floor.

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

There’s lots of work to do. I have a few different ambitions, in no particular order: help move towards more sensible indicators for economic health and standard of living (Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Product don’t cut it), broaden accountability in the private sector to stakeholders rather than just shareholders, and increase scientific literacy and awareness. As Einstein said, “Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.”

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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