State of the Planet

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Faculty Profile: Robert Cook

bob cookFor Robert Cook, an adjunct professor in the MPA in Environmental Science program, teaching allows him to share his unique experiences in veterinary medicine and conservation research with students as they delve into public policy legislation in the Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Management.

1. Why did you choose to teach at Columbia in the ESP program?
For many years I was the chief veterinarian at the Wildlife Conservation Society, headquartered at the Bronx Zoo. My background in emerging wildlife disease provided a unique perspective on threats to the health of people and animals. In order to gain a better understanding of how to impact the policy behind the science, I decided to pursue my MPA, and after completing SIPA’s executive program in 2002, I became more involved with these issues nationally and internationally.

I have always enjoyed being a part of learning environments and felt my education at SIPA provided a supportive atmosphere for both students and faculty. When invited to teach as part of the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy, I jumped at the opportunity. I enjoy working with graduate students committed to gaining knowledge. Together we work through the issues of some of the most current priorities in environmental policy that impact wildlife and wild places. The students provide great energy and enthusiasm, and we learn from each other. On and off I have had the pleasure of teaching the Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Management for six classes of students–it’s a wonderful opportunity that I truly enjoy.

2. What is new in your area of research?  
After a rewarding career in wildlife health and then as the general director for the Wildlife Conservation Society Living Institutions (Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and the New York Aquarium), I decided to take on a new challenge. I am now the program director for the Conservation and Medical Research Programs at the Helmsley Charitable Trust. This is an entirely new career endeavor that has provided me yet an additional unique perspective on conservation and health. As a major private funder, the trust supports significant conservation work in select geographies around the globe. I lead a team that works with non-governmental organization grantees to provide support for their work in areas such as community-based conservation, protected area creation and management, species conservation, marine issues such as sustainable fisheries, sustainable natural resource management and health. We don’t do research in the academic sense but we do engage extensively in strategic planning, measurement and evaluation and understanding the unique cultural and policy issues of the places in which we work.

3. What is your favorite part of your job as an instructor?
Working with committed and enthusiastic graduate students and faculty. Sharing my experience with the issues and learning from the students’ insights and questions.

4. What do you believe is the greatest benefit that the ESP program has to offer its students?  
Faculty in the MPA-ESP program contribute years of experience and many, like myself, are adjunct professors that work full-time outside of the academic environment. As such we bring unique perspectives that enhance those acquired in the university setting.

5. What advice would you give to your ESP students for when they eventually go on to work in the field as public managers and policymakers?
Non scholæ sed vitæ discimus“– we learn not for school but for life.

Entering the MPA-ESP program is a gift to yourself. The knowledge you acquire provides a framework for a life of learning. But know that it is only the beginning. Continue to challenge yourself to seek opportunities to have a positive impact on the future of our planet, humanity and the vast diversity of species with which we share the natural riches of our world.

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.

Since it began in 2002, the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program has given students the hands-on experience, and the analytical and decision-making tools to implement effective environmental and sustainable management policies. The program’s 682 graduates have advanced to jobs in domestic and international environmental policy, working in government, private and non-profit sectors. Their work involves issues of sustainability, resource use and global change, in fields focused on air, water, climate, energy efficiency, food, agriculture, transportation and waste management. They work as consultants, advisers, project managers, program directors, policy analysts, teachers, researchers and environmental scientists and engineers.

Visit our website for more information:

Columbia campus skyline with text Columbia Climate School Class Day 2024 - Congratulations Graduates

Congratulations to our Columbia Climate School MA in Climate & Society Class of 2024! Learn about our May 10 Class Day celebration. #ColumbiaClimate2024

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