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Two Sustainable Development Award Winners Reflect on Their College Careers

The Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development (SDEV) is proud to celebrate the hard work and outstanding dedication of its recent graduates. For this spotlight, we caught up with Daniel Leal de Moraes Santana and Sophie Hanin to learn about their experiences in the program, post-graduation plans and words of wisdom for current and future students.

Q&A with Daniel Leal de Moraes Santana, Stuart Gaffin Award for Leadership and Engagement

Male student in cap and gown in front of Columbia University
Daniel Leal de Moraes Santana

Daniel Leal de Moraes Santana became interested in sustainability while teaching history classes in a public school on the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, during his last year of high school. When he’s not in the classroom, Leal de Moraes Santana’s hobbies include yoga, meditation, hiking and tennis. One fun fact about him, Leal de Moraes Santana says, is that he used to be a child model for a beauty agency.

This year, Leal de Moraes Santana was honored with the Stuart Gaffin Award for Leadership and Engagement, which commemorates Stuart Gaffin, who taught the Workshop in Sustainable Development from 2009 to 2019. Award selection was 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, which exemplify Gaffin’s contributions to the Columbia community.

What are your plans after graduating from the SDEV program?

I will be joining the ESG team at Pretium Partners, an asset management firm focused on single-family rental real estate and residential and corporate credit. My responsibilities will include reviewing and summarizing trending topics on sustainability related to real estate, researching political trends on ESG and analyzing social metrics in Pretium’s real estate investments, among other tasks.

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

My advice for students in the Sustainable Development program is to identify your interests early on to select classes that align with your professional goals. For those interested in sustainable investing, leave room for electives at SIPA [School of International and Public Affairs] recommended by SIRI [Sustainable Investing Research Initiative]. Most importantly, relax and enjoy the journey. Make friends and have fun.

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

I gained valuable experience working at the Office of Sustainability and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. I helped organize two annual events at Columbia’s Business School, the Brazil Climate Summit and actively participated in the Columbia Impact Investing Network (CI3). Additionally, I attended the Out for Undergrad (O4U) Business Conference, which broadened my professional network and deepened my understanding of sustainable investing.

What was your biggest accomplishment while at Columbia?

My biggest accomplishment during my time here was organizing the Brazil Climate Summit at Columbia Business School. This event brought together leading experts, policymakers and business leaders to discuss and promote sustainable development and a green economy in Brazil. Coordinating such a significant event required extensive planning, collaboration and dedication. It was incredibly rewarding to see the impact of our efforts and to contribute to meaningful conversations about sustainability and climate action in Brazil.

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

My favorite class in the program was “Economic and Financial Methods for Sustainable Development” with Satyajit Bose. This class not only equipped me with valuable skills for my future job but also connected me with other students interested in sustainable investing. It was highly interactive, and Professor Bose was excellent at fostering dialogue among students and providing a senior perspective on sustainable investing.

What would you like SDEV freshmen to know as you leave Columbia?

I’d like for them to know the importance of kindness and collaboration. Be patient with TAs, considerate of professors’ lives and respectful toward all employees. Collaborate with classmates, even in a competitive environment, as the connections you build will be more valuable than a temporary GPA boost. Be friendly to those who look or act differently than you. Enjoy the Sustainable Development program to the fullest and take time to discover yourself.


Q&A with Sophie Hanin, Departmental Honors

Female student in graduation gown stands against column
Sophie Hanin

Sophie Hanin is from the San Francisco Bay Area and recently graduated from the dual BA program with the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she studied Jewish texts in addition to sustainable development. She first became interested in sustainability when she took environmental science in high school and was exposed to the interdisciplinary aspect of the field. Hanin is also a creatively motivated person who loves making clothes from scratch.

Sustainable Development Departmental Honors are awarded to students with a grade point average of at least 3.7 in their major courses and at least a B+ in both courses of the senior thesis seminar.

What are your plans after graduating from the program?

I will be attending NYU for a master’s in public health with a concentration in nutrition and will be tutoring math part-time.

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

Take the classes that sound too hard. I spent too much time prioritizing the classes that sounded like they played well to my existing strengths, but I wish I had taken the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and take harder data analysis and environmental science classes when they were available.

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

The Jewish campus organization Hillel, the Journal of Politics and Society and the dance group Orchesis.

What was your biggest accomplishment while at Columbia?

I completed a senior thesis even though it was optional!

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

“Environment, Health and Justice” with Ana Navas-Acien, and the capstone workshop. Navas-Acien opened my eyes to the world of environmental public health and completely altered the trajectory of my life as I finally understood the way I could combine my social justice passions and desire to work in the field of sustainability. The capstone workshop was also an incredible opportunity to learn from my peers, and participating in Lisa Dale’s section that worked in Rwanda was such an amazing experience that allowed me to understand firsthand the global application of some of the skills I had learned as an undergrad.

What would you like SDEV freshmen to know as you leave Columbia?

This is a hard school to go to. People can be very intense, and the club and social culture can be isolating. But you can, and will, find community. Maybe it will be among other SDEV majors, but I urge you to keep an open mind and not silo yourself into spaces that are only filled with like-minded people. Being challenged intellectually and interpersonally has been extremely valuable to my growth.


Three other Sustainable Development students were also the recipients of awards this spring: Sherrye Ye for the Stuart Gaffin Award for Leadership and Engagement, and Claire Diao and Suleyman Ahmed for Departmental Honors.

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