The Staff Spotlight series features Earth Institute staff members from across the Morningside, Lamont and the Irving Medical Center campuses. The series is intended to highlight the important work our staff members do to keep the Earth Institute running smoothly and to support our mission of guiding the world onto more sustainable paths. These interviews discuss staff members’ careers, their interest in our institute, and insights that might be relatable and useful for the rest of us.
This month’s spotlight is on Chandler Precht, program manager in the Office of Academic and Research Programs. A 2018 Columbia graduate – and current student in the MS Sustainability Science program – Chandler’s perspective as both a student and staff member helps her serve as a mentor for future sustainability leaders at Columbia.
How did you connect with us?
I started as an intern for the Undergraduate Sustainable Development Program in 2015. I continued working as an intern for The Earth Institute until I graduated from Columbia (undergrad) in 2018. Upon graduation, I went into environmental consulting, but something kept pulling me back to higher education. While working in consulting and completing my MS in Sustainability Science, I expanded my professional network and built great relationships with many of the people I only knew in passing as an intern, but now was getting to know as a prospective employee. I ended up interviewing in 2020 with the Office of Academic and Research Programs and the rest is history!
What aspects of your job are exciting?
I am so excited by the prospect of recruiting the next generation of sustainability practitioners. In the same vein, it is so important to me to work to get our sustainability programs (MPA in Environmental Science and Policy, MS in Sustainability Management, and MS in Sustainability Science) the visibility they deserve, especially among prospective students of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and other underserved communities. I am currently working with Augurian to ensure that we are effectively tracking digital advertising to drive prospective applicants to enroll in our programs.
Aside from the recruitment aspect of my role, I am elated to see how our alumni apply their education to their professional pursuits. Regardless of whether I’m interacting with prospective students or alumni, I’m constantly surrounded by people that care deeply about the environment and are eager to make change in this world.
Does your background help with your current responsibilities?
A qualification of my current job is a graduate degree, especially in a sustainability-related area. As a student in the MS in Sustainability Science program, I am on track for checking that box this semester. Being a student in such a novel program really gives me an insider perspective on the kinds of students we are trying to recruit and how to represent this program, among other graduate programs affiliated with the Earth Institute. My passion for sustainability and environmental education, and my ability to communicate that excitement, has been improved through my graduate program. I believe my degree has enriched and improved my job-related skills, and I also feel that my perspective as a student is enhancing my recruitment efforts. It’s been neat to use my STEM background to organize amazing webinars on various sustainability topics with some of the world’s leading experts – including one on coastal sustainability. For the second year in a row, I’m also assisting Dr. Steve Cohen with his section of the Sustainability Management course.
What features of Hogan & Morningside stand out for you?
There’s something so special about Columbia’s campus. It really is an oasis in the middle of a bustling city. Morningside Heights feels like home and I’m so grateful my professional and educational paths have led me here time and time again.
Was there a difference as you transitioned from intern to full-time work here?
As an intern, I was working for managers that were eager to change the world – not just from a climate perspective, but for their students too. Now, I’m in that position, mentoring interns who look up to me and other staff at the Earth Institute.
What do you think the new normal will look like?
Unfortunately, I don’t know that there will ever be a “normal.” I do think vaccination status and mask-mandates are here to stay, which is imperative from a public health standpoint. I am eager to get back to work in-person and have more human interactions in my day-to-day, but safety is of utmost importance, so I’ll defer to health guidance from the CDC and Columbia Health. I will really miss having my cat Squirt as a coworker though!
How do you spend your spare time?
Family is a huge part of my life, and although I don’t see my family often since they are in Miami, I do have a sister in New Jersey that I make a point to see at least once a month.
COVID-19 has been a challenging time to do everything I would typically do in the best city in the world (NYC), but I have found comfort in home workouts and outdoor adventures. The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx is a beautiful, peaceful place to enjoy – especially if you have an interest in preserving and protecting the natural world. Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History at my doorstep make the city feel a little more exotic and not just a concrete jungle. At home, my Peloton is a great workout and isn’t just an indoor bike since I have access to plenty of other classes like meditation – which is much-needed after a full day of Zoom. Aside from that, I’m either listening to Taylor Swift or playing fetch with my cat!