Earth Institute Profiles

Scott MacKenzie

M.P.A. in Environmental Policy Studies '09

Scott MacKenzie

As an undergraduate, Scott Mackenzie was always looking to discover the best way to advance and apply sustainability initiatives.  In his research he came across the Earth Institute’s web page and was drawn to the recorded lectures and photo essays. “The work here is very multi-disciplinary and driven by such passionate people, and that was something that really jumped out at me. Once I realized that there were a number of different graduate programs that tailored to my interests, I decided to apply. It was one of the better decisions I’ve made.”

Now, as a Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) student about to complete his concentration in environmental policy studies at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, Scott has developed a set of practical policy and management skills that are needed to meet the increasing challenges threatening our natural environment today. The concentration offers students like Scott the chance to work closely with the environment, while training them to properly protect and manage our natural assets as leaders who are able to serve the public and connect to society's productivity and sustainability. The Environmental Policy Studies program educates environmental leaders, providing a solid background in earth sciences, politics, management, economics and policy analysis. This incorporates an interdisciplinary approach to the study of environmental issues, producing program graduates who are well-equipped to become environmental leaders and policymakers.

“The EPS concentration values experiential learning and practical, real-world applications,” explained Steve Cohen, director of the EPS concentration. “Scott is an excellent example of a dynamic student with practical experience in sustainability. I think that SIPA provided him with a thorough understanding of the complex environmental challenges he will engage in after graduating this May.”

Scott’s interest in global politics, the economy and environmental science started early in college. During his junior year, he studied abroad in Chile and traveled throughout South America, where he saw the effects of climate change on the environment around him. “Environmental systems and climate change can be easy for us to lose sight of from within our urban landscapes,” Scott says, “but nature has a way of reminding you of its constant presence.”

Before enrolling in SIPA, Scott worked as a sustainability coordinator at the University of California. He analyzed the business practices of the UC system and traveled across the UC system to give trainings and seminars for staff, faculty and students. Scott worked closely with the UC Office of the President to pass a system-wide policy on sustainable practices. “Working through the nuances and challenges that come with incorporating principles of sustainable development into an institution as large and dynamic as the University of California was an extremely valuable experience,” Scott says.

Scott's studies and research have been increasingly focused on environmental security topics, particularly water security, as well as ecosystem impacts and recovery interventions in post-conflict and disaster settings. "I’ve found that studying the environment necessitates a very multi-disciplinary and holistic approach, and my course options at SIPA have incorporated everything from economics, to science, to IR theory, and more."

In addition to his studies, Scott works for Steve Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute, as a program assistant for the Environmental Policy Studies concentration at SIPA. One project he worked on was collaborating with SIPA students, the Columbia Water Center and the Asia Society to produce a report on water security in Asia. In another project Scott is working with other Columbia students and with the United Nations Environment Programme’s Post Conflict and Disaster Management Branch to improve tools for rapidly assessing environmental needs in post-crisis and disaster settings.

While participating in coursework and projects that emphasize collaboration, Scott has been impressed with his classmates’ unique backgrounds and experiences. “The experiences and perspectives offered by your fellow classmates is an education and life investment in and of itself,” he explains. “Whether it was their summer work in Darfur, prior life and travels through Southeast Asia, or closet ability to sing classical opera, there is seldom a dull moment with SIPA students and always something more to learn about your friends and classmates.”

The graduating EPS class has a lot on their plate in the coming years; the EPS curriculum prepares them to become active leaders equipped for the challenges they will face in the working world. The M.I.A. and M.P.A. core curricula enable students to develop analytic skills in quantitative analysis, management and/or finance. When added to the concentration's curriculum in environmental policy studies, the combination can be particularly powerful. A truly interdisciplinary approach is the only way in which the program graduates will be equipped to become environmental leaders and policymakers.  Upon graduation, EPS students have opportunities to work as environmental professionals in government, nonprofits, and the private sector. 

Following his graduation from the program, Scott hopes to continue to combine research, field work and a focus on environmental security in his future career. He is leaving open the possibility of pursing doctoral studies, but also says, “I am extremely interested in the role of media and information in shaping our awareness of environmental issues and how we act upon that awareness. Given the speed at which information is transmitted and the need for us to collectively understand the changes that are occurring on our planet, I feel this is a particularly important topic at the crossroads of culture and the environment, and has great potential for further effort and hope to incorporate it into my professional pursuits as they continue to take shape.” His experience in the Environmental Policy Studies concentration has given him the skill set necessary to tackle the difficult tasks of environmental security and sustainability.