State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Student Profile: Carlos Calvo Ambel

Despite a wealth of professional experience in the environmental field, Carlos Calvo Ambel was sent by the government of Andalusia in Spain, through a program called “Talentia,” to join the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy Class of 2011. Carlos chose Columbia University and the program in Environmental Science and Policy run by the Earth Institute in partnership with the School of International and Public Affairs because it offered what he needed at that point in his career. “It had the perfect combination of science and management. It also covered many of the gaps in my education, which were mainly related to management and economic issues.”

Carlos came to Columbia University after five years of studying environmental sciences at Pablo de Olavide University in Seville, Spain, and at Roskilde Universitetscenter in Denmark. He also already had three years of green experience under his belt, having worked on a range of projects including protecting the local environment during the construction of one of the world’s biggest solar energy production complexes, greenhouse gas inventories, assessing the carbon footprint of products, and other projects in environmental management for a leading household cleaning product company and for a company providing global solutions for climate change. “I learned how the individual beliefs of one single person in the correct post can make a big difference towards the activity of a whole company.”

Among the projects Carlos had run prior to joining the master’s program was the training of over 900 managers working for Abengoa, an innovative Spanish sustainability technology company working in the infrastructure, environmental and energy sectors on the operation of a greenhouse-gas monitoring program. After this experience he had a major realization: “The approach to environmental issues should be adapted to local culture, but should always share a common framework.” His work in the private sector also taught him a lesson for the future of the green economy. “It is possible to be profitable and collaborate with future generations at the same time.”

To train effective earth systems professionals like Carlos, the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy (M.P.A. E.S.P.) program begins with a summer term in which students learn the fundamental science of earth systems and conservation biology, and are introduced to environmental policy and management issues. The required courses include sciences such as environmental chemistry, climatology, hydrology and urban ecology as well as two classes that involve principles of environmental management.

The intensive 12-month interdisciplinary M.P.A. E.S.P. program is designed to have an applied focus in order to prepare individuals for leadership positions in local, state and federal government agencies, as well as in nonprofit organizations and the environmental divisions of private corporations. Students develop practical skills necessary to understand the formulation and management of environment and sustainable development public policy.

Over the next two semesters of the program, students delve deeper into the formulation and management of public policy. This fall, Carlos and his classmates are taking classes such as quantitative techniques and systems analysis in policymaking; ethics, values and justice; microeconomics; and public management. The spring semester will include more finance-related subjects such as environmental data analysis, the economics of sustainable development, financial management and a 6-credit workshop in applied earth systems policy analysis.

The physical and social sciences are linked throughout the program so that students gain an integrated understanding of earth systems. The principal goal of the core curriculum is to provide students with the analytic, communication and work skills required to be problem-solving earth systems professionals. To that end, students are taught specific professional and vocational skills such as memo writing, oral briefings, group process and team building, leadership, strategic thinking, creating spreadsheets and other forms of financial analysis, the use of computer programs, analysis of case studies of earth systems issues, and issues concerning the World Wide Web.

Graduates now work in a wide range of public and private agencies in the United States and abroad, including Region 2 of the Environmental Protection Agency; U.S. Department of Energy; Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Environmental Policy Office in Ireland; Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, The City of New York,; Booz Allen Hamilton; Cadmus Group; Malcolm Pirnie; ICF International; Environmental Defense; Environmental Insurance Agency; CLF Ventures, Inc; The Consortium for Energy Efficiency; Women and Girls Empowerment Program; and Arizona State University, School of Life Sciences. After graduating next spring, Carlos envisions himself returning to Spain to settle in the region from which he hails. He hopes to work in either the public or private sector to fulfill his dream of being able to implement environmental policies that help to address global environmental challenges using a local perspective. Carlos wouldn’t rule out working abroad first to reach the level of knowledge and experience that he hopes for by the time he returns home.

Having been a trainer of trainers in his earlier professional life, Carlos is perhaps happiest with his leadership role in the applied workshop class he is taking with Professor Kathleen Callahan. In the class, Carlos is the manager of the REDD+ via the Copenhagen Accord Group. Besides being wowed by the real world environmental management challenges that Callahan faced and resolved during her 35 year tenure with the Environmental Protection Agency, he finds immediate value in her tips on how to best manage his workshop group of 13 students.

Callahan has also developed great admiration for Carlos’ skills and dedication. “Carlos is an extremely strategic and insightful thinker. He brings these capabilities to his workshop team both as a substantive contributor and a leader. He is highly organized, knows how to delegate yet retain responsibility, and has an excellent balance between setting demanding goals and engaging his colleagues in a respectful, direct and humanistic manner.” Professor Steven Cohen, who is the director of the Program as well as the executive director of the Earth Institute, is equally enthusiastic about Carlos’ performance. “Carlos brought a wealth of professional experience with him when he entered our program, but rather than rely simply on his own background, he has delved into the management and economics courses available to him with great enthusiasm. Carlos is a prime example of a student whose professional experience has only served to make him a more enthusiastic and dedicated student.”

When he isn’t engaged in how to manage his classmates for the workshop, Carlos considers his peers to be an amazing resource. He is excited to have the opportunity to learn from their experiences, which include work for the United Nations, the European Commission and the Nature Conservancy, among other places. “Our set of skills as a group is impressive. It is even more obvious during our workshop meetings, where previous experience proves useful. There is an excellent atmosphere where everyone helps each other, promoting the learning experience even more.”

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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