State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Meet Sophie Johnson From Columbia Climate School’s Inaugural Class

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 Sophie Johnson, who was inspired to study climate change after witnessing its impacts around her hometown in Seattle, Washington.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got interested in studying climate?

sophie johnson
With a background in artificial intelligence, Sophie Johnson is interested in learning about computational tools that can be used to analyze the climate crisis.

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I have always been drawn to nature and fascinated by the processes that created different landscapes. Witnessing local climate change impacts such as wildfires and decreased snowpack made me realize that the health of the planet was in peril, and my passion for the environment transitioned from one of mere appreciation to a desire to understand these changes. For my undergraduate degree, I majored in environmental science with a focus on climate and minored in mathematics. I conducted paleoclimate research, explored computational applications, and grew my passion for climate science. I became interested in climate models and their capabilities to examine the past, explore future climate scenarios, and communicate risks to society. After graduation, I have worked as a data science analyst for an artificial intelligence institute, which has made me even more curious about computational tools that can be used to analyze the climate crisis. I’m very excited to utilize my background and interests in the Climate and Society program to work toward a more sustainable future.

Which classes are you most excited about in the Climate and Society program?

I am especially excited to further my quantitative skills in classes like “Quantitative Models of Climate-Sensitive Natural and Human Systems” and “Research Computing in Earth Science.” At the same time, I understand that the climate crisis cannot be approached from only one lens and am equally looking forward to taking classes like “Managing and Adapting to Climate” and the “Seminar in Race, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice.” I am eager for these classes to help me to continue building a strong interdisciplinary understanding of the complexity of the climate crisis.

How does the program align with your career goals?

I am interested in utilizing computational tools to research and communicate climate science, with a particular interest in paleoclimate and climate modeling. Ultimately, I want to collaborate with people from all backgrounds to study climate change, communicate science to the public and policy makers, and work towards active solutions for a more sustainable Earth. I believe that there are many avenues through which this could be done, whether it be through continued academic research or working for an institution. This program grabbed my attention because it is interdisciplinary and it focuses on applying scientific research to real-world issues to bridge the gap between science and decision-makers. This program will help me to build a well-rounded understanding of the impacts of climate change on society and the environment, while allowing me to explore my specific interests within climate science to pursue a career working towards avoiding the worst-case scenarios of climate change.

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 creation of the Climate School definitely affected my decision to apply to the C+S program! My undergraduate studies of environmental science and subsequent job experience with data science have made me eager to continue my education, while continuing to examine the climate crisis from an interdisciplinary lens. While I was already interested in the C+S program, the development of the school only made it more intriguing. The solutions-oriented approach and collaborative nature of the Climate School align with my values and motivations, making it the perfect fit. Furthermore, it provides a novel opportunity to bring together several different research institutes with the same goal of addressing climate change while prioritizing social justice, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and global engagement.

When you look at the future of the Climate School, what would you like to see?

Climate change is arguably the most pressing issue facing our society today. Thus, in the future I would like to see the Climate School collaborating with programs from every discipline to work together toward active solutions. Alongside bringing together different areas of Columbia, I would love to see community involvement to educate and bring awareness about adaptations and mitigation strategies. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I would like to see the Columbia Climate School inspire other schools and institutions to do the same and create centralized hubs with similar values and goals.

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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