MPA Student Makes Career Shift to Climate Change Policy

by | 2.2.2012 at 4:33pm
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A former manager of foreign direct investment (FDI), Young Eun Ahn wants to learn more about the global efforts to address climate change issues as a student in the MPA-ESP program.

After spending six years managing foreign direct investment (FDI) in South Korea, Young Eun Ahn joined the 12-month MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program to gain a better understanding of the global efforts to address the issue of climate change, both scientifically and policy-wise. Having grown up in several developing countries, Young Eun hopes to improve the lives of the people in around the world by helping them achieve environmentally sustainable growth through FDI.

1. What drew you to the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP)?

I was looking for a program that would help me to make the transition from my previous career to one in environmental policy. With time and financial constraints, I could only afford a one-year program, so I compared Columbia’s program with that of two other top schools in the U.K. I chose this program in the end for its focus on the natural sciences, Columbia’s reputation for academic excellence, its affiliation with the Earth Institute, and its location (need I say more about NYC?).

2. What were you doing before you started the program?

I was manager of foreign direct investment (FDI) for three years at the Hong Kong office of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), a national-level government organization of South Korea. Before that, I was based in the Seoul headquarters of KOTRA for three years, managing inbound FDI projects to Korea. During my six years of professional experience in FDI, I had several opportunities to work with companies in the environmental sector, which is how I became interested in the field of environmental policy.

3. What area of environmental policy and management are you most interested in?

These days, you hear so much about how climate change and environmental disasters affect the least privileged people in the most severe way. Having grown up in several developing countries, I know that lives can be improved in such regions by implementing the right policies – especially the right environmental policies. At the same time, I know that FDI can play a huge role in driving the growth of developing economies. I am interested in helping developing countries utilize foreign direct investment as part of their growth strategy to achieve environmentally sustainable growth.

4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through the program?

My ultimate goal is to gain a better understanding of the global efforts to address, both scientifically and policy-wise, the issue of climate change. I’m hoping to acquire the skills and tools for analyzing such international policies, including knowledge on the theoretical framework of such policies, their application to real-life practices, and proficiency with research software programs.

5. What is your favorite class in the MPA-ESP program so far, and why?

I really enjoyed the environmental chemistry and toxicology classes that I took during the first semester of the program. In a nutshell, they were about why and how exactly environmental contamination occurs and is detrimental to the environment, humans, and the surrounding ecosystem. These classes were just fascinating (well, not the contamination itself, but learning about the science behind it all). I’m also enjoying my elective on foreign direct investment policy offered at the Columbia Law School. It’s a good combination of theory and practice.

6. How has collaborating with your fellow students in class projects benefitted you professionally and personally?

We are indeed a very diverse group, both in terms of professional background and nationality, and it’s very interesting and stimulating to be with people who work and think in different ways. Working with my classmates takes teamwork to a whole new level, and every day in the program is a learning experience for me.

7. Beyond the classroom, what, if any, extracurricular sustainability-related activities have you engaged in with your fellow Environmental Science and Policy students?

There are so many interesting events and conferences on the topic of environmental sustainability both on campus and off campus throughout the year. It’s always a pleasure to attend these conferences and share the learning experience with my classmates. I also intend to prepare for and take the LEED Green Associate exam while I am in the program.

8. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MPA-ESP program to further your career?

I anticipate that this degree, combined with six years of my public sector experience, will be a powerful tool for my career advancement as an environmental policy professional.

Students in the MPA in Environmental Science & Policy program enroll in a year-long, 54-credit program offered at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, in partnership with the Earth Institute. Throughout this one year program, students are immersed in courses that combine Columbia University’s hands-on approach to teaching public policy and administration with pioneering thinking about the environment. During the summer semester, students learn the fundamentals of environmental science, while the fall and spring semesters focus on teaching the policy and economics necessary to becoming successful environmental analysts and managers. The 62 students come from a wide variety of backgrounds ranging from Sociology to Engineering and come to us from 17 different countries. Please visit our website to learn more about the program.


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