Current MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) student Hanna Helsingen has taken full advantage of the opportunities available to her as a student both inside and outside of the classroom, where she serves as the sustainability chair for the ESP Student Government. With the help of her fellow ESP classmates, Hanna has also used her role as sustainability chair to form the SIPA Sustainability Committee, which works with sustainability issues in SIPA and has focused on addressing the issue of bottled water and waste. Prior to joining the ESP program, Hanna earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Uppsala University in her native Sweden and worked as an intern at the United Nations. Hanna chose the ESP program because of its integrated curriculum and New York City location.
1. What drew you to the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP)?
I wanted to deepen my understanding about the science behind environmental problems and how our earth systems function. In addition, I wanted to learn about how we can seek out public policy solutions to make sure the systems are well balanced. I also wanted to improve my knowledge about how to decrease negative environmental impact through the use of financial tools and economic incentives. I was drawn to the broad yet specific focus of the program. It suited me well that the program runs intensively over three semesters and integrates issues related to the environment, including management, economics and ethics. Finally, studying at a school like Columbia University and in a city like New York offers many opportunities beyond the program itself.
2. What were you doing before you started the program?
I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in political science at Uppsala University, Sweden and up until I started the program, I was doing an internship at the United Nations (UN) in New York. During my internship I worked with the UN senior advisor for sustainability, as well as on various issues related to UN in-house operations and management. Working together with an experienced professional such as my UN supervisor motivated me to seek further knowledge in the area of sustainability and environmental management. The internship gave me experience that I have been able to relate to my studies here at Columbia.
3. What area of environmental policy and management are you most interested in?
I have been interested in water management issues for some time, especially water scarcity. During the fall semester, I took a class called Environment, Conflict, and Resolution Strategies at SIPA. This class enhanced my interest in how conflicts impact the environment and how environmental issues, especially related to natural resources, can contribute to conflicts. However, I think I’m mostly interested in how we can apply an integrated approach to environmental issues such that gains can be multiplied and sustainability more embedded in everything we do.
4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through the program?
I hope to acquire communication skills that will help me to explain and translate the science behind environmental problems. I also want to learn how to use economic incentives to improve and implement public policy and how to emphasize on the social issues that are interlinked with environmental problems. Furthermore, I wish to get a better understanding of financial and management tools that can help me in making the case for sustainability.
5. What is your favorite class in the MPA-ESP program so far, and why?
I really enjoyed the summer semester of science classes. I think Environmental Chemistry was my favorite class. It gave me a well-rounded understanding about the complex chemistry involved in the functioning of our earth systems. I really enjoyed Climatology as well and it was probably the most useful class to help me to understand the drivers behind climate change and how to mitigate and adapt. The fall semester also included two really useful classes: the first one was Sustainability Management and the second was Environment, Conflict and Resolution Strategies. Sustainability Management gave me great insights about how to address environmental problems from management perspectives. The second one has deepened my interest and understanding about the links between environment, conflicts, peace building and development.
6. How has collaborating with your fellow students in class projects benefitted you professionally and personally?
Teamwork and collaboration is key in any successful project, nonetheless it is a challenge. I think the workshop in the ESP program has been a good way to learn about group dynamics. I also think it has been great to collaborate with people of different nationalities and academic backgrounds, which has broadened and deepened my understanding of environmental issues.
7. Beyond the classroom, what, if any, extracurricular sustainability-related activities have you engaged in with your fellow Environmental Science and Policy students?
I am the sustainability chair for the ESP Student Government. In this role, I initiated a sustainability group that later would emerge into the SIPA Sustainability Committee through the great work of other ESP students. This committee now works with sustainability issues in SIPA and has focused on bottled water and waste and ways to address them. I am also the President of the Earth Institute Student Advisory Council (EISAC). This council consists of 24 undergraduates and graduate students from the Columbia community and focuses on promoting the vision and work of students committed to achieving sustainability within the Earth Institute, Columbia University, and the wider community.
8. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MPA-ESP program to further your career?
I see a master’s degree as essential to furthering my career, but more importantly I feel I have gained knowledge and skills from this program that will help me to be more successful in my work – wherever that may be. I think a degree from Columbia University opens many doors, especially due to the large alumni network that exists. My bachelor’s degree helped me to get a strong theoretical foundation whereas my master’s program has focused more on applying that theoretical understanding. As I would like to work in an international environment, focusing on how to better integrate environment into areas such as water management, peace building and development in general, I believe that my MPA-ESP degree will not only help me to get there but also assist me in making the most out of my work.
9. How has receiving a fellowship from Columbia University made your attendance a reality?
The fellowship I was awarded from the ESP program has been very important to my time as a student living in New York. As an international student, I was ineligible for many of the other scholarships because they were only available only to U.S. citizens. By receiving the ESP fellowship, it relieved a lot of the financial stress that occurs from paying tuition, rent and other expenses, while being a student.
Students in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) 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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