Student Spotlight: A Shift From Education to Environmental Science and Policy
By Paulina Fein
Sid Tulsiani is a current student in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP). Sid is returning to school after working as a high school science teacher, and he hopes to continue to engage with issues of climate change and energy through the program and after graduation.
Tell me a little about your background; how did you find out about the MPA-ESP program? What made you want to apply?
I grew up in Houston, Texas, and I went to A&M for undergrad with the intention of going to medical school. I was pre-med for a while, and I did undergraduate research. I had a heavy science background, but when it came time to apply to medical school, I was a little iffy about it. I had been teaching Kaplan MCAT and PCAT courses, so I got into teaching through that, and I realized that medical school was probably not for me. I ended up teaching high school science, and I enjoyed it for four years, but in my fourth year, I thought I needed a change. I was also trying stand-up comedy on the side at the time, so after two years of teaching and stand-up, I really needed to focus on figuring out what I really wanted to do. I taught astronomy, chemistry, and food science.
In my astronomy course, one of the sections was about climate science, and I would always get a little more political than I was supposed to, and it was kind of surprising that even the youth in Texas were still just an echo chamber of their parents. They would just hear what their parents were saying and what parents were saying to each other, and they would voice those same political beliefs in class, which I had no problem with, but I would always try to have that discourse where we would try to figure out: Is this right? Is this wrong? I was always talking about what should be done in regard to this, but then I decided I could do something about it myself. I started looking at programs, and MPA-ESP was one of the first I found. I talked to a few alumni, one in the private sector, one in the public sector, and one working for a nonprofit. They all convinced me it was the right fit, and I applied early decision.
Is the program what you thought it would be, or has it differed from your expectations?
More than meeting or exceeding my expectations, this program reminded me how much I missed school and how much I liked learning. This is the first time I’ve been this proactive about my education. That’s why I know I’m in the right place.
What has your class schedule been like throughout the program so far? How many classes have you taken?
I have lost track! The 19 credits during the summer semester included labs and recitations. Right now, I’m in the middle of an environmental finance course that is preparation for a spring semester elective. All in all, there are five or six classes per term. It’s rigorous but also very enjoyable. You learn to triage what’s important to you both academically and professionally. You’re getting a lot of different stimuli, which helps you figure out what you want to really do.
Have any specific classes or professors really resonated with you?
I really enjoyed Professor Matthew Palmer’s Urban Ecology course and his ecology course over the summer, too. He’s a really engaging professor, and I also enjoyed talking with him personally. I also really liked my workshop manager who is also my Sustainability Management course professor right now — Professor Howard Apsan. I also really enjoyed Professor Benjamín Bostick’s Environmental Chemistry class and Professor Park Williams’ Climatology course. Professor Adela Gondek is also fascinating, and her first lecture in her Ethics, Values,and Justice class was probably one of the most enthralling lectures I have had in the program. My elective, Energy Markets and Innovation, is also very interesting. It was really hard to choose an elective because there are so many interesting options. It makes you want to be here for two years as opposed to just one. I want to stay, keep learning, and spread it out so I can delve deeper into a lot of these topics, but there are benefits to the program’s one-year timeline and getting back out there more quickly!
Where do you see yourself going after graduation?
I see myself in energy, finance, or consulting. I chose this program to help me transition from education to something different, and speaking to alums and people involved in the program was really helpful. My visit also gave me a lot of insight into what I could do with this degree, and I would definitely recommend that prospective students visit if they can.
Do have any advice for students applying to the program or for other people who are thinking about changing their careers into something related to sustainability?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to alumni even if their jobs aren’t in a sector you’re specifically interested in. Contacting Assistant Director, Kristie DiBenedetto was really helpful in setting that up. There’s also a list of alumni online. I would also recommend setting up a visit if you can afford the time and the flight. My visit really solidified my decision to enroll for me. I would also recommend looking up professors and going through the course schedule. Applying early was great for me because it allowed me to figure out my long-term plan more quickly.
Is there anything else you would want to share?
With how rigorous this program is, it’s often easy to forget the reason you came here, but every now and then you’ll have that lecture that gives you back that perspective, and you can tell it’s going to direct your career path. You learn something new, even if it’s a rabbit hole you end up jumping into during some late night research for a paper. Overall, it’s just such a rewarding program.
If you’re interested in learning more about the MPA-ESP program, please contact Assistant Director Kristie DiBenedetto with any questions or to schedule a campus visit. MPA-ESP is currently accepting applications for summer 2019 with a fellowship funding consideration deadline of January 15, 2019.
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Paulina Fein is a junior in Columbia College and a current intern for the MPA-ESP program. She is studying environmental history and sustainable development.