State of the Planet

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Sustainability Management Student Develops Passion for Energy Analysis

MS in Sustainability Management student Laura Tajima
MS in Sustainability Management student Laura Tajima

Before enrolling in the program, Laura Tajima managed cross-cultural education programs and developed curricula that engaged international scholars to speak about their personal experiences with global environmental issues. Now Laura works as an intern in the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, working with energy audit data from Local Law 87. In her position, she gets to apply a lot of the technical skills that she has acquired in her MSSM classes to record energy systems and energy usage.

1. What drew you to the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program?

For the past four years, I managed a cross-cultural education program that introduced underserved NYC kids to international university scholars. In my later years there, I developed curricula that engaged international scholars to speak about their personal experiences with water issues, global warming, and sustainability. Their impact with the students was profound, however I found I wanted to drive change in a larger setting. I needed a program to teach me about the issues but I also wanted to position myself to manage projects, connect with experts in diverse fields, and develop creative solutions to environmental challenges. The MSSM program was a great balance between the science, policy, economics, and business of sustainability as well as provided the experiences and connections I wanted.

2. What do you intend to do professionally once you achieve your degree?

Coming into this program, I had some general ideas of where I hoped this degree would take me. I knew I wanted to initiate sustainability programs in the private sector, which was a change from my background in the non-profit world. Now that I’m into my second semester with the MSSM program, I hope to focus on energy efficiency and energy strategy in companies. However, I think one exciting aspect about this program is that many careers MSSM graduates will have may not exist yet! We can do a lot to shape our job positions and develop new careers.

3. What do you think is the most important sustainability challenge?

On a technical level, I think effective energy efficiency measures are critical for us to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. If we can reduce our energy use, it will stimulate our transition to renewable sources. However, on a larger level I believe we need to make sustainable living a standard in our society. For businesses, it must go beyond marketing and impact daily operations. On a personal level, I think we all, myself included, can be more critical about the things we use and waste we generate. To get there, we must make sustainability the better option, economically and socially.

4. What skills and tools have you acquired through the program so far?

In most of my courses, we’ve had a final project. Though sometimes stressful, I think these projects are a great demonstration of the skills and knowledge we’ve acquired. I’ve written a GHG emissions report for a small office, presented a proposal about vertical farming, researched and developed an investment brief on transportation companies, and evaluated energy savings of retrofits and energy conservation measures. These projects tested my quantitative analysis and research skills, but also developed my communication, leadership and management skills.

5. How have you applied what you’ve learned in the program so far?

I’m currently interning with the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, working with energy audit data from Local Law 87. I’m applying a lot of the technical skills I’ve acquired to record energy systems and energy usage. By being in this office, I’m learning about policy and strategy that incorporates more of the conceptual lessons I’ve learned in the program. However, I think the environmental science, policy, and financial literacy I’ve learned in the various courses has made the biggest impact on my professional life. It’s given me a confidence when addressing these issues that I didn’t have before.

6. Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular sustainability related have you engaged in with your fellow Sustainability Management students?

I’ve attended a number of talks and events held by the School of Continuing Education, the Earth Institute, and the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. They often provide a different perspective or the current events of an issue I’m learning about in class. I recently toured the Sunset Park Materials Recovery Facility, organized by the Green Business Club. Hearing about the amount of recycled waste NYC generates is great, but seeing the mountains of recycling bags lifted off barges really put this amount into perspective!

7. What is your favorite class in the MSSM program so far and why?

Two classes come to mind. With Responsibility and Resilience in the Built Environment, I traveled to Butte, Montana; a town with its share of challenges (home to the largest superfund site in the country) but also an amazing history and ideas for its future. We were tasked with designing a resiliency project. It was challenging but rewarding to think about these issues on a real-world scale. Analysis for Energy Efficiency with Luke Falk is the other class I’ve really enjoyed. It provided me with great practical knowledge that I’ve immediately applied in my internship. I hope to continue this application in my professional life.

8. How has collaborating with your fellow students in projects in the classroom benefited you professionally and personally?

I was a little nervous coming into the MSSM program, as my educational and professional background seemed atypical. However, I found that there is no “typical” background. I’ve collaborated with people from finance and architecture; those who have worked in the oil industry and fashion industry; people from all over the world and those who grew up in the city. These backgrounds always lend new perspectives, skills, and lessons to our classes and projects.

The M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Continuing Education, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. The program requires the successful completion of 36 credit points. Those credit points are divided among five comprehensive content areas: integrative sustainability management, economics and quantitative analysis, the physical dimensions of sustainability, the public policy environment of sustainability management, and general and financial management. Visit our website to learn more.  

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