News from the Columbia Climate School

Graduate Applies Skills Towards Wildlife Conservation

By Nnamdi Nwaezeapu

Who needs to take a break when you are out to help save the planet? This was the mindset of Isabel Ricker, who graduated from the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development in May 2012. After securing a prestigious summer internship at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Isabel has landed a full-time internship with the Climate and Energy Program at the National Wildlife Federation.

The National Wildlife Federation works with diverse groups and stakeholders to help protect wildlife and their habitats, and to develop the minds of future conservationists. While one might think that the federation’s well-respected reputation would necessitate having an inside contact to get an internship, Isabel found this position by simply researching the organization’s website and submitting her application online. She found that developing and utilizing her professional network was the most effective way to identify the fields and companies which were most suitable for her career path.

At the Climate and Energy Program, Isabel primarily works on the “Dirty Fuels and Clean Energy” campaigns. She has multiple responsibilities that include writing reports, editing documents and doing research on issues from oil sands and pipelines in Canada to offshore wind development on the Atlantic Coast.

“It can be challenging to stay organized with so many different projects…I have about eight bosses,” Isabel said about her heavy and varying workload. However, what Isabel found most difficult was the steep organizational learning curve she encountered. Isabel noted that it was hard to determine  “…when I should volunteer to do something and when it would be more apt for someone higher up; who to talk to about a certain topic; and generally how the organization works and who does what.” These are all challenges that are overcome with time and something that every young graduate faces in a new role.

The skills and knowledge Isabel gained in the Sustainable Development Program have helped her to be successful in her early career. She uses knowledge from her coursework daily when doing background research  on environmental and sustainable development issues. She has seen how her education gives her an advantage over some of her colleagues who lack knowledge on fossil fuel production, combustion and the chemistry of greenhouse gas emissions.  “I had to go back into my PowerPoints from Science for Sustainable Development for a recent report, and Professor Valentini’s course on energy conservation taught me conversion factors, chemistry and the physics of fossil fuels and the mechanics of engines/combustion,”  Isabel said.

Nnamdi Nwaezeapu is an intern with the Undergraduate Sustainable Development Program and a sophomore in Columbia College planning to major in economics. To learn more about the Program in Sustainable Development, please visit our website.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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