Chak Cherdsatirkul was one of the first two students to graduate from Columbia University’s Sustainability Management (SUMA) master’s program, which debuted in 2010. We caught up with him back in 2016, after he won an award for his plans to develop a bird sanctuary in his hometown of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Below, he shares updates on that project, more about his other work, and advice for current and future SUMA students.
What are some of your career aspirations? How did being a part of the SUMA program affect you?
I have always wanted to do something good for the world, and I believe that sustainability is crucial to such passion. Twelve years ago, I joined the SUMA program and became one of the first two graduates. The classes that I took sharpened my skills and prepared me for my career and future projects. The faculty, classmates, and network from Columbia opened my eyes and allowed me to realize that I can achieve my ambitious dreams with practical and logical execution plans.
Do you have any advice for current or incoming students?
The SUMA program at Columbia is one of the best places in the world for learning about sustainability. Learning is not limited to the classroom — make the best out of your time there.
What are some of the projects that you have worked on after graduating?
After graduating from the program 10 years ago, I have been working on several projects. I began working on an ongoing bird sanctuary project in Chiang Mai. This project is unfortunately moving slowly because of the limited resources and regulatory hurdles. Currently, we are still in phase 1; developing the birds’ natural habitat. We have added more than 1,000 trees in the planned six acres of woodland. We have observed up to 50 species of birds at the site. Most are local species with a few migrating species, but we hope more species will be attracted to the site after the woodland matures and our ongoing landscaping change progresses.
What else have you been working on?
Along with the bird sanctuary, another project I have been working on is the Kaomai Estate 1955, a former tobacco processing center and part of a sustainable tourism resort in Chiang Mai. We are transforming the tobacco barns into a cafe, museum, and tea house. There is also a multipurpose lawn and an encircling preserved natural area, which houses a number of decades-old or century-old trees.
Aside from its commercial use, the site includes several sustainable programs to ensure the coexistence of the architecture and natural heritage. Our adaptive reuse architecture program won UNESCO ASIA Pacific Conservation Award in 2018, in the New Design in Heritage Context category, making the Kaomai Estate 1955 the first project in Thailand to ever receive the award.
Since its establishment, the estate has been recognized for its innovative design by the Golden Pin Design Award (2018), the Tala Honor Award (2018), and the Chiang Mai Design Award (2017).
Besides these projects, I have also explored my passion for writing through a series of children’s books: Teemana Books. I created this project and worked with several renowned illustrators in Thailand to self-publish these children’s picture books. This project was made to diversify the children’s book industry in Thailand. It takes inspiration from my experience traveling and exploring wildlife globally, and my concerns over the environment issues, combined with the simple philosophical questions. I give a lot of credit to Professor Claudia Dreifus for her SUMA writing course that I took in 2010, which taught me how to write and inspired my passion for writing.