State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

The Most Valuable Skill? Creative Problem Solving

By Chandler Precht

AlexisAlexis Huseby is a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Sustainable Development Program.

What drew you to the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development?
As a born and raised Seattlite, I have been exposed to environmentalism and sustainable thinking throughout my life. I never initially considered studying it because it never occurred to me that there were places in the world where this wasn’t a way of life, or where sustainable development needed to be implemented. I also didn’t realize how much I still had to learn about it. It took taking the Intro to Sustainable Development class for me to understand that this major is not only immediately applicable and vitally important, but also varied and interesting enough to keep me engaged throughout my college experience. Put simply, I discovered the passion that I hadn’t realized was there all along.

What areas of sustainable development are you most interested in, and why?
I’m really interested in water stress and overpopulation, because I view those as two of the most pressing issues that will have surprisingly far-reaching consequences—like the water wars in eastern Africa. I’m also really interested in the intersection between gender and sustainable development. This relates to overpopulation, because of the link between female education and lower birth rates, and also can provide really interesting insights into how societal values influence our response to climate change. Finally, I like looking at sustainable investing, and how the current market can actually be used to make changes for sustainable development.

What skills do you hope to acquire through the program?
I can already name so many skills that the sustainable development major has given me, from the tangible (like ArcMap, financial analysis of sustainable solutions, and being able to analyze climate policy and law) to the intangible (understanding sustainable ethics). However, I think that the most valuable skill that I am acquiring from the program is creative problem solving. Any time someone tries to address a sustainability problem, there are countless facets that need to be considered; the ability to know about, comprehend, and include these facets is a truly valuable and unique skill that the program provides.

How do you intend to utilize these skills, and your degree, once you graduate?
The beautiful part of this program is that you can apply these skills to literally any area and any sector. I know that, personally, I’m going to look for a job that requires me to juggle a variety of issues and use my knowledge of the different areas of sustainable development to come up with creative solutions. Whether this is focused on bettering an organization’s sustainability department, mitigating the impacts of a product, or engineering a governmental program is up to where my final year takes me.

What is your favorite class in the program so far, and why?
I actually really enjoyed Challenges of Sustainable Development, with Jeffrey Sachs. It was my first robust introduction to the intersectionality of sustainable development, and to the economic side of it. I loved learning about how developments like nitrogen fertilizer or themes like colonialism have far-reaching impacts that are immediately important to understanding how to move forward with sustainability.

Beyond the classroom, what, if any, extracurricular sustainability-related activities have you engaged in?
I am currently the co-president of the Student Union for Sustainable Development, which works with the undergraduate Sustainable Development population and the Earth Institute, and hosts student mixers and peer advising sessions. I marched in the People’s Climate March last September, and have worked a variety of sustainability-related internships during the school year and summer (architecture, bioengineering, data research, investment, non-profit). I’m also involved with the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy in Washington.

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

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

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