State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

ESP Student Shifts Focus to Urban Sustainability

MPA in Environmental Science and Policy student Maureen Loman ('14)
MPA in Environmental Science and Policy student Maureen Loman (’14)

Current Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) student Maureen Loman is no newcomer to the science world. Her undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland included research into subjects such as plant genetics, forest fragmentation, and bat acoustics, and for the past three years she has worked at the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University studying whale and fish acoustics. This interest in oceans and ocean management led her to apply to Columbia, where she hopes to acquire a deeper knowledge of policy in the environmental world to complement her hard science background.

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

After having been part of the science world for such a long time, I started to look into graduate programs so that I could use my biology background and bridge the gap between science and policy. This program seemed to have a nice set up of classes for me: easing my way back into school with science classes, then diving into ethics, econ, finance…while still being able to take electives sounded like a great way to achieve my higher education goals. I’ve lived on the east coast my whole life, and loved the idea of being able to live in New York City and complete a master’s program in just one year.

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

I completed my undergraduate at University of Maryland, where I studied biology and took various student research positions in plant genetics, forest fragmentation, and bat acoustics. Though, my passion for the marine environment led me to a summer internship at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where I was introduced to acoustics in the context of marine mammal conservation.

After graduating and spending 6 weeks contemplating post-graduate life backpacking through Europe, I received a position at the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University. I spent three years learning more about whale and fish acoustics, data collection and analysis, project management, report writing, and real-time whale conservation. A project involving offshore energy off the coast of Jacksonville, FL, and the acoustic environment of endangered North Atlantic Right Whales and Blackdrum Fish really got me interested and thinking about fisheries management. After realizing I could only go so far as a scientific researcher in terms of managing these precious ecosystems, I sought after masters programs that would allow me to gain the knowledge that I needed in environmental policy to properly use science for issues in environmental management.

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

While my interest in ocean management drove me to applying for this program, the classes I’ve taken and the internship I have currently at the Earth Institute has led to a shift in my interest – I want to focus on urban sustainability and a global consensus on what that means. Learning more about climate change and living in an urban environment made me aware of a side of management I had never considered as a career. Although I know that one day I could potentially go back to exploring a career as an oceans policy analyst or fisheries manager, I’m excited about the prospect of having a new-found career path. Taking a few sustainability courses here has really opened my eyes to new possibilities and I’m very excited about them.

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

I really hope to acquire a deeper knowledge of policy in the environmental world, and how I can attempt to bridge the gap that exists between scientists and policy makers.  With my already strong background in hard science, I came to this program really wanting to learn more about the governance structure and implementation of environmental policy – this has come to a great start through my summer and fall workshop, which entailed the dissection and theoretical execution of the Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act. Having gotten a better sense of the world of sustainability, however, I am eager to develop and refine my management skills and I know this will take place through this semester’s Workshop as I am manager for a team working on the restructure and refinancing of New York City’s transit systems for the Regional Plan Association.

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

It’s hard to choose a favorite class, as we’re taking close to 60 credits in 3 semesters…but I can narrow it down to Climatology and Innovative Sustainability Leadership. In Climatology with Professor Jason Smerdon, we learned about the differences between weather and climate, and the hard science was really interesting and applicable to the other aspects of the program. It was very refreshing and inspiring to get the real facts regarding such a touchy subject like climate change, and now I feel more knowledgeable when looking at the subject in the media or in a scientific article. In Innovative Sustainability Leadership, taught by George Sarrinikolaou and Steve Cohen, we put the topics we learned about in sustainability management into a real world context. It’s a great way to dissect strategies and tactics of sustainability management based on talks given by important figures in the field.

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

Group work, and being good at it, is one of the most valuable things I will take away from this program. The first day of class, we were put into our workshop groups and knew we would have to learn to work with each other to produce high quality deliverables for the next two semesters: it turned out to be a great experience, both scholastically and personally. I’m so glad that friendships have grown from this program, making the one-year intensity less hard when the camaraderie is so high. Additionally, it is so rare to be in an environment where over 60 people can share such similar morals and values, in environmental science and policy and outside of school. We learn from each other every day, and I know that the synergistic and valuable relationships that I have formed with these students will continue to grow as we embark upon our own journeys after graduation.

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

Over the summer, we had the privilege of going on a few field trips that gave context to what we were learning in our urban ecosystem class. We visited a few parks and learned about the integration of natural systems into an urban one, as well as to the Gowanus Canal (a Superfund site that showed us first hand how impactful anthropogenic effects can be on the environment). There have been multiple free panels about sustainability, energy efficiency, and other environmental topics that are a great way for us students to hear some first hand insight from professionals and experts in the field. Finally, I received a position as a research intern at the Earth Institute, working with Steve Cohen, Satyajit Bose, and a few other colleagues on a research project about Sustainability Policy and Management, to study environmental metrics and measures used by organizations globally to report on sustainability.

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

I would like to take the skills I’ve acquired here at Columbia and be able to integrate them into my goals of bridging the gap between science and policy. Whether that ends up being in a corporate social responsibility setting, making sustainability reports and researching key performance indicators, or I end up working for a government agency or non-profit managing fisheries and marine ecosystems, I’m am very excited and eager to move on to the next phase of my life. The insight I’ve received from the variety of distinguished professors and colleagues has been invaluable in moving forward in my career path, and has opened my eyes to all the possibilities this program has created for me. The network that has emerged, along with my new found skillset in sustainability management and knowledge of environmental policy will support me in succeeding as I encounter new responsibilities and challenges.

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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