State of the Planet

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Student Spotlight, Part 3: Sustainable Development Leadership Award Winners Reflect on Their College Careers

The Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is proud to celebrate the hard work and outstanding dedication of its recent graduates.

Graduating students Taejeong Woo and Nour Aljowaily were selected for the Stuart Gaffin Award for Leadership and Engagement. The Stuart Gaffin Award for Leadership and Engagement commemorates Professor Stuart Gaffin, who taught the Workshop in Sustainable Development from 2009 to 2019. Award selections are based on demonstrated leadership and service in the spirit of sustainable development either on or off campus. The award honors leadership, impact, engagement, and dedication, all of which were characteristic of Professor Gaffin’s contributions to our Columbia community.

In this spotlight, Taejeong and Nour tell us about their post-graduation plans, their understanding of sustainability, and their advice to current students

Q&A with Taejeong Woo

What are your plans after graduating from the program?

I am planning to continue my education as a PhD student in Sustainable Development.

How did the program shape your understanding of sustainability?

One of the important insights about sustainability that the program has emphasized is that sustainability is the goal that everyone desires to achieve. Every businessperson wants their business to be sustainable, and every government aims for their policies and regulations to be sustainable. But how can we make this goal a reality? As a member of Columbia University studying Sustainable Development, I have come to understand that what achieves sustainability is education. Education is the only way that we can accomplish sustainability.

Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular activities did you engage in?

Every year, I travel to one of the driest and poorest districts in East Africa, which is known to be a dangerous conflict zone. I go there to build sustainable peace in the district. The people there not only suffer from historically complicated issues between different groups but also from climate change, which has led to a lack of resources and exacerbated other conflicts. Due to these conflicts, children’s education is often interrupted, and the safety of many elders, women, and children is at high risk. So, every year, I spend my entire three months of summer preparing an education curriculum to teach peace to the next generation, fundraising, recruiting, and communicating with people in the district. Every time, people ask me, “Why do you go there, risking your safety and giving up your well-being?” I answer back with certainty: “I choose to be another helping hand wherever they need me. I choose ‘sacrifice’ my own safety and well-being.” The people in the district stood in solidarity initiating peace-building efforts with me. One of students told me he will set up a camp like mine to promote peace where there is a war and he promise to become a good model to his friends and community. This is why I am always more excited than worried to go to the district because my knowledge and experience I gained from the Columbia community make positive impacts in these places. One day, after finishing my education, I aspire to fully devote myself to working in conflict zones where I can build sustainable peace even if it means living without clean water, a comfortable house, or honor.

Q&A with Nour Aljowaily

What tips do you have for students who wish to complete the Sustainable Development program?

Take the time with each course to learn the most from it and explore every aspect of the content and make connections with the professors and fellow students to collaborate together in and out of the class.

What are your plans after graduating from the program?

I will be working full time and am deciding between offers at the moment.

What drew you to the Sustainable Development major or special concentration?

I grew up fascinated by the UN system, and the Sustainable Development Goals were a big part of it, and I was also very passionate about environmental conservation and social justice, so further studying these topics seemed like a natural next step.

What was your favorite class in the Sustainable Development program and why?

It’s hard to pick one, but “Climate Change & Law” was one of the best. Getting to understand the international and US legal implications of climate change mitigation and adaptation was fascinating, and doing that in a law school course was all the more challenging and informative.

What was your biggest accomplishment while at Columbia?

Building a strong team at the SDG Hub and organizing events that shake up the overarching discussions happening on campus.

Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular activities did you engage in?

During my time at Columbia, I was the president of SDG Hub, ambassador of the Dual BA program, a community services and sustainability representative on General Studies Student Council, intern at Crauderueff Solar, intern at City Council of Rio, a summer business analyst at McKinsey, and on the COP27 Student Advisory Committee.

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

Columbia campus skyline with text Columbia Climate School Class Day 2024 - Congratulations Graduates

Congratulations to our Columbia Climate School MA in Climate & Society Class of 2024! Learn about our May 10 Class Day celebration. #ColumbiaClimate2024

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