State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Student Profile: Andrew Cummings

andrew cummings 2
Andrew Cummings, during his time with the US Peace Corps in Burkina Faso.

For Andrew Cummings, the MPA ESP program is providing him the opportunity to marry science and policy with the experience he gained as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso. Cummings credits his experience as a volunteer for giving him the skills he needs to succeed in a fast-paced environment.

1. What drew you to the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP)?
The one-year, full time format initially drew my attention.  Post-Peace Corps, I wanted to continue my education, but did not want to wait another two or three years before finding a career.  As I continued to research the MPA-ESP program, I was also impressed with the scientific focus of the program.  Understanding the science behind environmental issues, such as climate change or soil toxicology, allows you to design and implement more effective public policy.  Lastly, I wanted to attend a program from an internationally recognized university with top-notch research facilities.  Attending Columbia University accomplished both of these goals.

2. What were you doing before you started the program?
Before beginning this program, I was a manager of an environmental education program with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, located in Annapolis, Maryland.  CBF is a non-profit environmental conservation organization dedicated to restoring the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding tributaries.  As manager, I organized and taught daily field experiences for over 114 regional schools and universities on a wide-range of topics, such as: ecosystem services, water quality dynamics, sustainable development, and watershed management.  The best part about this job however, was that I did all this outside and on a boat!

I also served as a Community Economic Development Agent in the United States Peace Corps in Burkina Faso from June 2012-August 2014. During that time, I facilitated small-business and financial workshops focusing on income-generating activities and allocated USAID funding for clean water and sanitation projects that resulted in 15,000 citizens gaining access to potable water and proper sanitation. I also facilitated a link between regional and international funding organizations to help construct an orphanage for children in the area.

3. How did your experience in the Peace Corps influence your decision to attend the MPA-ESP program?
Before serving in the Peace Corps, attending an Ivy League school, like Columbia, would have been very intimidating to me.  However, after 27 months in the West African country of Burkina Faso, I feel like there is nothing I can’t figure out and/or accomplish.  I knew this program was going to challenge me, but the soft-skills, like flexibility and patience, I learned as a Volunteer has prepared me very well for such a demanding program.

4. What area of environmental policy and management are you most interested in?
Currently, I am interested in sustainable development as well as environmental remediation.  This program, however, connects you with so many diverse resources that your interest start to expand into new areas!

5. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through the program?
My undergraduate degree focused on public policy, so I am looking forward to acquiring tools that are useful in different scientific applications.  Research analysis, how to approach different policy topics from a scientific perspective, different ways to effectively and objectively translate data to policy makers, are all important skills that this program has taught me thus far.  In the coming semesters, I hope to build on these new skills and continue to expand my science background.

6. What is your favorite class in the MPA-ESP program so far, and why?
There are too many to narrow down to just one, but I have really enjoyed Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology.

7. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MPA-ESP program to further your career?
My career goal is to change the energy and water usage behavior of communities, businesses and countries. To accomplish this, I would like to open a consulting firm that provides tailor-made solutions to the water and energy needs for these target groups. My hope is to deliver solutions through creative research and development, international collaboration and practical engineering and product deployment. In order to accomplish this, I sought a program that addresses the policy side of our environmental future, as well as the practicality of how to address future climate changes. I believe that science is the backbone for good policy and will be the foundation for changing energy and water usage behavior.

8. What advice would you offer Returning Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) who are applying to graduate programs?
Be realistic about your academic strengths and weaknesses, and find a program that challenges you to have a more robust and complete understanding in the issue(s) that you are interested in.


MPA-ESP program representatives will be attending recruiting events this fall exclusive to RPCVs, starting with the Rocky Mountain Regional RPCV Career Conference in Denver August 10-11, 2015. See our recruiting schedule on our website for more events.

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 741 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:

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments