State of the Planet

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Former Fulbright Scholar Explores Science of Sustainability

MPA in Environmental Science and Policy student Holly Battelle

Current MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) student Holly Battelle parlayed her undergraduate study of economics into a Fulbright Fellowship in Bangladesh where she explored the economics of solar energy.  This field experience prompted her to enroll in the program because she wanted to formally study environmental science and policy and gain the necessary knowledge that she plans to apply to a career in sustainable communities after graduation.

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

The MPA-ESP is a really unique masters program. Coming from an economics background, I really wanted to have a strong scientific foundation to build on. I loved how the summer was devoted entirely to the sciences. I also really liked how interdisciplinary the curriculum and students in the program are, namely how the program encourages students to draw on each other’s diverse backgrounds and knowledge. This creates a great collaborative learning environment, and as a result I think I have learned as much, if not more from my peers. 

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

After graduating from Colby College, I worked for the Congressional Budget Office in Washington D.C. for two years. As a Research Assistant, I worked in the Macroeconomic Analysis Division helping economists forecast the U.S. economy. While there, I primarily focused on the housing and mortgage markets, but I also had the opportunity to work with the climate team, which sparked my interest in bridging economics with the environment. I decided I wanted to explore this intersection more, and moved to Bangladesh for a year as a Fulbright Scholar to research solar energy using an economic lens. There, I researched solar energy for both urban and rural use and indirectly learned about the environment and climate change. It was in Bangladesh and seeing firsthand the impacts of climate change that I knew I wanted to go back to school to formally study environmental science and policy.

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

I am really interested in learning how to make cities around the world more sustainable and prepared for the impact of climate change. Since the majority of the world now lives in cities, there is a great opportunity to reduce the human’s impact on the environment. I am interested in the new innovations cities can implement to make this a reality.

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

I hope to better understand and develop the policy and management tools that facilitate technological and societal innovations to help communities, countries, and the world mitigate and adapt to climate change. Now that I have the scientific background of how ecosystems works, from our summer semester, I am enjoying analyzing policy and program initiatives that are intended to reduce human impacts on the environment and the tools they use to provide the right incentives to change our behavior.

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

This is a really tough question, but I think my favorite class so far has been Urban Ecology, taught by Professor Matthew Palmer, which I took during the second half of the summer semester. Having taken Ecology, Climatology, and Environmental Chemistry in the first half of the summer (which I also loved), Urban Ecology built on the principals from those classes and applied them to cities.

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

One of the best parts of this program is the students and the opportunities to work with each other. From day one, we have been working, teaching and learning from one another, building strong collaborative and constructive relationships. My classmates are constantly introducing me to new ideas and concepts that I have never heard about or had the chance to explore. This has helped me to learn about different career paths I may have never thought of, and has also encouraged me to go to different events I may never have gone to before. 

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

Having 70 peers all interested in environmental and sustainability issues makes it incredibly easy to become involved outside the classroom. Over the summer, we went on a number of field trips, including to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where we got to talk with scientists and visit their labs, and the Gowanus Canal, a superfund site in Brooklyn. These trips help put our lectures into perspective and immediately enable us to apply the classroom to the real world. Less formally, the other week, a group of us got together to watch the screening of “Chasing Ice,” an amazingly powerful film featuring James Balog’s photography of glaciers retreating throughout the world.

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

When I graduate, I hope to continue to build on the scientific and managerial foundation I developed in the MPA-ESP program. I now feel like I have the knowledge base to effectively manage sustainability projects, whether for a local government or the private sector. Most importantly, I will have the resources and network to draw on when faced with a challenge or uncertainty. 

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.


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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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