State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Kevin & Allison: ESP Students Maximizing Opportunity


ESP students Allison Pace and Kevin Fertig at SIPA
ESP students Allison Pace and Kevin Fertig at SIPA

Columbia University’s MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program provides a gamut of options to hone professional development, both inside and outside the classroom. From access to industry practitioners and leading research scientists to providing access to the best in class alumni, Columbia’s network is unparalleled. Columbia also provides a host of resources that complement academic training and foster individual interest by providing access to student clubs, skill building workshops, conferences and networking events. “Whether you want to pursue an existing interest in greater focus and detail or try something brand new, its there.”

Kevin Fertig and Allison Pace are both ESP students who make use of every opportunity they have, from being involved in research projects around campus to leading their cohort and organizing campus wide events. “Say yes, until you can’t say yes anymore” is their success mantra.

Allison scuba diving for research in Australia
Allison scuba diving for research in Australia

A trained geoscientist, Allison enrolled in the MPA-ESP program to bolster her analytical background with management and policy courses in order to influence environmental decision making. She recently worked as an oceanographic program aide at Texas A&M University, where her data analysis focused on the side effects of agricultural run-off and the negative externalities associated with offshore oil extraction. She graduated from Texas A&M University with a B.S. in Environmental Geoscience, and has studied natural resource management domestically and abroad, in Fiji and Australia.

Kevin Fertig at the ESP Workshop briefings
Kevin Fertig presenting his team’s recommendations at the ESP workshop briefings

Kevin comes from a policy and politics background. His career spanning across sectors features a dedication to social impact. After working on multiple political campaigns, the Clinton Global Initiative and at an international law firm, Kevin decided to pursue his interest in sustainability more directly. Complementing his policy background, the ESP program gave him skills to back his policy recommendations with sound science.

Both Kevin and Alison make use of every opportunity that Columbia presents. “Internally, Columbia puts every resource at our disposal, from the opportunity to get involved in research projects to professional training certifications, and externally, the cache of Columbia really speaks for itself. Having the gravitas that Columbia brings, in a city like New York, you don’t really find better opportunities.”

Kevin and Allison’s professional development outside the classroom focuses on providing opportunities to fellow students. Kevin is the President of the ESP Student Government and Allison is the Academic Chair. Together, they are working on a circular economy conference to bridge the gap between sustainability students, researchers and practitioners with the goal of providing skills to influence businesses and their supply chains to become more circular. They are also involved in a variety of other academic projects at Columbia—both through personal involvement on faculty-led research projects on carbon subsidies and ocean plastics, and by organizing practitioner-led events on wildlife conservation, green finance and urban resiliency. These pursuits have exposed them to firsthand accounts of sustainability best practices across the sectors, and allowed them to work on leading-edge policies. They expect to remain involved in several of these topics throughout their professional careers and seek out further opportunities for bold change.

Acting on their growing interest in impact investing and consulting, the two recently took part in the Morgan Stanley Sustainability Investment Challenge, where they proposed the use of a novel financial vehicle—Environmental Impact Bonds—to channel $100 million of private capital toward green infrastructure-bolstered affordable housing projects. Kevin and Allison also collaborated on professional consulting projects on industrial waste management and refugee assistance through Columbia’s Impact Investing Initiative, and are active members of various student groups across Columbia like the SIPA Energy Association and the Columbia Graduate Consulting Club. In addition to the career development and opportunity to broaden their network, these activities have allowed Kevin and Allison to develop the skills to work effectively and persuasively with professional clients, which has led to new opportunities.

Some projects that you take on build on each other, and manifest into professional opportunities. Kevin performed a carbon audit on a mid-sized Brooklyn school for a class, which caught the eye of a professor who in turn offered him a part-time position doing carbon audits for Fortune 500 banks!

They believe that the exclusivity of the program stems from the diverse cohort who are a microcosm of sustainability and the world. Together they work hard and support each other’s professional goals. “The ESP program isn’t all work and no play, we went on a camping trip together, to several sports events, had a thanksgiving potluck dinner and an ugly sweater Christmas party!”

After graduation, Kevin hopes to work on GHG reduction strategies and supply chain sustainability from within the private sector or with a business-oriented NGO in an NGO or the private sector doing GHG reduction strategy or supply chain assessments. Allison hopes to work as an energy consultant or managing assets for a utility or large power company, hoping to use knowledge gained from her energy classes.

“Embrace the diversity, ask questions and don’t be afraid to try what you want. Create your own opportunities and you’ll be amazed at how many resources and supportive peers line up to assist you.”

Megha Kedia, SUMA 2017, ESP Intern, interviewed Kevin and Allison for this blog post.



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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