State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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Students Travel to Jordan and Israel to Learn About Environmental Issues

On May 25th, nine Columbia students will board a plane to the Middle East, to learn about how two countries in the region, Jordan and Israel, are cooperating on environmental issues and managing shared natural resources such as water.  The students, led by Beth Fisher Yoshida, academic director of the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program, and Shahar Sadeh, academic coordinator, will spend one week in each country as part of a new summer field study program: Regional Environmental Sustainability in the Middle East.  The students are the first cohort of this program, which was developed by the Earth Institute, Columbia University’s Middle East Research Center and the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The program has drawn interest from across the university and comprises six graduate and three undergraduate students, representing seven different schools. The Columbia students will be joined by five graduate students from the Porter School of Environmental Studies. Together, these students will learn about the management of shared natural resources such as water, environmental and biodiversity conservation efforts, how climate change is affecting the region, and much more through meetings with various stakeholders that include academics, NGOs and government ministries.

Read more about the students below:

Aleena Farishta
Aleena farishtaAleena is a first year graduate student in Urban Planning at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, with an interest in international development and environmental sustainability. She plans to write her thesis on water management in the Middle East and hopes that this program will give her the opportunity to learn more about this issue through discussions with researchers, academics, and policy makers in both Jordan and Israel. Aleena recognizes the importance of addressing environmental and water issues in the region, due to the conflict and the scarcity of natural resources. She hopes that the program will enable her to become further involved in identifying possible long term solutions to these issues.

Alyssa Menz
Alyssa Menz headshotAlyssa was born and raised in upstate New York, in a small city surrounded by the Catskill Mountains and has always been fascinated by all things related to the natural environment. Currently a rising junior at Columbia College, Alyssa is majoring in Sustainable Development, with a concentration in Cultural Anthropology.  As part of her major, she has taken courses that examined a wide array of environmental, climate change, and natural resource management issues that cross geographical boundaries.  Alyssa participated in the SEE-U Jordan program last summer, which emphasized key environmental issues in the Middle East and peaked her interest in the complexities of that region. She feels that by participating in the Regional Environmental Sustainability in the Middle East Program, she will expand the breadth and depth of her understanding of environmental issues and constructive outcomes.

Camila Kochi
camila kochiCamila is a first year student at the Mailman School of Public Health, studying Environmental Health Sciences with a certificate in Toxicology. She became interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict after moving to Texas from Brazil in 2007. Camila was struck by the differences between the two countries, and noted that in Brazil, the division between Arabs and Jews is not as apparent as it is in the United States. She hopes that during this trip she will learn more about the cultures of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, while broadening her knowledge on what shapes the foreign policies of these countries. Additionally, she would like to gain a better understanding of environmental peacemaking, and become engaged in synthesizing sustainable peace theories, while gaining hands-on fieldwork experience.

Chris Collins
chris collinsChris is currently a graduate student in the Climate & Society program at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.  He has a unique professional background, having spent time in the documentary film and television industry and as an Earth and Environmental Science high school teacher in the Boston area. He is very interested in the management of shared natural resources in politically diverse regions, and is particularly interested in the management of water resources in the Middle East.  He hopes to gain a deeper understanding of the on-the-ground issues in the region and to apply this information to his climate based work in the future.


Dan Misheiker
DanDan is a Ph.D. student at the Porter School of Environmental Studies. He comes from the field of literature and is writing his thesis on the subject of Animal Representation in Jewish Literature from a Post-Anthropocentric Point of View. Dan was raised and educated in Jerusalem, and from early on in his childhood he became interested in the environment, in nature in general, and specifically in their interactions with animals. Over the years, he has also participated in many seminars and in a number of programs involving Jews and Arabs.  He thinks the Regional Environmental Sustainability in the Middle East Program will expand his knowledge regarding the regional conflict, by exploring the environmental aspects that he is less familiar with. He hopes that the program will broaden the boundaries of his own thesis research, by expanding his ability to express humanistic and literary attitudes towards the environment and nature, and to enlarge and enrich the discussion with additional points of view.

