State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Veterinarian Joins MPA-ESP to Work for Wildlife Conservation

 ShiraYashpheShira Yashphe of Israel was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to pursue her graduate education at Columbia University in the MPA Environmental Science and Policy program. As a doctor of veterinary medicine, Shira practiced for four years at the Veterinary Centre in Tel Aviv before she decided to pursue her education further. She was also a volunteer with Right Now, an international coalition of Jews and allies advocating for the rights of the African refugees in Israel. Shira shares some anecdotes on what drew her to the program, her passion and what she hopes to achieve in the future.

What inspired you to pursue your further education in the field of environmental science and policy?

As a veterinarian I have had the privilege and pleasure of being around animals daily, while encountering complex and challenging medical cases. However, I have always felt an inner conflict between wanting to help the individual animal and wanting to work on a larger scale, helping to conserve endangered species.

Reading of species after species declared extinct, like the west African black rhinoceros, made me realize that if I ever want to take part in wildlife conservation efforts, the time to take action and to take part in conservation efforts is now.

Applying for an MPA in ESP is the first step towards achieving my goal to further our knowledge and understanding of human-wildlife conflicts, and eventually designing and implementing conservation policies, legislation and programs. This program allows me to expand my scientific and research skills, while augmenting my understanding of the economic, political, public and educational aspects of conservation efforts.

What do you think is the most pressing environmental challenge for your country?

Israel has many environmental challenges to face, like water security, being in a water scarce region. However, today there is a growing concern over lesser known challenges: air pollution from industry, and sprawl from development.

Situated at a junction of three continents, Israel is a pivotal crossroad, a “bottleneck” for bird migration, where over 540 species converge. Pollution and urban sprawl (especially in such a small country) make it harder for birds to find suitable land on which to forage, especially along the Mediterranean coastline of Israel, particularly near the Haifa shores. Similarly, the coral reef in the Gulf of Acaba (off of the Red Sea) is also threatened with local extinction as this delicate ecosystem is impacted by human activity.

What area of interest are you most excited about gaining expertise in? Are there any specific skills you hope to gain?

I’m most excited about gaining expertise in policy development, analysis and implementation. I’m also looking forward to gain knowledge in economics and finance, as I believe these are important tools in conservation efforts. While researching for suitable graduate programs, I remember coming across the MPA-ESP program and realizing that this is the program for me. No other program, in the U.S., Europe or Israel, allows for such a multidisciplinary approach to conservational efforts. Having a strong scientific background, I found this program is able to not only give me much needed social sciences expertise, but also allow me to focus on relevant scientific issues.

What is your favorite class in the program so far and why? 

So far, I have two favorite courses. The Workshop in Applied Earth Systems and Management by Executive Director Steven Cohen is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to glimpse at what happens “behind the scene” in policy making. I’m learning how to make scientific ideas, which could be quite complex at times, and convey them in a simple yet effective way to policy makers. I’m also gaining important skills in team work and public speaking, both of which I did not have a chance to do in my former profession. I am very lucky to have Professor Robert Cook, a veterinarian himself, as my faculty advisor in this course. Learning from him is an opportunity of a lifetime for me.

I also enjoy the Earth Systems and Environmental Politics, Policy, and Management directed by Professor Sarah Tjossem class very much. Here, I am exposed to environmental issues I was not familiar with, having a different background. The first assignment for her course asked us to write a memo on such an issue for policy makers. I found it very challenging yet rewarding—these are exactly the skills I came here to learn.

Are there any extra-curricular activities outside of the classroom that you have found particularly beneficial, and why? 

I found the program’s field trip to the EPA Superfund Site at the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn especially important. I have learned that it is one thing to sit in class and learn about environmental issues, but it is a whole different thing to bear witness to their effects and talk to people affected by them.

For more information about the MPA ESP program, visit:



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