MPA Alum Leads Cleveland’s Local Sustainability Initiatives

by | 3.28.2013 at 11:00am
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MPA in Environmental Science and Policy alum Matthew Gray ('05)

MPA in Environmental Science and Policy alum Matthew Gray (’05)

When MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) alum Matthew Gray (’05) joined the program, he was interested in pursuing a career in energy and climate change at the national and international level. After graduating, Matt went on to do just that – first, as a Presidential Management Fellowship recipient with the U.S. Department of Energy, and then as a researcher of climate adaptation governance on the island of Mauritius through the U.S. Fulbright Program. After gaining the national and international experience he had wanted, Matt decided he wanted to enact sustainability initiatives on the local level. Currently, Matt is the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability for the City of Cleveland, where he helps to green the City’s municipal operations and convenes the larger community through the Sustainable Cleveland Initiative.

1. What is your current job?

As Director in the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability for the City of Cleveland, I help green the City’s municipal operations, and also help convene the larger community through the Sustainable Cleveland initiative. Sustainable Cleveland is a community of people from every walk of life working together to reshape Cleveland into a vibrant livable city with thriving businesses and a flourishing natural environment. Sustainable Cleveland has gained support and grown in scope, breadth and numbers since it launched in 2009. We have hundreds of businesses and organizations now engaged, and more than 200 active volunteers working on a wide variety of initiatives, all contributing to creating a thriving green city on a blue lake.

2. Do your current job responsibilities align with the professional goals that you originally had when you began the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP)?

Well, sort of. When I began the MPA-ESP program, my interests lay mostly in energy and climate change at the national and international level. After graduation I pursued those interests, first through a Presidential Management Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Energy, and then on the island of Mauritius where I researched climate adaptation governance by way of the U.S. Fulbright Program. I learned a ton through these positions, but ultimately came to realize that, at this point in my career, I craved work at the local level. It’s here where sustainability is increasingly being pursued in an integrated, innovative, and tangible way. And I most certainly didn’t expect to be working in my hometown of Cleveland, but feel fortunate to be a part of the revitalization happening here.

3. What skills has the MPA-ESP program taught you that you think have proven useful to your current position?

The foundation I received in energy and climate change during the MPA-ESP program, including exposure to thought leaders on these subjects, has served me well in each position I’ve had since. The MPA-ESP workshops also taught me how to work with a large group of peers in addressing complex problems and to develop the confidence to present the team’s findings publicly. These skills continue to prove invaluable, as I’m currently helping to lead development of a community-wide Climate Action Plan for Cleveland. This planning effort will run through the summer of 2013, address both mitigation and adaptation, and include input from the public and an Advisory Committee made up of over 40 organizations.

4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through this job?

While my previous positions in the private sector, federal government, and internationally have presented challenges related to prioritization, nothing has compared to implementing a vision for sustainability at the local level. Our office works both internally to integrate sustainability into government operations, and also in the community through Sustainable Cleveland, and on a variety of topics – green building, local food, renewable energy, waste, green space, transportation, and so on. At the same time, much of the cutting edge work going on internationally is happening locally, which is both fun and challenging to keep up with. So being able to sift through the weeds to create a bold and achievable plan that maximizes the potential of our small staff is what I hope to continue to improve upon.

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

Most projects of any real significance I have worked on professionally have required collaborating with a wide variety of people, each with a unique perspective and skill set, to come up with solutions to real-world challenges. I think the ESP program’s focus on collaboration prepared me well for these challenges. The long hours of working together on projects also facilitated some of my most valued friendships. After all, it’s better to have company when forced to pull an all-nighter!

6. What kinds of environmental initiatives do you hope to start in your new position?

While I hope to start many new initiatives in Cleveland related to the environment, the vast majority are not solely “environmental” per se. Most of what we’ve done and hope to do truly meet the triple bottom line of sustainability – where benefits outweigh costs for people, planet, and profit. One possible example is bike share. We are currently conducting a feasibility study to see if bike share makes sense for Cleveland. This initiative is so exciting because it has the potential to improve people’s health and quality of life, reduce emissions from vehicles, save people money, and improve neighborhood connectivity that benefits residents and small businesses alike.

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

Whereas my undergraduate experience really taught me how to think, the MPA-ESP program was instrumental in teaching me the process of turning thought into action. As with most of us, I’m not sure what my future career holds in store, but I believe this skill should continue to serve me well.

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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