State of the Planet

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Student Spotlight: How Two Sustainable Development Program Alumni Chose Their Graduate Careers

Q&A with Christina Deodatis

Woman stands in front of a fieldBorn and raised in New York City, Christina Deodatis has watched the growing environmental challenges, such as severe hurricanes and rising temperatures, impact the diverse communities around her. This experience motivated Deodatis to enroll in Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development (SDEV) so she could play an active role in finding solutions to the climate crisis.

Now an MA student in Climate and Society at the Columbia Climate School, Deodatis talks about her educational journey below.

What skills or knowledge from SDEV do you find most useful in your current program?

The hard skills I learned in the sustainable development program have been incredibly useful for resume building and projects I have worked on since graduating (programs like GIS [geographic information system], Google Earth Engine and R). SDEV also provided an amazingly large scope of knowledge on climate-related topics that has been very useful post-graduation.

How did your experience at SDEV help you enroll in the MA in Climate and Society?

My sustainable development background gave me a strong foundation in subjects related to climate change. Although the MA in Climate and Society does not require a climate background, I find that I am able to select courses that allow me to grow my knowledge from SDEV.

Looking back now, what do you wish you’d known during your time at Columbia in SDEV?

I wish I had taken more time to focus on things outside of academics like participating in more clubs on campus, sustainability-focused and otherwise. The SDEV major is very time-consuming and rewarding, so finding time in my schedule for clubs that could help me destress would have been great.

What career advice do you have for students who want to pursue sustainability?

Sustainability is such an important topic in all fields and is only growing. For any student interested in pursuing sustainability, it’s important to remember that it can be approached from any angle to find an intersection between another topic. Every industry needs to consider sustainability, so the options are endless!

What was your favorite spot to hang out on campus?

My favorite spot to hang out on campus was definitely the lawns by Butler Library. On a warm and sunny day, my friends and I would play games!

 

Q&A with Lucas Chapman

Smiling young man in a dress shirt

When Lucas Chapman first enrolled in Columbia as an undergraduate, his plan was to study physics. But after stumbling upon “Challenges of Sustainable Development,” a core class in the SDEV program, Chapman pivoted to focus on sustainability instead.

A current master’s student in Climate and Society at the Columbia Climate School, Chapman discusses his most memorable experiences, both inside and outside the program.

What skills or knowledge from SDEV do you find most useful in your current program?

The Climate and Society program is a continuation of the SDEV degree, albeit in more depth. Coming from SDEV I was already familiar with general sustainability knowledge, like multilateral climate agreements, greenhouse gas equivalents, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the circular economy. While the master’s program certainly goes more in depth, having the base climate and sustainability knowledge was helpful.

How did your experience at SDEV help you enroll in your graduate degree?

The benefits of having the Columbia connection while deciding which master’s program to pursue extends beyond familiarity with the school and its processes. While applying for the program, I was able to reach out and speak to program leaders and professors (many I already knew, and a few I didn’t) who helped guide my decision-making tremendously.

What extracurricular activities did you participate in as an undergrad? Did your involvement help you in your post-college path?

My most significant extracurricular activity was being a part of Sabor, a student-led Latin dance group. Progressing from member to team captain, I had many opportunities to learn and grow in terms of leadership and soft skills. Beyond this, it adds a flavor to my profile that sets me apart from other candidates, one that I have been able to speak about in interviews. Most importantly, however, the friendships and community I found there, and the support we continue to give each other post-college is invaluable.

What have you learned that you wish you knew during your time at Columbia in SDEV?

I would have spent more time in office hours picking the brains of my professors. Time can feel like an extremely finite resource for college students but making the effort to build relationships can change your college experience in major ways.

What career advice do you have for students who want to pursue sustainability?

As someone who has yet to leave the ivory tower, I’d recommend making best use of the world class experts within Columbia’s walls. Talk to as many people as you can while you’re at Columbia and have special access to them. Oftentimes they’re able to help you think through deep questions, or at least point you in the direction of someone or something that can.

What was your favorite spot to hang out on campus?

Late-night JJs [dining hall] and the lawns!

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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