State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Undergraduate Senior Focuses Thesis on Democratic Process in Ghana

By Chandler Precht


Ohemaa Ofori-Atta is a senior in Columbia’s undergraduate program in Sustainable Development.

What drew you to the Sustainable Development Special Concentration?
Having a deep sense of pride for my country, I was interested in pursuing a concentration which would grant me the opportunity to give back to Ghana. Furthermore, I was excited to learn about development beyond the economic sphere and through a more holistic, sustainable lens.

What do you think is the most important sustainability/environmental policy challenge that you have learned about? Why is it so important?
I think climate change is the most important sustainability/environmental policy challenge. It is a worldwide phenomenon and the fact that the fate of countries relies on joint decisions and strategies of leaders with different mindsets and opinions makes the task of global climate policy somewhat daunting.

What skills and tools have you acquired through the program? What other skills do you hope to acquire?
I have learned about effective ways to craft health policy with respect to climate change through the analysis of numerous countries. I hope to develop data visualization skills and learn how to use spatial mapping software, such as GIS, to help with research and project planning that may be required in the future.

Has your idea of what sustainable development is, and how to achieve it, changed since you started the program? How?
My initial thoughts about sustainable development were focused on urban and economic development. Now I realize that development encompasses almost everything, from democracy to climate change, health systems to education and equality … you name it, and that’s what makes it so exciting. The things to work on and help countries and companies fix are endless.

What is your favorite class in the Sustainable Development program so far and why?
The Environmental Science seminar has been my favorite class in the program thus far. The majority of my classes are focused on climate change, but I’m also very interested in democracy and its linkage to sustainable development. The course provides the opportunity to do field research on a topic I am passionate about, such as understanding the role of swing voters in the democratic process in Ghana. The flexibility and scope of the class is liberating and my thesis advisor and mentor have been helpful and inspirational.

What have you been able to learn from your fellow classmates?  Are you involved in any student groups on campus? If so, which ones?
Outside of class, I am the president and co-founder of the African Development Group (ADG). ADG is a student-run group and member of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for Youth, which is dedicated to reducing brain drain and giving the African diaspora the chance to interact with and help communities in Africa. We focus on problems in individual countries and discuss various policy options. The group also assists students with finding jobs and internships on the African continent and invites influential professionals to talk about their experiences as well as the pros and cons of working in or moving back to Africa. Previous speakers include Mr. Eazi, a chemical engineer turned musician, the Hon. Ken Ofori-Atta, Ghana’s Finance Minister, and Sangu Delle, one of Forbes 30 under 30 African Entrepreneurs.

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. It is 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 Cari Shimkus, 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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Nana Ofori-Atta
Nana Ofori-Atta
10 months ago