Changing climates and cold places, Columbia's diverse sciences

I received a BA in Ecology at UC Santa Cruz, and after working on a few farms across the country, I was ready to get out of the sciences. Yet after a foray into the private sector, I missed exploring and so re-introduced myself to the field through Columbia University’s MPA program in Environmental Science and Policy. I was active as the deputy director leading 12 graduate students in creation of a guiding document on environmental justice, presented to the US Congress. During that time I also served as a TA for the Sustainability Master’s program, connecting class participants with policy resources and helping them to build relationships with their business counterparts.

I had the opportunity to meet and travel with amazing people in the MPA program, many of whom are still my best friends.

In addition to my school work at Columbia, I took an internship at the New York Office of Emergency Management. Hurricane Sandy hit New York City the winter before graduation, and the supply trucks got stuck in the streets, leaving millions stranded without food or water. By the time we were able to make it down to the bottom of the island to help, the power was coming back on. But it had been a cold, hungry week for millions.

All during that week I sat in my apartment and wished I could do something to help. A week later I developed a contact at the New York Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and started my internship. OEM was not in good shape when I arrived, they were as unprepared for a storm surge/winter storm combination as the rest of the city had been. As I learned more about what they had tried to do, and the issues they were still having understanding and communicating science, I decided this was a place that I could be of most use. I spent months there working with a 2 person team to re-map the evacuation shelters based upon the most recent sea level rise data. There were remarkably few options, but our team persisted and made a new evacuation plan that met all handicap and safety requirements.

This work was a defining moment for me. Going to the OEM office every week, though stressed by school work, and trying to squeeze in time with friends, gave me purpose. I felt like I was actively involved in saving lives, using my science background to plan for emergencies that we were uncertain would ever happen. I knew that this was what I wanted to do, and it is the path I am still on: forecasting unforeseen climate-driven emergencies, and creating plans to protect lives and ecosystems.

After completion of the program, I worked with the world’s leading earth scientists at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory creating programs for the largely nature-free residents of New York City, to help re-invigorate their need for the outdoors and their scientific literacy. With friends from Lamont-Doherty I traveled to Antarctica on a research cruise and explored the changing ecology of the Southern Ocean and was inspired to go back to grad school for a PhD in arctic research.

I have since traveled to Alaska where I lived on a glacier, to The Hague for an international environmental security summit, studied with colleagues in Switzerland, New Hampshire, Washington DC and soon Brussels. I have had the honor of being recognized by the Fulbright Foundation and the Switzer Foundation, working again with inspiring scientists from across the globe. Columbia changed my life by showing me how diverse science can be, all the places that we can go to discover new things, and how much just a little bit of knowledge can help alleviate some of the world’s toughest problems.