State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Senior Focuses on Sustainability Across STEM Disciplines

By Chandler Precht

SDEV_Nick_kirbyNicholas Kirby shares his experience in the Undergraduate Sustainable Development Program as a rising senior.

What drew you to the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development?
The opportunity to complete my undergraduate studies while combining my interdisciplinary interests and passions with leaders in this emerging field was too compelling to pass up. I wanted to be engaging with the best minds taking on the greatest challenges we face and finding my own voice among them, contributing from my experience, and growing in new creative ways through the interactions.

What areas of sustainable development are you most interested in, and why?
I am most interested in the role of business as a catalyst for sustainability. If a business case can be made for sustainable action, it becomes that much more viable as an alternative to our currently destructive path. I am also convinced that fundamental business principles that value long term growth and preservation of capital can be leveraged to promote stable, healthy, and prosperous populations, environments, and economies.

What skills do you hope to acquire through the program?
I hope to acquire a range of scientific and technical literacy that has and will enable me to better interpret scientific work across disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, and physics. I also hope to gain traditional economic training that will facilitate a more nuanced ability to be a part of building sustainable businesses. I also want to develop critical conceptual frameworks to more effectively approach the complex challenges inherent in the pursuit of sustainable development.

How do you intend to utilize these skills, and your degree, once you graduate?
I intend to apply these skills to businesses that can create positive economic growth while also promoting environmental stewardship and social justice. I am planning to work in the agricultural supply chain sector and look forward to leveraging the skills I have learned to see the bigger picture of food systems and apply the practical skills to the work of making them sustainable.

What is your favorite class in the SDEV program so far, and why?
My favorite class was ‘The Ethics of Sustainable Development’ as it taught me to think in a rigorous and holistic way about what exactly constitutes sustainable development, why it is so critical, and how to consider the challenges it faces. The broad historical context that was outlined in the class lead me to a deeper engagement with the issues sustainable development engages and directed my attention in a more thorough manner towards prospective solutions.

Beyond the classroom, what, if any, extracurricular sustainability-related activities have you engaged in?
I have participated in the Consilience Journal that brings together student voices working within the sustainable development space across academia and have also attended events at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory that have broadened my perspectives and piqued my curiosity.

Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is an interdisciplinary program that addresses sustainable development through an understanding in the interaction between natural and social systems, offered through the Earth Institute in partnership with Columbia 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, please visit our website or contact Jessica Sotomayor, program manager, 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.

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