Olga Frolova: From Honeybee Hobbyist to Pollinator Promoter
Columbia Climate School’s inaugural class of students will don their blue caps and robes for Commencement and Class Day this week. But while classes may be over, the students will be working at a variety of exciting internships this summer before officially graduating in August.
Olga Frolova, one such student in the Climate School’s Climate and Society program, grew up in a beekeeping family. In the Q&A below, she tells us about what she’s learned from watching these industrious insects, why she stepped away from a career in the fashion industry, and how she’s planning to spend her summer interning at the Bee Conservancy in New York.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got interested in studying climate?
I have worked in different fields throughout my life. Upon graduation from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2017, I started a career in fashion. However, soon after that, I began to realize firsthand how much of a harmful impact garment production and distribution have on the environment. The list is long, but includes dyes that end up in rivers and oceans, samples flown from afar and thrown away with their plastic packaging soon afterward, vast overproduction of fashion items dumped in landfills, and factories in developing countries with few or no environmental regulations.
As a child, I spent countless days helping my father take care of his honeybees. Beekeeping has been a family activity for 75 years. I have always loved looking at bees up close, with ever increasing admiration for their collective intelligence and work ethic. Growing up, I realized that bees are also a key part of our ecosystem. They play a crucial role in pollinating the vast majority of crops and plants in the world. Working with these tiny insects taught me the importance of details and how a chain of small and apparently inconsequential events can build up and create something significant and beautiful, or end up causing dramatic effects on a large scale.
I believe I inherited my love for nature from my father. The combination of these factors and the realization that more needs to be done to help solve the climate crisis, not only by corporations, but importantly on an individual level, is why I became interested in studying climate.
Where are you interning this summer? And what will the work entail?
I will be interning at a non-profit organization called the Bee Conservancy. Their work is primarily focused on protecting all bee species and securing environmental and food justice through community-based education, research, habitat creation, and advocacy.
For bees, habitat loss is one of the greatest threats in the world these days. It is crucial to protect the bee population and help them thrive and let our ecosystems flourish. Therefore, I decided to combine my previous beekeeping experience with the knowledge I gained at Columbia University to help preserve bees. My work will include maintaining bee sanctuary sites like the one on Governors Island, researching and educating the community, developing program-specific projects, and supporting online and in-person educational events within the five boroughs of New York City. I am happy to be able to give back to a local organization and to learn how bees are protected in the U.S., since all my beekeeping experience was in Europe.
How did the Climate and Society program help to prepare you for this role?
“The beauty of the Climate and Society program is that it provides a foundational skill set that can be applied in different contexts. More and more companies will need experts in the subjects that we studied because climate change is affecting everyone, everywhere.”
The Climate and Society program has taught me to overcome challenges; solve problems; think creatively, critically, and quantitatively; voice strong and clear opinions; respect and listen to other points of view; challenge opinions; and be open to revising my own thinking. Most importantly, it exposed me to people with many diverse and unique experiences from whom I learned a great deal. People and faculty are the most valuable asset of such an interdisciplinary program that includes highly technical classes, covering R programming and advanced physics, but also very relevant and widely applicable skills such as disaster management and adaptation to climate change. I am thankful for the opportunity to study at Columbia University.
What are you hoping to learn from your internship?
I hope this internship will fill the gaps that the program could not address and help me expand my hands-on experience and knowledge about different bee species, not only honeybees. I hope to learn more about what can be done to protect them on big and small scales. I want to bring awareness to the issue of the declining bee population, not only in the U.S. but in the world.
I am sure that once people here in the New York City area understand more about the role bees play and the challenge they are facing, their attitude towards these vital insects will become more compassionate and pro-active in terms of their protection. At the end of the day, we are truly reliant upon them. Most fruits and vegetables we grow or buy depend on bee pollinators. We need bees for a balanced food supply and our overall well-being. This internship will also help me expand my network in this field and give me an opportunity to grow professionally.
How does this internship align with your career goals? What do you hope to do after graduation?
My long-term goals span different industries and roles. I have many ideas and aspirations, and beekeeping is just one of many activities that I enjoy. I am also considering going back to the fashion industry to take a more active role in the sustainable revolution that is changing most companies. Also, renewable energy is a space that is attracting many new investments and one which I would like to learn more about given the critical need to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.
The beauty of the Climate and Society program is that it provides a foundational skill set that can be applied in different contexts. More and more companies will need experts in the subjects that we studied because climate change is affecting everyone, everywhere.