From May 24 to June 8, students from Columbia University and Tel Aviv University will travel through the Middle East—arguably one of the most complex regions in the world — to learn about environmental challenges facing the countries of Jordan and Israel. They will be posting on State of the Planet about their experiences. You can also follow them on social media at #CUJordanIsrael2016.
Led by Professor Joshua Fisher from Columbia University and Natalia Gutkowski from Tel Aviv University, the students learn about how the two countries are cooperating on environmental issues and managing shared natural resources. The fieldwork is an integral component of the course NECR K4260 Regional Environmental Sustainability in the Middle East, which is part of the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at the School of Professional Studies.
The course is a product of a partnership between Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Professional Studies, and Tel Aviv University’s Porter School of Environmental Studies and Center for Innovation in Transportation. It was organized in collaboration with Columbia’s Global Center in Amman, and significant contributions were made to the curriculum by Dr. Shahar Sadeh, who is a visiting scholar and the director of the Faculty Engagement Initiative at New York University.
This year marks the third time the program has been offered. In addition to covering topics of water resource management and regional collaboration that were covered in years past, students also will learn about the impact of refugees on scarce natural resources and the linkages between the environment, conservation and transportation.
Since its inception in 2013, the program has attracted students from diverse backgrounds and interest areas. Read more about this year’s participants from Columbia University and Tel Aviv University below.
Alkalay is a student in the thesis track master’s program at The Porter School of Environmental Studies. She is an architect by training and completed her bachelors degree at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Her main interests are urban ecology, human influence over nature and local flora. Alkalay’s thesis research topic is: “Characterizing Cemeteries on the West Sandstone Ridge in Tel-Aviv-Jaffa, as a Unique Cultural Landscape that Preserves Local Flora and as an Open Urban Space.” She is interested in ways to encourage local flora within the urban space and in understanding the ways in which we could contribute to a sustainable space allowing coexistence of man and nature.
Asis graduated from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, majoring in industrial design. She also studied at the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan in a student exchange program. She received the prestigious Sharet Foundation scholarship for design in 1999-2000 and the Israel Manufacturers Association Award for her final project in Bezalel. She has worked as an industrial and graphic designer with various firms and studios. She is studying for her master’s degree in Environmental Studies at the Porter School for Environmental Studies. Her research deals with finding creative, biomimicry-based solutions for “colony collapse disorder,” a worldwide threat to bee colonies and ultimately to food security, since bees are responsible for the pollination of agricultural crops.
Omer Ben Nun
Nun holds a BA in geography and French studies from Tel-Aviv University. He is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental studies at the Porter School for Environmental Studies, with a research focus on the urban heat island phenomena and associated street pattern factors in arid zones. During the last year, Nun has been interning at “Transport, Today and Tomorrow,” a non-governmental organization that promotes sustainable and public transportation in Israel.
Born in Ashgabat, Grigorian moved with her family to Israel in 1993 and currently lives in Tel-Aviv. She is a first-year student at the Porter School of Environmental Studies, in the thesis track master’s program. Her thesis deals with sustainable consumption choices made by consumers, and will involve various media technologies in the research. Grigorian earned her BA degree from the Film and Television School at Tel-Aviv University, and she is especially fond of films from Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. She would like to combine her two passions, editing and environmental issues, and has worked on several projects in the television and cinema industry as a video editor and assistant editor. For the past year she has worked as an instructor at The Council for a Beautiful Israel, promoting a sustainability agenda within various programs, mostly concentrating on water use and sewage treatment.
Alejandra grew up in Mexico City and later moved to Alabama. She received her bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and German from the University of Alabama. Currently she is completing her Master’s in Environmental Studies at the Porter School of Environmental Studies in Tel Aviv, and interning as an research assistant at Greenpeace Israel. Alejandra also spent a year studying abroad at the Freie Universität in Berlin. In the future, she hopes to work in the water management sector.
Ann Marie Hager
Hager is a master’s degree candidate in the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University, and received her bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish from Drexel University. She traveled to Jordan in the summer of 2013 to study intensive Arabic and conflict resolution. She has since published independent research on Jordan as a negative case of large-scale violence in the Middle East. She is passionate about both the Middle East and violence prevention, and would like to build on her previous work in the region. Hager hopes to learn more about how environmental drivers can lead to conflict and how stakeholders on the ground engage in conflict resolution.
