This fall, the Columbia Climate School welcomes a new class of students into the M.A. in Climate and Society program. The 12-month interdisciplinary program trains students to understand and address the impacts of climate change and climate variability on society and the environment.
The incoming Class of 2023 includes 80 students with diverse backgrounds and career paths, impressive skillsets, and big plans to help protect people and the environment.
State of the Planet will be featuring interviews with several of these extraordinary students over the coming weeks. In the Q&A below, you can meet Victoria Hamilton, whose Indigenous heritage inspires her to preserve nature and speak up for marginalized communities.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in studying climate?
My decision to major in environmental science and geography in college flowed from a desire to study and eventually work in a field aligned with my heritage. I am a proud member of the Montaukett Tribe in New York. My Indigenous grandmother, Yellow Bird, taught me, Little Yellow Bird, a love for nature and respect for the gifts provided by the Earth. Growing up in a Southern California coastal town, I developed a love for the ocean and natural environment surrounding it.
As a local, however, I learned that the California coast does not always live up to the pristine white sand fantasy. I turned my disappointment into action and in high school started working with local marine biology programs to alleviate the damage to our beaches. Volunteering my time picking up trash and organizing my peers to participate in large cleanups made me feel like I was making a positive contribution. My upbringing and those experiences have strengthened my commitment to preserve the Earth for future generations.
What drew you to the Climate and Society program specifically?
The Columbia Climate School presents this unique opportunity combining the Earth Institute and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The Environmental Justice and Climate Just Cities network along with dedicated faculty can help guide me to a career where I can be most effective in contributing to social change. Being surrounded and challenged by brilliant professors and talented students will prepare me to perform and defend research to the most exacting academic standards. Similarly, those minds will challenge me to design original policy approaches to address longstanding problems for communities that have been ignored.
How does the program align with your career goals?
When applying to graduate programs, I was looking for a school where I could learn about both the physical and social sciences behind the impending climate crisis. I was excited when I found the Climate and Society program because I knew I could receive mentorship on how I could continue this intersectional lens into a professional career. I want to work in the environmental policy field and hopefully serve as a voice for marginalized communities.
What are you most excited to learn about while you’re here?
I want to dive into how we can create equitable environmental legislation for all groups of people — more specifically, for those who are often underrepresented in climate change discussions. I look forward to exploring these specific interests more with the elective courses.