Karl Wasmuth, a student in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) program has always been interested in environmental issues, but it was not until he started working abroad as an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor that he began to consider more deeply the individual and international actions that affect the environment. While teaching in South Korea and later, in Costa Rica, Karl was exposed to divergent levels understanding and interest in environmental issues from the locals with whom he was interacting. Karl was able to join the MPA-ESP program, which offered science, policy, and management elements that are necessary to environmental problem solving.
1. What were you doing before you started the MPA-ESP program?
Before coming to the program I was teaching English as a second language in South Korea and then in Costa Rica. While in Korea, I also studied Korean and was a member of the Ewha University Roots and Shoots branch. Prior to using ESL as a convenient way to travel and experience new cultures, I was working on my bachelor’s degree at Kalamazoo College.
2. What drew you to the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP)?
Thanks mostly to my mother, I have always been interested in environmental issues, but while in undergrad I became far more interested in the interrelationships between energy and the environment. I wanted to look at large systemic issues and how both individual and international actions could help to correct them. While teaching abroad I was also exposed to highly divergent levels of apathy, understanding, and interest in environmental issues from the locals. I wanted to find ways to connect all of these interests together. Thus, I was drawn to the MPA-ESP program because it offered science, policy, and management elements which I think need to be better integrated in environmental problem solving. I wanted to learn more not just about how issues work, but how to manage solutions, so the program felt like it was a perfect fit. The fact that the program is at Columbia University in New York was also a plus.
3. What area of environmental policy and management are you most interested in?
I am most interested in all of the dynamics of energy policy – energy’s effects on the planet and people, the strategic and security issues of energy, and, of course, trying to work towards solutions for the climate problem that are practical. It has often seemed like people involve too much emotion in energy and climate issues, so my ultimate hope is bring about a more pragmatic and levelheaded approach to integrating climate, energy, and security policy.
4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through the program?
It was my hope to acquire a balanced understanding of the science and policy of environmental issues and so far, the program has helped me acquire a significantly more advanced understanding of science. I have also come to better understand management decisions and how they vary in the private and public sectors. By the end of the program, I hope to have acquired the skills I need to quickly come to understand new issues and react to them.
5. What is your favorite class in the MPA-ESP program so far, and why?
Most of the science classes I took during summer semester could compete for my favorite course since I learned so much in them. I come from a non-science background, so summer was especially beneficial for me. However, if I had to choose only one course, I think that it would be Climatology because of my interest in climate change. As a result of this course, I can now explain a great deal of climate related issues to other people. Plus the class material was just fascinating for me.
6. How has collaborating with your fellow students in class projects benefitted you professionally and personally?
The structure of the program is designed to create a cooperative and friendly cohort of students. The entire summer semester is spent together and most of the work consists of group projects or encourages student collaboration. My summer and fall semester workshop on hydraulic fracturing was spent with the same group of students too. Thus, I have come to really know my classmates well and to appreciate their diverse backgrounds and exceptional caliber. We probably learn as much from each other as we do from the classes, and inspire each other to explore new things. Further, the amount of group work means that we have all improved our ability to work together towards common goals, much like we will with coworkers once we graduate. I think the emphasis on collaboration is one of the MPA-ESP program’s strongest features.
7. Beyond the classroom, what, if any, extracurricular sustainability-related activities have you engaged in with your fellow Environmental Science and Policy students?
One of the nice things about the program is that it allows the students to get out of the classroom via fieldtrips to sites around New York. Some of these trips have included the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the Gowanus Canal superfund site, and urban restoration projects such as a reclaimed landfill in Brooklyn and a reforestation project in the Bronx. At all of these sites, we met with stakeholders and experts. There are also more guest speakers, career fairs, and panels than I could ever hope to attend, but all the ones that I have managed to go to have been excellent.
8. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MPA-ESP program to further your career?
After I graduate from Columbia, it is my goal to work in international renewable energy development, perhaps in partnership with a carbon trading scheme. Understanding science, policy, and management should be incredible advantages when I search for a job in the energy field, as should having a degree from an university as prestigious as Columbia. I am now using the myriad resources that SIPA offers to help me in my search for a place to work, and am optimistic that my search will be most fruitful.
9. How has receiving a fellowship from Columbia University made your attendance a reality?
One of my greatest concerns about attending the MPA-ESP program was the financial burden that I would be undertaking. The debt load was intimidating and added a lot of stress to my transition back into life as a full-time student. It was difficult to find external funding as a non-science major attending a one-year program. However, at the end of summer semester I was extremely honored to be awarded a fellowship from Columbia. This lifted a huge amount of weight from my shoulders and helped me to focus more on my studies Overall, I think that the scholarship that I was lucky enough to receive made my attendance a reality.
Students in the MPA in Environmental Science and 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 in the fall and spring semesters, they focus on the policy and economics necessary to becoming successful environmental analysts and managers. Visit our website to learn more about the program.
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