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MPA Alum Focuses on China’s Energy System

2fc51bdIn his role as an Economic Analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund, Sheng Yan (MPA-ESP ’13) is able to combine his scientific knowledge and management skills to create long-term change in his native China.

1. What is your current job?
I am the economic analyst at Environmental Defense Fund, focusing on policy and business advisory on long-term sustainable transformation of China’s energy system. Recently, I have also initiated an open training platform in China to improve awareness and provide training packages of sustainability in energy for graduate students and young professionals who want to direct their career paths towards this field.

2. Do your current job responsibilities align with the professional goals that you originally had when you began the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP)?
With my background in economics and early career with China’s National Development and Reform Commission, I always believe that market-based solutions and policies’ supportive roles have to jointly tackle sustainable development issues in China. Moreover, sustainability is not a one-or-two expert game, but a public course that takes time and efforts to make real difference by contributions from all. When I started the ESP program, I strongly realized that the increasing, yet small groups of this young generation are aware of and engaged in energy and environment. This inspired me to educate and assist more young people to contribute in this field. What I’m currently working on is exactly leading me towards those goals.

3. What skills has the MPA-ESP program taught you that you think have proven useful to your current position?
The MPA-ESP program provided me with comprehensive learning opportunities about environment and sustainability issues from different perspectives, including science, economics and policies. Such combined exposure make it easier for me to communicate with people of different backgrounds and be able to bridge them, coordinate with them and eventually come up with solutions collaboratively. These are very important for an energy and environment consultants since successful solutions always come from joint efforts from various stakeholders rather than one, and bridges among them are of great value. That’s also why I believe that training young people with combined sets of knowledge and skills are the keys to sustainable development of environment and energy in the long run.

4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through this job?
Working at EDF allows me to meet with policy makers, scholars, business owners and scientists. By hearing different opinions and positions, I can grasp a full picture of sustainable energy system development issues with an understanding of local features, and deliver most useful information to people whoever involves themselves in this field. Importantly, these skillsets are valuable to pass on to more young people, in order to foster effective discussions on sustainability issues.

5. How has collaborating with your fellow students in class projects benefited you professionally and personally?
Prior to coming to SIPA, I witnessed lack of knowledge on scientific issues, which resultied in ineffectiveness of policy-making in China’s sustainable development as people in a team usually share non-scientific backgrounds. Collaborating with fellow students in the ESP program (especially through the workshop project) helps me to work closely with engineers and field scientists. I learned how different people think and solve conflicts in real professional situations. Such experiences also shaped my views on the complexity of sustainability issues and how to voice myself in ways that multiple stakeholders could possibly understand. These things have been crucial for me to better grow professionally.

6. What kinds of environmental initiatives do you hope to start in your new position?
The newly initiated open training platform I started in sustainable energy development field is the place where young people can get broad exposure to combined perspectives and skills training. With international,, multi-sector features, the training package will enable trainees: 1) to acquire both standardized and customized learning experience in not only academic but also professional environments, 2) to communicate and interact with international and domestic senior professionals and experts in the field, and 3) to build up multi-dimensional and worldwide professional network for their own career development.

7. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MPA-ESP program to further your career?
The inclusive learning experience in the ESP program presented me with combined problem solving skills and methods to work on sustainable development and energy issues. Young students and professionals leave this program with the ability to promote their understanding of the issues and grow in this important field.


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.

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