State of the Planet

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MPA Student Has Eye on Future in Sustainable Development

MPA in Environmental Science and Policy Student Pablo Anton Diaz

Prior to joining the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy  (MPA-ESP) program, current student Pablo Antón Díaz was using his background in economics to evaluate the effects of a financial literacy training project in Mexico City. Working on this project gave Pablo an appreciation of how closely poverty and development issues were inked to issues of environmental degradation. Pablo chose the ESP program because he felt that the curriculum’s emphasis on both science and public policy would prepare him to tackle poverty alleviation within a framework of environmental sustainability.

1. What drew you to the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program?

As an economist devoted to the study and evaluation of poverty alleviation strategies, and as a nature-lover and environment enthusiast, I was very interested in exploring the links between social policies and environmental detriment so that I could encourage the design of sustainable strategies for poverty alleviation. I saw the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy as an ideal program that would let me effectively combine these two interests of mine, thanks to its combination of a science-based and a public policy curriculum. Additionally, as a SIPA student, I would also able to choose from a wide range of elective courses that would let me forge a solid theoretical background on the applications of data analysis for understanding the specific impacts of public policies.

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

Before enrolling in this program, I collaborated as a project associate at Innovations for Poverty Action  – a non-profit organization devoted to public policy research through randomized impact evaluations – coordinating the implementation of a Randomized Controlled Trial in Mexico City to assess whether financial literacy trainings were effective in promote savings and responsible credit card usage or not. This two-year evaluation was headed by two researchers from the World Bank and I was hired as the point person on the field to design and coordinate the logistics for its implementation. It was a very formative experience which gave me the opportunity to test my skills as an economist and a manager to the fullest.

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

Participating in this program has really highlighted the importance of exploring the links between social policies and environmental conservation in order to encourage the design of sustainable plans for poverty alleviation. It has led me to realize that it is fundamental for every policy targeted at improving the living conditions of the poor to also include a perspective on sustainability, because all topics on social vulnerability are also fundamentally linked to issues of environmental degradation. It is because of this absence that the survival strategies of marginalized communities can sometimes indirectly create negative externalities on their surrounding ecosystems, which in turn generate vicious cycles that exacerbate the meagerness of their living conditions, by undermining their coping resources. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that these groups are especially vulnerable to ecological catastrophes that have become more prevalent in recent years due to climate change. Therefore, it is crucial that both their local strategies and the broader policies aimed at improving their livelihoods incorporate views on environment preservation and sustainable management.

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

As any other student in an MPA program, I hope to develop all of the managerial and technical skills involved in the design and implementation of a public policy. So far, it has been a thrill to learn about all of the intermediate steps that are involved in the process of converting an enacted but ambiguous new bill into an effective public program. In this regard, the workshops we participate in every semester have been most helpful, as they have shown me all of the different aspects that must be considered in the installment and operation of any public policy.  

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

Besides continuing to expand my working knowledge on quantitative research methods for program evaluation, when I joined the program I was also especially interested in building a science background on the earth’s climate system. I want to better understand the issue of climate change, how we are impacted by it and what needs to be done to mitigate it. Since my educational background was in economics, I had no previous experience with the science behind this issue. The climatology course that I took during my first semester exceeded all my expectations in this matter and opened my eyes to a completely different set of interesting topics of which I was not aware beforehand. 

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

As an international student at SIPA, it has been an extremely enriching opportunity to collaborate with people from such diverse backgrounds and nationalities. The entire experience of being outside of my national context and my “comfort zone,” and having to effectively communicate and cooperate with such a heterogeneous group of individuals with different organizational schemes to get the job done has been both challenging and enlightening at the same time, to say the least. It is probably one of the aspects of this chapter in my life that I will treasure the most because of the value it has provided for me by allowing me to expand my interpersonal skills in a working environment.     

7. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the program to further your career?

My intention is to obtain all the necessary qualifications to gain experience as a public policy analyst to pursue a career in international development, with an acute focus on incorporating and promoting sustainability practices within social development policies. For that purpose, I am also currently doing an internship at the United Nations Population Fund, assisting the International Conference on Population and Development Beyond 2014 Secretariat in the development and planning of the next Human Rights Conference and its related activities for the next year. I’m hoping that this experience, together with my continuing studies at SIPA will lay the groundwork for my professional future in this particular field.

Students in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program enroll in a year-long, 54-credit program offered at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, 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 in the fall and spring semesters, they focus on the policy and economics necessary to becoming successful environmental analysts and managers. Visit our website to learn more about the program.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

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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