State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Practical Solutions to Sustainability Issues: Undergraduate Capstone Projects

By Chandler Precht

On April 29, students in the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development presented practical solutions to sustainability issues and challenges faced by real world clients. Under the guidance of professors Stuart Gaffin and Radley Horton, the Capstone Workshop offers students a chance to put their years of sustainability study into practice in a client based graduate-level workshop setting. Read more below about the four projects from the spring 2016 semester.


The Trust for Public Land’s Climate-Smart Cities

The objective of this project was to support the work of The Trust for Public Land’s Climate-Smart Cities initiative, which seeks to restore natural functions of the land, by weaving green elements into the built environment. The group’s research focused on developing case studies of urban green infrastructure investments to identify best practices for fostering economic and environmental co-benefits. Group members: Alena Dooner, Alexis Huseby, Oliver Ingram, Liz Orozco, Iliana Salazar-Dodge, Marissa Sterling, and Lindsey Walter.

This goal for this group was to provide recommendations for specific sustainable activities that private landowners in upstate New York could do to protect the NYC watershed in their community. Providing information to these landowners was the first step; the second ongoing, and most important, step was to motivate these landowners to actually make the changes. To that end, the project included a targeted marketing campaign to motivate landowners to visit and learn about how to implement the recommendations. Group members: Elisa Mirkil, Katherine Hreib, Shayna Orens, Leah Matthews, Louis Choi, Matthew Coughlin, and Daniela Lapidous.

Bronx River Alliance

This group worked with the Bronx River Alliance to design solutions to help manage the NYC combined sewer, urban green infrastructure and bioswales. The project sought to improve community awareness and foster a sense of community ownership over the bioswales in the Bronx’s Soundview neighborhood by developing a Bronx Bioswale Watch social media campaign. Their goal was to make learning about bioswales entertaining, accessible and relevant; ultimately they hope this will ensure the proper care and optimal operation of New York City’s bioswales. Group: Sarah Al-Khayyal, Edward Lee, Erik Holst, Rebecca Bard, Jakub Buczek, Sarah Gurbach, and Paramjot Kaur.


World Wildlife Fund

The primary goal of the project was to review Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) established after the Paris Conference of the Parties (COP21) negotiations, to identify all of the possible threats and opportunities.  The potential positive and negative repercussions of each proposed adaptation and mitigation plan for 26 countries were assessed through the lens of the 6 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) biodiversity conservation priorities: Forests, Wildlife, Water, Oceans, Food, and Climate. Group: Jordan Burns, Jordana Fremed, Read Flusser, Grace Kim, Ryan Noyes, Grace Duggan, Chiara Gilbert, Hudson Kuras, and Sophie Maher.

Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is an interdisciplinary program that looks at the complex issues of development as they relate to the interactions between natural and social systems. The program is offered in partnership with The Earth InstituteColumbia 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.








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