Deborah Sachare
Deborah SachareDeborah is a rising senior at Barnard College studying Environmental Policy. She recently studied abroad at Tel Aviv University and feels strongly that the politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict should not prevent citizens of the Middle East from their right to access fresh drinking water. She intends to pursue a career in conflict resolution that allows her to address issues of water resource management in the Middle East. Through the program, she seeks to gain an understanding of the trans-boundary environmental issues facing the Middle East, its political implications, and possible negotiations and outcomes. She hopes that by being a part of this unique program in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority this summer, she will leave with an in depth understanding of how to become an efficient policy maker in water resource management.

Eliav Shtull-Trauring
EliavEliav is a first year student in Porter’s Masters Research program, focusing on the water footprint of different agricultural crops in the Jordan Valley.  He is also an intern with the Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME). Through his internship and research, Eliav developed a deep understanding of the complexity of environmental issues, and particularly water pollution and allocation problems, which he feels can be solved only by regional cooperation. While he believes that there is no one person or organization that can solve the complex environmental problems we are facing, on the flipside, there is no problem that cannot be solved if faced by a wide coalition that invests energy to find creative, innovative and applicable solutions. One of Eliav’s main goals is to develop a coalition and make connections that will allow for this crucial cooperation in the future.

Madeline Silva
madeline silvaMadeline is a graduate student in the Master of Public Administration program at the School of International and Public Affairs, with a concentration in Energy and the Environment.  She is also an intern at the Earth Institute, where she assists with research focused on energy, the environment and sustainability management.  Prior to coming to Columbia, Madeline worked in California’s energy industry, where water usage is a large part of discussions about the environmental impacts from power generation.  She feels it is important to travel to this part of the world to see how the natural resources such as water are viewed in the face of deep-rooted conflict. She is interested in learning more about one of the most prominent conflicts in modern international affairs, and also how negotiations work regarding natural resources.

Michelle Leppert
XMichelle-LeppertAs a student pursuing a M.S. in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, Michelle’s motivation to participate in the Regional Environmental Sustainability in the Middle East Program is to more fully understand the complexity, as well as the dynamics, of the conflict taking place in the region. She was drawn to the fact that aside from studying the social, economic and political factors exacerbating the conflict, students in the program will analyze the conflict from an environmental perspective. Her aspiration is to find out whether the environment helps to bring sustainable peace to the region, and, if so, under what specific circumstances. Michelle’s ultimate objective is to learn from the conflict resolution practices of these countries, and to learn how to apply these best practices in her home country.


Veronika Lacktman
171_514048206275_2406_nVeronika is a graduate student in Porter School of Environmental Studies. She also works as a tour guide and director of an international educational program that engages young people from around the world to explore life in Israel. Her interests lie in developing projects in the region that help to build sustainable and diverse communities, and promote volunteering and eco-friendly educational tourism. She sees this program an opportunity to foster a dialogue on important topics such as mutual interest in sustainable development and cross country cooperation, which is particularly important between Jordan and Israel, two countries with such cultural and geographical proximity.


Theresa Formato
T_FormatoTheresa is a student in the M.S. in Sustainability Management program at the School of Continuing Education. Her interests lie in the built environment, and particularly its management of energy, water and waste.  Theresa is passionate about the environment and nature, and interested in learning, first-hand, about water management in the Middle East and the role of politics in the situation.  She is excited to go to Jordan and Israel for the first time and to experience the different cultures.



Xiaoyu Yan
Headshot_XiaoyuYanBorn and raised in Jinan, China, Xiaoyu has had her heart set on becoming a professional journalist since the age of ten. She is currently a rising senior in Columbia College studying Philosophy and History. She was drawn to the Regional Environmental Sustainability in the Middle East Program for its interdisciplinary approach to sustainability and environmental issues, and in particular its emphasis on communication across borders.

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