State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Sustainable Development Program Hosts First Alumni Career Conversations Panel

On March 31, the Undergraduate Sustainable Development Program hosted its first Alumni Career Conversations panel. The event was held at Lerner Hall and it created an intimate space for students to meet and discuss with alumni with similar academic backgrounds. Students were exposed to various sectors, career paths, and projects in the sustainability field.

The panel consisted of four graduates of the Sustainable Development program: Sofia Assab (GS ‘22), Alyssa Menz (CC ‘15), Jesse Thorson (CC ‘18), and Hannah Friedman (CC ‘19). 

panelists sit at a table
The Career Conversations event on March 31 featured a panel discussion among Sustainable Development alumni. Panelists from left to right: Sofia Assab, Alyssa Menz, Jesse Thorson, and Hannah Friedman.

Sofia Assab (GS ‘22) is an ESG consultant at Withum, advising a wide range of large and mid-level companies on ways to develop their ESG strategy. While at Columbia, she also co-founded Eden Labs, a tech startup working to make the cloud open-source and more efficient. 

Alyssa Menz (CC ‘ 15) is a second-year Ph.D. student at the Yale School of the Environment, where she is conducting research on corporate net-zero pledges, the gap between decarbonization ambition and action, and mission-driven companies. Prior to joining Yale, she spent five years at DAI Global, an international development firm, where she specialized in corporate social investment, sustainability entrepreneurship and innovation, and the energy sector.

 Jesse Thorson (CC ‘18) is a strategist at Third Partners, a boutique management consultancy and impact advisory working for positive change. He previously worked at the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he managed research and convening initiatives at the intersection of sustainability, ethics, and religion. 

Hannah Friedman (CC ‘19) is the founding principal of Planeteer Capital, a venture capital fund investing in pre-seed and seed-stage climate tech startups. Previously, she spent nearly four years on the venture capital team of Closed Loop Partners, investing in the circular economy and authoring Closed Loop’s Navigating Plastic Alternatives report. 

people in a conference room
Sustainable Development program co-directors Jason Smerdon and Lisa Dale introduce the panel.

The panel answered a series of questions posed by moderator and program co-director Lisa Dale. The questions included topics such as skills used in their careers, important classes to take, and advice for students entering the field. 

The panelists shared similar insights into how the skills that they learned from the program have transferred into their work. These skills included interconnections, critical thinking, writing, and communication. They explained how it is important to be able to synthesize and communicate knowledge and sustainability concepts to different audiences, especially to those who may not be familiar.

students sitting in chairs
Students at the event asked questions to the panelists and learned more about their education and career experiences.

The next question centered on recommended courses to take during the program. Alyssa shared more about her experience while studying abroad in the CU Jordan program and about completing both the capstone and thesis projects while in the program. Jesse also spoke about his thesis project experience and having the opportunity to do a deep dive into a topic of interest. Hannah shared how she enjoyed an economics class and being able to build a project while in the program. She also gave advice to students about taking advantage of all of the experiences, networks, and opportunities while in New York City. Sofia spoke about how she enjoyed an ethics course and more about her experience with the culminating workshop class that was student-driven and brought together skills from previous courses.

The discussion shifted to learning about the work in their careers and studies. The panelists all have worked in similar areas that focus on ESG, consulting, and corporate sustainability. They shared recommendations on work-life balance, well-being, and the adjustment to life after studying.

This semester’s alumni panel was a resounding success and we look forward to hosting it again next year. Thank you to this year’s attendees!

For information on upcoming events please visit the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development website.

Graduates of the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development go on to work in public, private, and non-profit organizations and many go on to pursue graduate studies in sustainable development, environmental law, and public policy. To learn more about the program, please visit our website.

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