State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Braverman, Energy Aficionado and Recent Graduate

Sarah Braverman graduated from the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program in 2021.

Sarah Braverman is an energy expert and recent graduate of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs MPA-ESP program. This is an accelerated, one year  program for a Master’s degree of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy. Since graduation this past April, Sarah has joined Carbon Direct, which “provides both scientific advisory services and investment capital to the carbon removal & utilization ecosystem,” as a Client Project Manager. The private startup company is based in New York City and focuses on advising clients on carbon removal or carbon capture projects and assessing the quality of the projects with in-house criteria. The office is based in New York City but has their employees around the world and includes full time professors and faculty at leading universities focused on climate change and carbon capture.

While Sarah Braverman is still new to the position, she has used her skills and knowledge from the MPA-ESP program to understand the environmental science and terminology of her projects and communicate them effectively to the clients. Her job also includes policy research. This is her passion and she understands how policy affects her clients’ markets. So far, she has found her job very rewarding and recognizes the MPA-ESP program for advancing her research skills and knowledge of environmental policy. In her free time, Sarah enjoys hiking, running, and going to live music shows. She grew up in New York City but still loves exploring Manhattan and also volunteers on the Board of NYC Alumni for Mount Holyoke College.

Before joining the MPA-ESP program for the Class of 2021, Sarah graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2017 with a B.A. in Environmental Studies. During her time in undergrad, she was able to do research on the Mojave Desert in California, with a focus on ecosystems and water management. The purpose of this research was to create a map model within GIS that applied layers for the ecosystem, plants, animals, and topography to allow for further research into the impacts of climate change. Following her graduation in 2017, Sarah was awarded a scholarship to further her studies with the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies as a researcher. During this fellowship she worked for the Center of Transboundary Water Management and developed local governance models for off-grid water use while assisting a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) project with Israeli and Palestinian date farmers. During her time abroad, she became particularly interested in tackling the climate crisis while supporting international cooperation, in this case between Israel and Palestine. After her fellowship, Sarah worked as a program associate and university relations manager for the Arava Institute to allow for other students to receive the opportunity to research and study at this program.

Sarah wanted to advance her education after her time at the Arava Institute and began her journey to graduate school. She wanted a program that was not just specific to environmental law or policy but that combined the environmental sciences with policy and public administration. This is where she found SIPA’s MPA-ESP program. Sarah was equally drawn in by the integration of this program with the Earth Institute. The global connection and focus within SIPA was a major positive to her decision to come to Columbia University. On a more personal note, she loved that the program was in the heart of New York City and was close to home.

When looking at all of the different fields that working with the environment can lead to, Sarah found her interests within the water management realm. With her previous research and experience already in water resources and management, however, Sarah thought it would be good to expand her knowledge of other environmental issues too. For her workshop course, the summer and fall class focused on how the U.S. Department of Defense can decarbonize through investing in renewables, her team was able to examine large scale energy use and renewables. This led Sarah and a few other members of the MPA-ESP Class of 2021 to create a Committee on Energy Innovation, Technology, and Policy. This committee brought in several experts for the cohort to learn about the different forms of energy, ranging from coal and nuclear, to oil. Sarah stated that, “No matter the field you end up in, it was important for myself and my classmates to know about the issues within each field of energy infrastructure.”

Continuing this energy focus, Sarah also had the chance to be a graduate research officer for Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy. During her time in this position, her research focused on zero-carbon fuel alternatives and decarbonization policies for the Carbon Management Research Initiative under the advisory of Dr. Julio Friedmann. This allowed her to research hydrogen and ammonia fuels as sustainable alternatives to hydrocarbon fuels and publish factsheets on these topics. For one of her electives, Sarah was also able to take Urban Sustainability and examine environmental regulations at a local level.

During her spring semester, Sarah was a deputy manager in Workshop in Applied Earth Systems and Policy Analysis. This workshop focused on hydrofluorocarbon reduction and general management of greenhouse gas emissions for the National Resource Defense Council. She found this workshop course one of her favorites at Columbia due to the knowledge she gained about project management. She found that the intense nature of the research in the workshop also allowed her to get to know her peers on a professional and personal level.

Along with her spring semester workshop, Sarah took the Global Energy Policy course taught by Tom Moerenhout. This course gave students a general understanding on energy policies around the world, specifically the interactions and inner workings of energy markets. Her favorite memory of the course was a guest speaker discussing the oil oligopoly’s past, present, and future.

Sarah went into her job search keeping her options open. She originally thought about joining the public sector but once in the midst of job searching, found an interest in the private sector. She mentioned that she has been blown away at how certain companies have been leading the change for a better environmental future. Her recommendation to future graduates is to not limit yourself to a specific sector. She is still researching policy within the private sector and recognizes you can find your passion within any field. Her final words to other students are to keep your hopes up and find something you like, and that you do not need to feel tied down to one specific interest, company, or field— there are several possibilities out there.

Finally, Sarah reflected on her top three memorable moments in the ESP program:

  • “Moving in with other students from the MPA-ESP program was a wonderful gift and I’ll never take that back. I found this to be a great resource and experience due to living with people on similar schedules and also dealing with similar life experiences at the time.”
  • “Professor Park accidentally swallowing a fly on camera and having to keep teaching class afterwards. This was one of the funnier memories of my time in the program and I enjoyed having those light-hearted moments during an intensive summer semester.”
  • “The cohort and social events were an experience I will never forget. While the summer semester was virtual for my cohort, due to the pandemic, the social events such as virtual happy hours, did an incredible job of keeping spirits high during some of the most challenging moments of our lives. The world was changing and we did not know what was happening within the world, our academics, and the environment around us, but the people within the program were so supportive and relentlessly optimistic. I’m very proud of my cohort and how we overcame so many challenges and obstacles during our time at Columbia.”

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 (


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