State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Student Profile: Chelsea McGimpsey

Chelsea recently served as an International Young Leaders Assembly Delegate at the United Nations.

After studying Zoology and Environmental Science as an undergrad at Miami University, Chelsea McGimpsey worked in a variety of capacities in the field of animal conservation. Chelsea hopes to combine her conservation experience with her new education in policy and management in order to implement environmental change where it is needed the most.


1. What drew you to the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP)?

As a conservationist I wanted to increase my power to affect change in the way humanity interacts with diverse ecosystems. The conservation field has historically been reactive rather than proactive towards environmental crises and I felt that my work in species-specific recovery programs alleviated symptoms of these problems rather than addressing the causes. I became very interested in how policy influences the way we interact with the natural world and I felt that the MPA-ESP program provides a uniquely comprehensive understanding of how science, policy, and economics can be used to create a more harmonious and prosperous relationship between human society and biodiversity.

2. What were you doing before you started the program?

Prior to joining the MPA-ESP program I was working as a conservationist with a focus on the recovery of near-extinct bird species. Most recently I was employed as a Research Associate at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, which is a field facility operated by the San Diego Zoo Global Institute for Conservation Research. As an incubation and hand-rearing specialist I oversaw our propagation suites and cared for the eggs and chicks of critically endangered Hawaiian bird species, including the ‘alala (Hawaiian Crow), which is extinct in the wild. Before my time with the San Diego Zoo I worked as an Aviculturist for the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, where I was involved in the propagation of species based on Species Survival Plans, such as the Micronesian Kingfisher and Steller’s Sea Eagle. Both of these positions offered me the opportunity to work on the front lines of the conservation movement and make a quantifiable difference in many rare populations.

3. What area of environmental policy and management are you most interested in?

I am most interested in the interface between human development and biodiversity conservation. Human prosperity is intricately linked with the sustained health of our global ecosystems. I aim to work in this area of environmental policy and management to identify conservation areas as well as involve local community members as stakeholders in the protection of their surrounding natural spaces.

4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through the program?

I hope to acquire a solid foundation in policy analysis and how human systems interact with natural systems. Coming from a purely scientific background, my prior education has not considered policy in any significant way and there has been very little focus on humanity as part of the environment. Additionally, I hope to gain management experience through the workshop course as I believe the ability to conscientiously lead a peer group is invaluable in the workplace. The MPA-ESP curriculum provides all of these skills and I am looking forward to finishing out the program and applying them in my career.

5. What is your favorite class in the MPA-ESP program so far, and why?

So far my favorite class in the MPA-ESP program has been Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Management. I enjoy this class because it functions outside the traditional bounds of classroom learning and engages students to research intensely, think critically, and interact professionally with their peers. I have found this experience to be incredibly valuable and highly applicable to a real world career project.

6. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MPA-ESP program to further your career?

I will use my MPA-ESP degree to advance my career in the conservation field, ideally in the Great Lakes region of our country. I see myself working to implement and coordinate environmental projects to ensure the protection of native species and their habitats. This degree is preparing me to act as an interpreter between multiple stakeholders to ensure that all parties feel their voices are not only heard, but carry weight in the development of strategic plans for local environmental protection projects. I would ideally love to work as a project coordinator for the National Audubon Society to protect migratory bird flyways as well as the interests of the communities living within those areas.

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

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