On October 16, the Earth Institute hosted its fifth annual Sustainability Careers Reception. Thirty sustainability professionals and 120 Columbia students of varying ages, backgrounds, and degree pursuits met to discuss the ever-growing real-world applications of sustainability. This year, given the continued effects of COVID-19, the event’s standard venue of the Columbia Club in Midtown Manhattan was replaced with the increasingly familiar ‘venue’ of Zoom.
Despite this challenge, the event was successful in creating virtual roundtable discussions through Zoom breakout rooms, which allowed student attendees to network with multiple practitioners throughout the course of the evening. Sustainability practitioners were rotated through a series of three breakout rooms during the first hour of the event and, for the last hour, students were able to move through rooms in order to interact with speakers of their choosing. In a survey posed to the event attendees, Jenni Chun, head of regulatory and environmental affairs at Samsung, extolled that “the idea of rotating in breakout rooms [was] brilliant” and that the event had a “level of complexity [she had never seen] on Zoom!”
As in years past, passionate student volunteers drove the outreach to sustainability professionals, under the guidance of Earth Institute staff, and were critical to the event’s success. Chandler Precht, the event’s organizer, was impressed by the commitment of both students and guest speakers alike, especially “in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic. Providing students with professional development opportunities is of utmost importance—especially now. Not only did we find a way to bring our students together from around the world, but we were also able to host practitioners in distinct geographic areas—something we were not able to accomplish with in-person events.”
In the past, attendance was limited by geographic location: guests had to already reside in New York City or the greater tri-state area, or be available and willing to travel to the city specifically for the event. However, with the transition of the program to be entirely online, this restriction was no longer a concern. One guest speaker even logged into the Zoom meeting from her car!
The Sustainability Careers Reception is exclusively for students pursuing one of four sustainability programs at the Earth Institute, Columbia University: the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development, the M.P.A. in Environmental Science and Policy, the M.S. in Sustainability Management, and the M.S. in Sustainability Science. This year approximately 120 students attended and were rewarded with invaluable opportunities to discover new career opportunities and engage with professionals in these fields.
Ashley Ziegler, a student in the M.S. in Sustainability Science program, reflected that the guests’ “experiences and thought processes were inspiring and reassuring… It was great to hear how people have shifted into the sustainability industry with regard to their previous experiences and/or technical background/training.” Especially in times such as these, where networking opportunities have been drastically reduced, having the ability to even engage with new professionals and companies is invaluable.
Of the 30 practitioners who attended this year’s event, their areas of employment ranged from large companies such as PepsiCo, Samsung Electronics, Macy’s, Citizens Bank and Sandals Resorts to small companies and start-ups such as Stream2Sea, Farmshelf, and Farm to People.
This year’s program was a resounding success given the unprecedented circumstances, but with any luck, the sixth annual Careers Reception will once again be held at the Columbia Club in Midtown.
Thank you to this year’s attendees!
The Earth Institute Professional Development Program offers students resources and programs that supplement the career services in their respective schools. The program includes skill-building seminars, networking opportunities, and tools that, together, better prepare students to pursue job opportunities in sustainability.
Caroline Horrigan is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. She is an M.S. candidate at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Columbia University.