State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Undergraduates Work as Consultants for Capstone Workshop

By Noah Morgenstein

This past December, seniors in the Capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development delivered their final presentations to fellow students and faculty at Columbia University. The workshop is a required course for students in the Sustainable Development major or special concentration. Unlike traditional courses, the workshop requires students to work collaboratively on a client project to find solutions to a specific sustainable development problem. After months of research and preparation, three workshop groups shared their findings formally at Columbia, before doing so for their respective clients.

The Fall 2013 projects included a climate change analysis for the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, an urban policy analysis for West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc., and a business strategy for the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. These projects were carried out under the guidance of professors Stuart Gaffin and Radley Horton and are described in detail as follows:

Climate Change and Water Availability in the Nile River Basin

Students worked with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in order to quantify the impact of climate change for the Nile River Basin and assess implications for the hydrology of the Nile River. The team used mathematical models to examine the limits to population growth and water resource adequacy in the Nile River Basin region. In presenting their research, the students, Erica Bower, Nikhil Krishnan, Perihan MacDonald, Alex O’Hagan, Andrew Pinelli, and Etsegenet Wakjira, concluded which models would be most useful for their client.

The Harlem Green Zone Initiative

The Harlem Green Zone Initiative aims to address the combined challenges of high unemployment, poorly maintained housing, and a legacy of environmental degradation and related poor health outcomes.  The students working on this project were Zach Gonzalez-Rusiewicz, Lexa Koenig, and Nicole Santucci, who assisted West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. by developing strategies for building and financing the green zone. Toward such ends, the team performed cost-benefit analyses for parts of the green zone and researched potential sources of financing.

Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance

Abigail Bates, Katya English, Matt Lonski, Miata Morlu, Ryan Coutu, Sarah Chang, and Sharene Hawthorne-Rene assisted the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance in developing a business strategy for creating a ratings and reward system for a sustainable waterfront in New York City.  The students began by researching existing organizations and determining the characteristics of a successful rating system.   In the end, these results were synthesized into optimal strategies and recommendations were made accordingly.


To watch the presentation videos, please refer to the following links:

Climate Change and Water Availability in the Nile River Basin

The Harlem Green Zone Initiative

Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance


Noah Morgenstein is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute. He attends Columbia College and will graduate in 2015 with a degree in economics and political science.

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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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