Star Students Talk Sustainability, and What They’ve Learned

by |September 12, 2016

By Chandler Precht

In spring 2016, three outstanding students, Joelle Boxer, Alexis Huseby and Anna Lopresti, were selected for departmental honors in the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development. We spoke to them about their experiences in the program, and their plans for the future.
SDEV_Joelle_HonorsQ&A with Joelle Boxer

What skills and tools have you acquired through the program?

The most important lesson I learned in the sustainable development program was the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to solving global problems. More specifically, I developed skills in writing, research and analysis.

How have you applied what you’ve learned in the program so far?

I use writing skills everyday in my new job, making complicated health issues more digestible to the public. I used research skills conducting fieldwork for my senior thesis in Bangladesh. Finally, I used analytical skills in nearly every class I took in the program, from skills-based courses on ArcGIS to content-based courses on urban issues in the developing world.

What was your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability while in the program?

My biggest accomplishment in the sustainable development program was the completion of my senior thesis, focusing on safe water accessibility in arsenic-impacted areas of Bangladesh. It was an incredibly fulfilling (though sometimes stressful!) experience to conduct independent research on such an important and pressing issue. I am proud of the result and so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with an amazing mentor and advisor.

Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular sustainability related activities have you engaged in with your fellow students?

I took a class my junior year on sustainable development issues in Bangladesh, learning how environmental, social and economic issues pose development challenges on a tectonically active delta. During spring break, we traveled to the country to conduct research projects. The trip allowed me to experience firsthand everything I had learned in school, inspired my senior thesis project, and introduced me to some other fabulous students from the sustainable development program and from Dhaka University. Definitely a highlight of my time at Columbia.

What do you intend to do professionally after graduation?

I work at an international consulting company that focuses on advocacy, communications and research for global health issues. So far, I’ve worked on projects in HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. As a student in the dual BA program between Columbia University and Sciences Po, it has been such a pleasure to continue working in an international environment. I’m looking forward to pursuing a master’s of public health in the future.

 

Q&A with Alexis HusebySDEV_Alexis_Senior

What skills and tools have you acquired through the program?

Primarily, creative problem solving. The classes that I’ve taken have provided me with the ability to analyze a complex sustainability issue from a variety of facets—this, in turn, invites solutions that actually address much of the problem and effectively last for a significant period of time. Another skill that I’ve gained and really used is GIS (Geographic Information Systems), which is the spatial analysis of sustainability topics.

How have you applied what you’ve learned in the program so far?

I’ve used what I’ve learned in the curriculum within my other classes (drawing parallels between Mencius and environmental biology), at work (exploring a new side of sustainable investment), and personally (dropping facts and educating others).

What was your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability while in the program?

My thesis, the culmination of over a year’s worth of hard work, is likely my biggest accomplishment from the program. I worked with a previous employer, a variety of Columbia resources, and a few incredible Columbia professors to produce a 60-page piece of work that I am incredibly proud of. The support that I received and the fact that I even could write a thesis like that made what I gained through the program so clear.

Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular sustainability related activities have you engaged in with your fellow students?

Mostly, I was the secretary, treasurer and then co-president of the Student Union for Sustainable Development (SUSD), through which I helped create the Sus Dev/Sustainability Management five-year program. That group also helped connect me to other students and professors, something that I think is fairly unique for a major.

What do you intend to do professionally after graduation?

I’m part of the first cohort of the five-year program, so I’m returning to Columbia to receive my M.S. in Sustainability Management. Ultimately, I’d like to work on water scarcity or overpopulation issues within a policy setting.

 

SDEV_Anna_HonorsQ&A with Anna Lopresti

What skills and tools have you acquired through the program?

The program has given me the chance to acquire a wide range of skills and tools including, but not limited to: GIS analysis, mastering the art of the bucket shower, field methods in ecology, writing about technical environmental issues for a public audience, image processing large-scale data sets in MATLAB, navigating New Jersey Transit while trekking to Princeton for my thesis, microscopy, analyzing deep-sea sediment cores at Lamont-Doherty, knowing when and where to use the word “multidisciplinary,” designing and implementing a scientific study independently, public speaking, creating effective conservation management plans, and being able to identify every animal in the opening credits of the Lion King.

How have you applied what you’ve learned in the program so far?

I’ve used my fieldwork background to conduct a number of research projects including an independent study on nitrogen fixation in successional rainforests in Brazil, and my senior thesis: Spatial variations in evapotranspiration sensitivity across the African continent, which analyzes how deforestation will impact regional water balance. I applied my research experience as a summer intern for the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law as the project manager for my senior capstone class, helping the center design a rubric of monitoring and evaluation strategies for climate change adaptation projects. The paper was recently accepted to the International Conference on Sustainable Development and will be presented in September. So far my African mammal scat identification skills have not been transferable in New York, but I am optimistic.

What was your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability while in the program?

Convincing my father that President Obama didn’t invent climate change to ruin the oil industry.

Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular sustainability related activities have you engaged in with your fellow students?

My senior year, I became a study abroad peer advisor in the Office of Global Programs to speak with students about the Tropical Sustainability program in Kenya and SEE-U program in Brazil, and help them with planning and pre-departure. This past March the university sent me to Paris to speak with the board of trustees about the sustainability initiatives run out of the global center in Nairobi. I went to the People’s Climate March with Columbia in 2014 and hiked Mount Kenya with my classmates last spring break. While studying in Brazil, I was married to a fellow sustainable development student during the annual June Festival in Nazare Paulista, which was both extracurricular and legally non-binding.

What do you intend to do professionally after graduation?

In September I will be starting a Masters of Science in Environmental Change and Management at the University of Oxford. I plan to write my dissertation on ecosystem-based adaptation strategies to combat drought in sub-Saharan Africa, and afterwards work in tropical ecosystem conservation management.

For more information regarding the Undergraduate Sustainable Development Departmental Honors, please click here.

Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is an interdisciplinary program that addresses sustainable development through an understanding in the interaction between natural and social systems, offered through The Earth Institute in partnership with Columbia College and the School of General Studies. Participating departments and schools of the sustainable development major and special concentration include the Department of Earth and Environmental Biology; the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering; the School of International and Public Affairs and the Mailman School of Public Health.

To learn more about the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development, visit our website or contact Program Manager Jessica Sotomayor at jsotomayor@ei.columbia.edu.

Chandler Precht is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. She is an undergraduate student at Barnard College.

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