This fall, Columbia University will welcome the first class of students who will graduate from the newly created Climate School. Drawing on the expertise within the Earth Institute and its many centers, the Columbia Climate School will serve as a hub for transdisciplinary climate research and education across the university, exploring and developing solutions to the most urgent and complex challenges of our time.
The M.A. in Climate and Society program is the first degree program offered through the Columbia Climate School. This 12-month interdisciplinary program trains students to understand and address the impacts of climate change and climate variability on society and the environment. The program’s class of 97 students enrolling in fall 2021 will graduate from the Columbia Climate School in August 2022. State of the Planet will be featuring interviews with several of these extraordinary students over the coming weeks.
Below, you can learn about Julie Souza, who looks at climate through a lens of intersecting social and environmental issues.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got interested in studying climate?
I grew up in a suburban area of Maryland, but at home I always felt like I was in Brazil. My mother made delicious meals she learned from my grandmother in Brazil and one of my favorite ways to help out was peeling the potatoes with her. Seeing all of the piles of potato peels in the sink made me wonder where all of our food scraps ended up, and after learning that we just threw them in the trash I became very serious about proper waste treatment. Eventually I pursued environmental studies in college and realized that a significant aspect of my upbringing focused on how my individual actions impacted my community. Studying environmental issues made me realize that these issues are less about individual action and more about collective initiatives with a multi-generational and global perspective. This realization brought me to study climate with an interdisciplinary lens of intersecting social and environmental issues, and understanding how it impacts all people everywhere and past, current, and future generations.
Which classes are you most excited about in the Climate and Society program?
I am most excited for “Managing and Adapting to Climate” because of its attention to social and natural sciences. As I mentioned, I value an interdisciplinary approach to climate studies. I am interested in what solutions this course will discuss, as well as risk analysis. I am particularly excited to put this course in conversation with Applications in Climate and Society. Speaking with professionals currently in fields related to climate management and adaptation will not only be important to understand the real world applications of what we are studying, but to also build connections that may change issues in the current fields.
How does the program align with your career goals?
The program aligns with my career goals of incorporating interdisciplinary understandings to alternatives for our climate issues. Bringing a comprehension of social and natural sciences to climate adaptation is crucial. Regardless of whether I work in the private sector as an environmental consultant or in a non-governmental organization, I strive to bring an interdisciplinary approach to my career and forming connections in the private and public sector will be integral to this. Learning alongside the people that will eventually become my colleagues is vital and ensuring that every person has a voice, especially where Black and Indigenous voices may be heard and valued, is of highest priority regardless of what exactly my career will be.
You’ll be part of the first graduating class of the Columbia Climate School. Did the creation of the Climate School affect your decision to apply to the C+S program?
The Climate School represents the emerging reality that sustainability alternatives will change the way our society functions in every way. I am excited and proud to be a part of this program and this school because of how it values the future of environmentalism. The Climate School may hopefully inspire other institutions to prioritize sustainability.
When you look at the future of the Climate School, what would you like to see?
The future of the Climate School should include more Black and Indigenous educators, as well as organizations, community leaders, policy makers, and more that cooperate with the values of the school. Not only should the educators reflect the progression of the environmental movement, but so should the curriculum. I expect a curriculum that includes the students in its creation and is open-minded to change. This perspective will be important not just for the future of the Climate School, but also for the future of solving environmental issues.