Resiliency Strategies to Sustain Businesses and LivelihoodsSustainability Management alum Krista Eichenbaum (’16) has an undergraduate degree in Urban Planning and works in urban sustainability. In 2005, after witnessing how natural disasters were affecting cities, she started questioning how we should plan to address resiliency challenges moving forward. These questions, paired with her professional experience in sustainable transportation, influenced her decision to move to NY and attend the MSSM program. Krista is currently Project Analyst and Manager at Insight Civil Engineering, a women-owned engineering consulting firm, which specializes in civil engineering, facilities management, urban planning, and sustainability.
1. What is your current job and what are the responsibilities associated with your position?
I am currently working as a Project Analyst and Manager at Insight Civil Engineering. It is a women-owned engineering consulting firm, which specializes in civil engineering, facilities management, urban planning, and sustainability. As an analyst, I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects related to building performance reports, and as a project manager, I’ve been able to use my management skills in coordinating engineering design projects that are directly related to Hurricane Sandy revitalization projects.
2. Do your current job responsibilities align with the professional goals that you originally had when you began the MSSM program?
When I started the MSSM program, my professional goals were related to improving specific skill sets and expanding my knowledge of analytical frameworks within the context of urban sustainability. The experience allowed me to improve my analytical skills and enhance my project management experience, which are skills that I use on a daily basis in my current role as an analyst and project manager. Achieving these goals has allowed me to set up a strong foundation for my career in sustainability and I look forward to using this foundation to setting myself up with new professional goals.
3. What inspired you to work in sustainability?
Following my undergraduate studies in Urban Planning, I was drawn to sustainability as I began working in Transportation Demand Management. This work aimed to increase transportation system efficiency and reduce environmental impacts of commuter transportation. Many of these strategies focused on sustainable modes of transportation, and through this work, I became increasingly interested in how transportation was interconnected with other elements of urban sustainability. But I was particularly moved after Hurricane Katrina, and began to question how cities were planning to address resiliency challenges. These issues, paired with my experience in sustainable transportation, influenced me to attend the MSSM program, and have inspired me to work within the realm of urban sustainability.
4. What has been your biggest challenge associated with sustainability in your current position?
I enjoy working in an environment where I am exposed to dynamic projects in sustainability, and I have a great appreciation that sustainability is not limited to one particular topic matter, and that different elements of sustainability are interrelated with others. I find it a bit challenging at times when some people make the assumption that sustainability is only related to one element of a deeply interconnected system, or make the assumption that I possess a particular skill set because I work in sustainability. I think it’s important to recognize the diversity of the knowledge and skill sets that sustainability professionals may have.
5. What has been your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability in your current position?
One of my current projects only began a few weeks ago, but it’s a project that inspires me, and I am excited to see this project come to fruition. Our firm was recently asked to support one of the finalists of the RISE : NYC program and our initial work include surveying sites and meeting with small businesses in the Rockaways that were severely devastated by Hurricane Sandy. It’s been incredibly humbling to hear the first-hand stories of how these businesses were impacted and to understand how meaningful these resiliency strategies are to sustaining their businesses and livelihoods. This experience is a reminder of why I joined the MSSM program, and it feels a bit surreal to now be working on a project that inspired me so much during my studies.
6. What skills did the MSSM program taught you that you think have proven useful to your current position?
The MSSM program has equipped me with many transferable skills and broadened my knowledge of sustainability. I was looking to enhance my analytical skills, which I was able to do through the economics and analytical courses. This has directly impacted my work in working on analytical reports. The program also equipped me with strong project management skills, and the ability to work with people with diverse skill sets and backgrounds, which has been extremely beneficial working for a small firm with diverse staff expertise and service offerings. I also gained significant knowledge about sustainability through the program, and learned about different topics, which contributed to my interest to learn more about a systems thinking approach.
7. What were your favorite class in the MSSM program and why?
I enjoyed the Disaster Risk Management and Sustainable Urban Resilience course, as it focused on the topics that inspired me to apply to the MSSM program. I also enjoyed Hungry City Workshop and learning about the analytical frameworks used to evaluate urban sustainability at a systems thinking level. This experience also provided me with an opportunity to work on a small consulting project for Hunts Point Produce Market the following semester, after we made a field trip to visit the site. The project evaluated the operational challenges and opportunities facing the market and assessed the synergies between food, energy, waste and transportation systems. We used the frameworks learned in class and identified how technological interventions could improve the efficiency of logistics. It was a meaningful experience, as it allowed me to apply the analytical frameworks that we used in class, and to work first-hand on a project within a vulnerable community in New York.
8. How do you plan to continue using your degree from the MSSM program in furthering your career?
There are many ways that I would like to use my degree from the MSSM program. First, I would like to continually learn about the many topics I was introduced to through the program. The learning doesn’t stop once you leave the classroom, especially as sustainability continually evolves. Secondly, I’d like to continue enhancing the skills I gained through the courses that will help me as an urban sustainability strategist. I also plan to use the degree to remain connected to a community and network of bright and creative sustainability professionals.
9. What tips do you have for your fellow students who are looking for a job in sustainability?
Take advantage of reaching out to the alumni of the MSSM program. I feel it’s a community that cares to help each other out and genuinely cares to see each other succeed. I’ve appreciated how much I got back from alumni of the program while I was in the program, especially as I began looking for a new position following graduation. Many alumni were happy to share their experiences and advice and introduced me to other connections in their network. I would also recommend networking with classmates, as it was a classmate who introduced me to the company that I now work for.
10. What do you think is the most beneficial aspect of the MSSM program for your career?
The network of the MSSM program is incredible and is a huge benefit of the program. The instructors bring valuable experience and knowledge to the classroom. I am continually impressed by the diversity of the classmates, and the knowledge and expertise that they bring to the network. I feel the accessibility of the program location in New York enhances the network, as it allows students to access other events and experts located within the city. Instructors would also often invite colleagues and experts to share their insights and experiences, which seemed to seamlessly expand the network of the program. I feel that the students, alumni, and instructors of the MSSM program genuinely look out for each other, and the network of the program is a strong resource that I continue to plan to use moving forward in my career.
The M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. The program requires the successful completion of 36 credit points. Those credit points are divided among five comprehensive content areas: integrative sustainability management, economics and quantitative analysis, the physical dimensions of sustainability, the public policy environment of sustainability management, and general and financial management. Visit our website to learn more.