State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

2015 Sustainable Development Departmental Honors

By Chandler Precht

Noeleen_AlyssaThis past spring, two outstanding students, Noeleen Advani and Alyssa Menz, were selected for departmental honors in the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development. Their unflagging commitment to sustainable development spans far beyond the constraints of a classroom and is demonstrated by their extracurricular educational and research undertakings. Their pursuit of a scientific career in sustainable development is inspiring and noteworthy. Congratulations to Noeleen and Alyssa!

Noeleen

Q&A with Noeleen

What skills and tools have you acquired through the program?
Engaging in multidisciplinary research has taught me the importance of using a systems approach to address pressing global issues. I have designed social research, conducted fieldwork and analyzed data across a broad range of domains, including demographics, economics, biology, environmental policy and health. These have given me a nuanced understanding of the interactions between natural and social sciences as well as the complexity of possible solutions needed to resolve critical sustainable development issues.

How have you applied what you’ve learned in the program so far?
My strategy has always been to bridge the gap between my academics and the real world via hands-on field experience. As a research assistantship with the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions within The Earth Institute, I designed better platforms to inform sustainable environmental and social decision-making. Through some of the numerous international fieldwork opportunities that the program offers, including SEE-U Jordan and the Bangladesh workshop, I conducted individual and group research projects looking at the effects of desertification and natural disaster-related migration on affected communities and livelihoods as well as the environment. Furthermore, while interning in Tanzania, South Africa and Swaziland over the summers and during a semester abroad, I further developed my interest in social justice through access to healthcare worldwide, focusing on malaria, HIV/AIDS and community health research.

What was your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability while in the sustainable development program?
My senior thesis analyzed the best practices in health service delivery for HIV-positive pregnant mothers in Swaziland. I was proud to be able to draw on my academic coursework, including quantitative research skills and thematic expertise in health, demographics, policy-making and economics, to analyze the efficiency of the current health system and to make concrete recommendations that can impact patient outcomes.

Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular sustainability related activities have you engaged in with your fellow Sustainable Development students?
There are so many opportunities to debate sustainable development issues outside of the classroom at Columbia and I feel very fortunate to have been involved in some, although I wish I could have been part of many more. I have been secretary of DeltaGDP: The Growth and Development Project, a peer mentor for the Sustainable Development Students Union, and a senior editor for Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development, all of which have encouraged me to think very critically about the issues and best practices surrounding sustainable development.

What do you intend to do professionally after graduation?
In the near future I am working with an HIV prevention organization in South Africa, and in the long-term I plan to pursue graduate school in global public health to equip myself with tools to address lack of access to healthcare in low-resource settings. In recent upheaval due to changing climatic conditions, globalizing migration movements and increasing global inequality, the future of access to healthcare needs to be informed by the sustainable development framework and I’m interested in working at the intersection of these key issues.

Alyssa

Q&A with Alyssa

What skills and tools have you acquired through the program?
Through the sustainable development program I have gained field experience, fine-tuned my independent research and scientific writing skills, practiced public speaking through numerous independent and group presentations, expanded critical thinking skills in addressing complex dynamics related to environmental management within the intricate international political sphere, learned how to create maps using Geographic Information System (GIS), perform statistical analyses and programing using R, and gained leadership experience.

How have you applied what you’ve learned in the program so far?
I have applied what I have learned during my senior thesis, as team manager of the workshop in sustainable development capstone, and during independent research projects and presentations during the SEE-U Jordan program, Regional Environmental Sustainability in the Middle East Program in Jordan, Israel, and West Bank, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences Coral Reef Ecology Program, Tropical Biology and Sustainability in Kenya Program, and independent internship studying port sustainability within the physical oceanography department at the University of South Florida.

What was your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability while in the sustainable development program?
My biggest accomplishments associated with sustainability while in the sustainable development program were creating and successfully completing an original research question for my senior thesis and acting as team manager for my Workshop in Sustainable Development Capstone.  My senior thesis was entitle A Means to Alleviate the Bushmeat Crisis? The Feasibility of Establishing Sustainable Grasscutter Farms in Kenya, and I aspire to actually create sustainable grasscutter farms in East Africa at some point in my life.  As team manager for my Workshop in Sustainable Development Capstone, I lead a team of 7 students as we worked with a visiting law fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School to determine the effects of climate change on the correctional sector.

Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular sustainability related activities have you engaged in with your fellow Sustainable Development students?
Outside of the classroom and study abroad programs/research, my fellow sustainability students and I have gone to sustainable development talks at Columbia and in NYC, explored sustainability-related exhibitions at the American Museum of Natural History, and volunteered at WE-ACT, an Environmental Justice Organization in Washington Heights.  I am currently working with students on urban garden projects in Upstate NY.

What do you intend to do professionally after graduation?
I received the Jarvis and Constance Doctorow Fellowship which fully funds my Masters in Nature, Society, and Environmental Governance which is within the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford in England.  In the near future I hope to work in environmental/sustainable development consulting and eventually pursue a PhD.  Ultimately, I aspire to create my own consulting firm that deals with conflict resolution and peace negotiation strategies through environmental policy and conservation on an international level.

Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is an interdisciplinary program that addresses sustainable development through an understanding in the interaction between natural and social systems, offered through The Earth Institute in partnership with Columbia College and the School of General Studies. Participating departments and schools of the sustainable development major and special concentration include the Department of Earth and Environmental Biology; the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering; the School of International and Public Affairs and the Mailman School of Public Health.

To learn more about the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development, visit our website or contact Program Manager Jessica Sotomayor at jsotomayor@ei.columbia.edu.

Chandler Precht is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. She is an undergraduate student at Barnard College.

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