State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Student Profile: Jennifer Haller

While studying as an undergraduate, Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy (M.P.A.-E.S.P.) student Jennifer Haller figured her degree in environmental science would be enough to prepare her for a career in implementing environmental change. However, upon entering the work force, she realized she wanted more preparation. Jennifer explains, “I quickly realized the important role public policy and politics play within the environmental realm.”

Looking to broaden her science-focused background, Jennifer was attracted by the M.P.A.-E.S.P. program’s multidisciplinary approach to tackling environmental problems. Having an environmental science foundation and a desire to learn about public policy made the M.P.A.-E.S.P. program a natural fit for Jennifer.

Prior to entering the program, Jennifer’s professional experience focused mostly on environmental monitoring remediation of Superfund sites. “Working on remediation sites,” she explains, “helped me gain a unique appreciation for sustainable development and an understanding of the burden that comes from leaving a future generation with a degraded environment.”

The Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy trains sophisticated public managers and policymakers, who apply innovative, systems-based thinking to environmental issues. The program challenges students to think systemically and act pragmatically. It offers a high-quality graduate education in management and policy analysis that emphasizes practical skills and is enriched by ecology and earth science.

The program’s approach reflects the systems-level thinking that is needed to understand ecological interactions and maintain the health of Earth’s interconnected ecological, institutional, economic and social systems. This understanding is gained through the core curriculum that provides students like Jennifer with the analytic, communication and work skills they require to be problem-solving professionals.

With a continuum of research projects and analysis, Jennifer’s time in M.P.A.-E.S.P. has exposed her to topics ranging from hydrology and climatology to economics and ethics. Jennifer explains that learning new topics, like economics, excites her because of how the principles and theories relate to the environment and sustainability. “It was also exciting with economics to finally get some practical uses for calculus, even though everyone, including my high school calculus teacher, always said I never would.”

Another thing that intrigues Jennifer: her classmates. She beams, “they are amazing.” Having a variety of backgrounds, this year’s M.P.A.-E.S.P. students have experience ranging from the military to banks to nonprofits. Jennifer emphasizes that her classmates hail from around the globe, but have “a common interest and goal to have a positive impact on the environment.”

Graduates of the M.P.A.-E.S.P. program are prepared for the roles of analyst, manager and translator of scientific knowledge. The skills and concepts it incorporates involve an understanding of scientific method, including observation, hypothesis generation and hypothesis testing; the chemical processes affecting environmental quality and public health; collection and analysis of field and laboratory data; and systems modeling. “This is an intensive program,” says Steve Cohen, director of the program, “but designed to equip students with the policy, management and scientific skills needed to become effective environmental managers.”

Outside of the program, Jennifer interns with the Earth Institute. She has been assisting research concerning fuel wood availability within the Millennium Villages in Africa. “My whole experience with the Millennium Villages has been amazing,” she says. “To learn about the program and help it achieve its goals has been a truly rewarding experience.”

Graduates of the program are creating a new profession of earth systems problem-solvers: individuals who are prepared for leadership positions in local, state and federal government agencies, as well as in nonprofit organizations and the environmental divisions of private corporations. They are also well-suited for designing cost-effective programs and implementing policies. Most importantly, a deep understanding of earth systems informs their work, allowing them to craft the kinds of solutions necessary for increasingly complex environmental problems.

Following graduation, Jennifer plans to use the skills and knowledge she has gained to develop innovative environmental policy solutions. “I see myself going back into the environmental consulting world with a newfound understanding of environmental policies and politics and their implications for helping or hindering positive environmental change,” she says. “It is my hope that the knowledge I gained from this program will make me a more effective promoter of environmentally sustainable practices.

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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