Student Profile: Danny Giddings

by |December 21, 2015

train_dannyAfter two years of service with the United States Peace Corps, Danny Giddings was eager to expand his knowledge of the various environmental, economic, and social issues involved in agricultural production. For Danny, the MPA ESP program offered the perfect combination of environmental policy with education in hard sciences.

1. What drew you to the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP)?
I have an undergraduate degree in political science and a strong background in agriculture, having grown up on a farm and worked with small stakeholder farmers in Cameroon and the U.S. So I knew I was interested in a graduate program where I could concentrate on the agriculture/environment nexus. As I was researching environmental policy programs, the MPA-ESP program stood out as the only top-ranked program with a heavy focus on environmental sciences – something I felt I lacked coming from a mostly policy background. I was also attracted to the accelerated one year program design, as I have found that I learn best when I am able to completely immerse myself in the topic.

Coming to the heart of Manhattan to study agricultural policy may seem like an odd choice at first. However, I have found plenty of opportunities to explore my interest in the environmental impact of food production through resources at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and many other of the world-class research institutions affiliated with Columbia University.

2. What were you doing before you started the program?
I started the program right after completing two years of service with the U.S. Peace Corps in Cameroon. During my service I worked as an agroforestry extension agent/agribusiness advisor collaborating with small stakeholder farmers to increase the sustainability of their operations with agroforestry and other improved agriculture techniques, which consequently improved long-term yields and profitability.

I also worked extensively with Cameroonian government ministries and public schools on projects ranging from soybean production and transformation trainings to malaria and HIV/AIDS awareness and education. Observing the parallel environmental impacts of agriculture within the drastically different contexts of Cameroon and the U.S. was an incredibly valuable experience.

3. What area of environmental policy and management are you most interested in?
I am most interested in policy that addresses the problematic suite of environmental, economic, and social issues involved in agricultural production. The impact of agriculture on water resources and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels is substantial. Reducing that impact in an economically feasible way is critical to ensuring that global food production continues to meet the demand of a growing population.

4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through the program?
My goal is to continue to develop a balanced repertoire of technical and analytic skills that will help me understand complex environmental issues. For example, I hope to build on data visualization skills I learned in the GIS course this fall while working with a climate scientist from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to research technical strategies to reduce the climate impact of livestock production. In one of my electives this spring, I will study policy models for agricultural and rural development. At the same time I will be learning about the constraints within the municipal budgetary planning process in my internship as a budget analyst at the New York City Office of Management and Budget.

5. What is your favorite class in the MPA-ESP program so far, and why?
The Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Management experience has been particularly rewarding. For the last two semesters nine classmates and I have conducted an in-depth analysis of an EPA led, interagency ecological restoration program for the Great Lakes region. I have enjoyed studying program design within the context of the scientific complexities of ecological restoration. Serving as manager in the Fall term has provided a valuable simulation of real-world project management as I work with my team to implement a work plan, and ensure the timely delivery of quality outputs.

6. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MPA-ESP program to further your career?
I would like to work as a project manager or policy analyst within the public sector to design and implement programs that promote conservation agriculture while protecting natural resources. Using the skills I develop here and the vast Columbia network, I hope to work at a federal agency like the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or the U.S. Forest Service, all of which conduct the type of work I am interested in.


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.

Since it began in 2002, the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program has given students the hands-on experience, and the analytical and decision-making tools to implement effective environmental and sustainable management policies. The program’s 741 graduates have advanced to jobs in domestic and international environmental policy, working in government, private and non-profit sectors. Their work involves issues of sustainability, resource use and global change, in fields focused on air, water, climate, energy efficiency, food, agriculture, transportation and waste management. They work as consultants, advisers, project managers, program directors, policy analysts, teachers, researchers and environmental scientists and engineers.

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