State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Problem-Solving in Practice: Students Present Sustainability Solutions

By Alana Masciana

On May 3, students in the Capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development presented their final recommendations and solutions to sustainability issues faced by real-world clients. Under the guidance of professors Stuart Gaffin and Radley Horton, the Capstone Workshop offers Sustainable Development upperclassmen the chance to utilize the knowledge and skills they have learned in their studies in a client-based workshop setting.

Read more about the four projects from the Spring 2018 semester below.

Analyzing the Long-Term Impact of a Non-Profit Program: The Development School for Youth

Client: All Stars Project

A team of six Columbia students partnered with All Stars Project, a national non-profit organization that provides professional development programs to teens and young adults in underserved communities. The team’s objective was to interface with alumni to study the long-term impact of one of the organization’s programs, the Development School for Youth. The team crafted a survey to study the program’s impact, analyzed the data collected from the survey in combination with testimonials from phone conversations, and produced an impact report with companion marketing materials. The group also proposed an Alumni Council for the program. Group members: Alex Zen Ruffinen, Kristal Estrella, Sarah Foster, Kate Wilson, Erin Machida Kwok, and Natalia Figueredo.

Developing Interdisciplinary Adaptation Initiatives at Columbia

Client: Columbia University’s Adaptation Initiative

A second team of Columbia students partnered with Columbia University’s Climate Adaptation Initiative, a university-wide enterprise focused on climate adaptation. The team’s objective was to assist and provide recommendations to the Initiative’s Steering Committee for ways to enact the Initiative’s three themes: adaptation in urban settings, managed retreat, and ecosystem-based adaptation in developing protected areas. The group organized a well-attended panel featuring Andrew Revkin and other adaptation experts at Columbia and beyond. Group members: Bitsit Dessalegn, Lemlem Baraki, Karina Robles, Jesse Thorson, Cornelia Ogendo, Eden Geressu, Emilie Holland Baliozian, Ohemaa Ofori-Atta.

Friends of the High Line Sustainability Project

Client: Friends of the High Line (FHL)

A third team of Columbia students partnered with the Friends of the High Line (FHL), a non-profit organization that maintains, operates, and programs the High Line in New York City. The FHL seeks to promote a sustainability vision that builds from a broad-based definition of sustainability. The team’s objective was to investigate both institution definitions and peer organizations/metrics to create a marketable vision of sustainability drawn from environmental, ecologic, economic, educational, and workplace statistics. The group provided FHL with a report and video which promotes the innovative methods by which the Highline is creating a new definition of sustainability in the field of urban green space. Group members: Mitchell Broadwater, Miles Lewis, Dylan Sachs, Hagen Patterson, Ben Preneta, Tyrel White, Vincent Gu.

Climate Modeling Consumer Report

Client: World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

A fourth team of Columbia students partnered with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an international non-profit organization dedicated to wildlife protection and environmental conservation. The team’s objective was to investigate and compile a “consumer report” of all web-based climate modeling tools in order to assist WWF’s international sustainable planning efforts. The group created a comprehensive report of the functional capacities of eight web-based climate modeling tools, as well as a tool comparison matrix for quick and easy identification of the appropriate modeling tools based on chosen parameters. Group members: Nic Iraci, Sara Lytle, Daniel Meerovitch, Julian Tung, and Mark Franklin.

Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is an interdisciplinary program that looks at sustainable development through the lens of the natural and social science systems. The program 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, visit our website or contact Program Manager Cari Shimkus at

Alana Masciana is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute. She is an undergraduate student at Barnard College.

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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