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Alumni Spotlight: Aiyana Bodi, Intersectional Environmentalist and Innovative Thinker

Aiyana Bodi portrait photo
Aiyana Bodi graduated from the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program in 2019.

Aiyana Bodi has recently joined Project Drawdown as a senior associate with Drawdown Labs. After graduating from the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP) at Columbia University in 2019, she began working as a summer research fellow for Mighty Earth, a global advocacy organization focused on reducing deforestation through global supply chains. During her time in this fellowship, her research focused on rubber agroforestry along with aiding in a campaign directed at forming a coalition on sustainable natural rubber.

Post-fellowship, Aiyana began work as a policy associate for Pacific Forest Trust, an organization dedicated to protecting and conserving America’s forest landscapes. During her time there, she was able to work on climate policy as it relates to land and forest conservation. She used her memo-writing skills from the MPA-ESP program to work on state and federal level policies specific to California and Oregon, along with aiding in coalition building in Oregon. During her free time, Aiyana loves to go hiking and backpacking in the Bay Area, and her new hobbies include screen-printing and learning Korean.

Before joining the MPA-ESP program, Aiyana graduated from William and Mary in 2016 with a BS in Ecology and a minor in Geology. She had a very scientific background but wanted to find where science and policy intersect. She interned for Alaska Wilderness League conducting policy and communication work while creating community support for the organization. At the same time, Aiyana interned for Congressman Gerry Connolly, serving the 11th District of Virginia and learning the inner workings of Capitol Hill. She then focused on gaining the technical skills needed for regulators and understanding how to communicate environmental science to non-scientists as a program associate at the Environmental Council of the States.

Aiyana had a few policy internships before but her full-time job was not dedicated to policy work. She wanted to get a graduate degree in public administration and gain the knowledge and understanding of the practical aspects of environmental policy. The accelerated aspect of the program captured her interest because she wanted to return to the workforce, and the location of Columbia in New York City was a major plus for networking and new experiences. The structure of the curriculum with the science portion in the summer allowed her to gain the technical skills and knowledge that could be applied in the fall and spring policy-focused semesters. These were valuable for learning how to translate science into policy.

During the intensive science summer semester, Climatology was her favorite course. “I had known the basics of what climate change was but I was able to learn so many details to understand how the climate works and why it is changing,” she said. The in-depth nature of the course allowed the students to explore specific passions of theirs relating to the environment.

Another course that she considered a favorite was Financial Management in the spring semester. She found this course not only useful to the real world, but also an engaging and enriching look into how organizations manage their finances, including NGOs, for-profits, and government agencies.

Aiyana was also a workshop manager for her spring semester in Workshop in Applied Earth Systems and Policy Analysis. Even though the spring semester can be hectic with graduation, job searching, and graduate school coming to an end, it was a valuable experience and she was able to learn valuable skills about managing peers and gaining applicable knowledge to leading individuals in a real-world setting.

For one of her electives, Aiyana took Climate Change Policy with Scott Barrett. She described this course as similar to the summer MPA-ESP Climatology course but providing a new level of understanding of what climate policy at the international level can look like and why certain policies are successful and others not as successful. She considers this course her favorite because it highlighted the complexities of climate policy at a global scale.

She was also able to do research for Benjamin Orlove during her time at Columbia, and during the spring semester she was in an independent study that allowed her to examine how climate change has been communicated within Congress. She focused on three different bills within Congress and how they communicated climate change differently. The bills pertained to economic policy, energy security, and military defense. Through watching congressional testimonies and hearings, her final project examined how climate change is communicated and identified factors to how climate legislation and communication can be successful in a congressional lens.

Aiyana’s interests have shifted some since her time in the environmental field. The MPA-ESP program allowed her to discover climate policy with a specific focus on legislative affairs and how conservation and restoring land and natural systems can aid in adapting to climate change. Recently, her passion for the environment has shifted to private sector engagement and mobilization for the climate due to the urgency of the issue.

Aiyana started her job search in January, sharing that, “I knew it might be a little too early but it allowed me to have some experience and practice when the time came to apply to multiple jobs at the same time.” This allowed her to get accustomed to applying for jobs and create good templates for her resume and cover letter. Her advice for current students includes keeping a spreadsheet for job searching. This allowed her to track which jobs she was applying for, details about the organization and deadlines, and the timeline for applications, responses, and interviews. She suggests that current students treat job searching like an elective class and to block off some time every week to look and apply for jobs. One recommendation is having a job-search buddy within the cohort to keep each other accountable.

Aiyana has a non-profit focus and experience within that field, but recommends that students think less about the specific content of the science courses and to focus more on what the content can teach you or the skills that you can gain from learning about specific topics. She stated that, “The ESP program discusses a lot about how to communicate technical information to a lay person,” and these skills allow the students to use the content from the intensive summer science courses to communicate to others how environmental science can impact them and the world.

Her advice for current students is to not focus on finding the perfect job right out of graduate school. She suggests trying to apply for jobs you would be happy to have, but do not wait for the perfect job to come up: “Cast a wide net but do not focus on finding the perfect job because you never know where you might end up.”

Finally, Aiyana reflected on her top three memorable experiences in the ESP program:

  • “The people you meet within the MPA-ESP program will be some of your closest friends. They are like-minded individuals and are just as passionate for the environment as you.”
  • “The summer field trips are not only educational but also so fun and allow you to bond with your cohort while learning about real environmental issues within New York.”
  • “The spring capstone course, while intense, can be so rewarding and allow you to gain real-world skills while growing professional and personal relationships with your peers.”

Michael Bannon is an alum of the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program, Class of 2021.

If you’re interested in learning more about the MPA-ESP program, please contact the assistant director, Stephanie Hoyt (sah2239@columbia.edu).

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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