From Columbia to COP27 in Six Months: Cassidy Childs
Cassidy Childs is a research associate for international climate policy at the Center for American Progress, and a 2022 graduate of Columbia University’s MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) program. Within six months of graduating, Cassidy attended the UN climate conference (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. At the conference, she organized a loss and damage event and a climate science accessibility event at the conference’s first-ever Climate Justice Pavilion. The panelists included White House officials, CEOs of environmental nonprofits, senior policy experts, and advocates. The events were a resounding success and pushed justice and equity conversations further into the conference.
At the Center for American Progress, Cassidy works to bring equity and inclusion into environmental policies that have historically marginalized low-income communities and communities of color. These include policies around climate resilience and adaptation, and environmental justice in the US and abroad. Her day-to-day work includes research for products that get published on the CAP website, event and meeting coordination, coalition and partner collaboration, and writing memos on international climate policies.
Cassidy spoke to us at the start of 2023 to provide current and prospective ESP students with career and program advice.
What interests you about the sustainability field?
I became passionate about climate issues after the 2017 Tubbs Fire devastated my hometown of Santa Rosa, California. The Tubbs Fire burned over 5,200 homes and shook the foundation of the community I grew up in. From that experience, climate change and its impacts became a very personal issue. At UC Berkeley, I began studying climate resilience and climate justice and advocating for local environmental justice causes. What became clear to me was that climate change will be the fight of our life and it will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable communities. That will always be a worthy problem to work to solve.
Can you give us a quick overview of your previous work experience and educational background?
Prior to my job at the Center for American Progress, I was an environmental justice intern at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). At CEQ, I was helping implement President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative and the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool. The Justice40 Initiative is a goal that 40% of the benefits of certain government investments flow to disadvantaged communities. The internship gave me a great perspective on how the federal government implements interagency initiatives and I was grateful to get to work on one of the most significant environmental justice policies in US history.
My prior professional experiences include research on climate resilience and advocacy for environmental justice issues. I earned my BA in political science and BS in society and environment from UC Berkeley.
What inspired you to earn your MPA-ESP from Columbia?
The MPA-ESP program was appealing to me because it focused on the nexus of policy, technology, finance, and environmental issues. Not many schools have addressed climate and environmental issues through such a progressive lens. Other MPA programs would not address the science, and other environmental science programs would not address the policies and politics. This program ensured that I would get to learn about both. Additionally, the cohort style of the program was appealing, because I knew that it would give me a chance to really connect with my classmates and forge friendships that would last a lifetime.
What skills did you develop through the program? How have these translated to your professional life?
The program taught me how to lead and participate in large group projects that have both short-term and long-term deliverables. Because of the significant amount of group projects, the program challenges us to delegate responsibilities, reach consensus, and work productively with people from diverse backgrounds. The same types of skills are necessary at my job where projects are often executed not only across work teams but also potentially across organizations.
Where would you like to see your career take you?
The climate policy world is rapidly changing and expanding, which is very exciting. I would like to continue my work on climate and environmental justice because whether the policies are on clean energy deployment or permitting reform or climate adaptation and infrastructure, equity considerations and community impacts should be at the forefront of the decision-making. My vision for the future is one where we not only learn to live in this world sustainably, but also redress the massive inequalities and historic racism in our society and worldwide.
What is your favorite memory of the program?
My favorite memory from the program was our trip to Coney Island in the summer. It was a great way to explore the city, take a break, and have a great time as a cohort. We played games, frolicked in the ocean, and went to the arcade. When I look back on that day I remember the feeling of the warm sun, the sounds of laughter, and the smell of fried food.
What advice would you give to current students?
The program is short and you should take each day as an opportunity to take a step toward your goals. You should reach out to as many professionals, alumni, and current students to learn about potential pathways that you may or may not like. Your conversations will give you a lot of information about the professional world, yourself, and potential opportunities to pursue.