An adjunct professor in Columbia University’s Sustainability Management program, Fernando Ortiz is a Dominican-American sustainable designer and the borough director for New York City Economic Development Corporation, where he manages government and community relations. Formerly, he was a city planner in the Bronx.
Ortiz started his career as a community organizer for The Point Community Development Corporation, and he has worked on environmental justice in the South Bronx and studied across four continents. His experience includes collaborating with Native American tribes, and he specializes in community engagement. He has participated in several urban planning/design projects within New York City.
Ortiz holds master’s degrees in Sustainability Management from Columbia University, and in Sustainable Design from the Boston Architectural College, and a bachelor’s degree from Pratt Institute. As a Bronx native, he is passionate about uplifting the needs and voices of Bronxites across the city and globe.
What initially motivated you to pursue the field of sustainability?
I was always interested in the environment and understanding how it shapes our society. I was attracted to environmental justice and how to not only make our environments healthier but how to improve the lives of people who have been marginalized and disadvantaged by infrastructure and the fossil fuel-based economy. Its interdisciplinary approach allowed me to explore various industries; design, waste, energy, etc.
What drew you to the Columbia Climate School and the School of Professional Studies (SPS)?
I graduated from SPS in 2019 from the Sustainability Management program and was attracted to SPS because of the opportunity to learn sustainability in NYC and at one of the nation’s top universities. Columbia offers so many opportunities to engage in sustainability issues across the globe and with industry professionals.
What course will you be teaching this fall and what excites you most about it?
I will be teaching the Sustainability Management course in the SUMA program, which students usually take in their first semester and is one of the few required SUMA courses. I am excited to bring my experience in the non-profit and public sector into this course as well as my passion and dedication to community engagement, especially in underserved communities, and to expose students to NYC.
What changes do you hope to see in the field of sustainability in the future?
I hope to see more sustainability work that is focused on improving public health and public spaces — and that places marginalized communities and their well-being at the forefront and that uplifts their narratives. I want to see more BIPOC practitioners and more of said stories highlighted.
What advice do you have for students pursuing a career in sustainability?
Explore different areas of sustainability, expose yourself to different communities and places, travel, participate in extra-curricular projects and initiatives, and network as best and as often as you can. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to practitioners in the field — ask questions and ask for help. Lastly, I would advise students to always put people at the center of their work.