Larson is a student in the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution master’s program at Columbia University. He received his undergraduate degree in legal studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 2014. He has been trained in alternative dispute resolution and certified in mediation by the Social Justice Mediation Institute. He has a passion for pursuing social justice through the use of facilitative and narrative mediation. He is interested in studying and researching how collaborative conflict resolution practices can be applied in regions with long histories of intractable conflict. In particular, he is interested in the idea of peace parks in the transboundary region of Jordan and Israel and how shared conservation goals can lead to increased cooperation on political and ethnic conflicts in the region. Larson hopes to gain a better understanding of how to incorporate these practices into peace building efforts between different groups in the region. Further, he wants to gain a better understanding of how water scarcity and allocation contribute to conflict between different groups in the Arab-Israeli region.
Moshkovitz, married and a mother of three, studied physiotherapy in the Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, and worked as a physiotherapist. She also spent time working as a doula (birth companion). After many years of being interested in environmental issues and working independently to improve the state of the environment in her community, Moshkovitz decided to pursue her passion and began studying for her master’s degree in environmental studies at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Liav was born and raised in Tel-Aviv. He completed a BA in business management at the Open University, but after working in sales he decided he wanted a change and decided to pursue his master’s degree at the Porter School for Environmental Studies, focusing on urban sustainability. Nahshoni interns at the Israeli Bike Organization, a non-profit that works to advance the culture of bikes and bike transportation in Israel. He also interns at the Kfar-Saba Municipality’s Sustainability Department, working on green roof projects.
Alejandra is a first year graduate student pursuing a master’s in Sustainability Management with a certificate in Sustainable Water Management. She is currently working part-time at Global Capital Finance, an investment bank with a strategic focus on renewables. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the American University in Paris, where she studied International Economics and International Business Administration. Her thesis focused on the role of point-source natural resources on development. She has always been passionate about natural resources — in particular water and energy — and is interested in how scarcity affects development, sustainable development and management. Through the course she looks forward to deepening her understanding of transboundary natural resources and marine management in conflict regions, while broadening her overall knowledge of the Middle East.
Ren earned a BA in accounting from China and is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental studies at the Porter School for Environmental Studies. As a Chinese student studying in Israel, she has had the opportunity to see things from a new perspective that doesn’t exist in China. During her internship in Techcode—the first Chinese incubator in Tel Aviv—she learned about China’s interests in the Middle East, and subsequently about the problems in the region. She decided that she’d like to become a part of the essential bridge between China and the Middle East in order to promote progress toward a better future.
Romero is a master’s student in the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University. She received her undergraduate degree from Duke University, with majors in political science and Asian and Middle Eastern studies, and a minor in history. Her interests are the study of diplomacy and international relations, with a particular interest in both national and international security. She is currently an intern at the United Nations Office of Ombudsman and Mediation Services in New York City.
Saenz studied entrepreneurship and received a BS in business administration in his home country of Colombia. He then started a company whose goal is to monetize digital content, and began taking courses toward a master’s in business and information technology before moving to New York in 2014. In January 2016, he started a master’s in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University. He continues to work on marketing his startup company, focusing on music first. At Columbia, his research is focused on exploring how private companies can collaborate and help resolve conflicts; he hopes to learn more about environmental conflict through the fieldwork program.
Tiff van Huysen
Tiff has a Ph.D. in ecosystem ecology and decided to return to school to pursue her interest in working at the interface of climate science and social science. She is currently a graduate student in the M.A Program in Climate & Society at Columbia University. She is interested in the climate-development-human rights nexus as well as transboundary natural resources and the role they may play in either exacerbating conflict or promoting cooperation. In addition, while attending Columbia, she has become increasingly interested in the role that governance plays in both the implementation and success of sustainable development programs, as well as mitigation and adaptation efforts. She is participating in the course to learn how regional dynamics (political and social) may influence Israel’s and Jordan’s solutions to environmental challenges. She is also looking forward to learning how regional cooperation with respect to environmental sustainability may serve as a platform to promote regional peace and stability.
Florencia Vital Grunwald
Grunwald was born in Uruguay, where she completed a BA in international studies. In 2015 she moved to Israel and is currently pursuing a master’s degree at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. After working in international trade for a few years, she decided to focus her career on a more meaningful goal and to combine it with her avid, long-term interest in environmental studies and sustainability. Grunwald is looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of joint resource management as a tool for community building and how to successfully combine public policies and grassroots initiatives in environmental issues. In the future, she hopes to be able to work in cross-border cooperations to achieve sustainable development in vulnerable societies.