Education News

SIPA’s Environmental Programs’ Alumni and Student Mixer


On Saturday, October 23, 2010, current and former students from the Master of Public Administration program in Environmental Science and Policy and the SIPA concentration in Energy and Environmental Policy attended the annual environmental studies alumni and student mixer held at SIPA’s Kellogg Conference Center. The event was an opportunity for current students and alumni working in the environmental, sustainable development and energy fields to network with one another and for classmates to catch up and learn about new developments in the field. “Alumni outreach is an important component of our programs,” remarked Steve Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute and director of Environmental programs at SIPA. According to Emily Soergel, an environmental science and policy student from the class of 2011, “The alumni mixer was a great opportunity to network and I was quite impressed with the caliber and variety of positions that E.S.P. alums hold.”

The keynote speaker was Kathleen Callahan, associate professor of professional practice in the faculty of International and Public Affairs and associate director of the Columbia Water Center. Callahan spent 35 years as a senior administrator in the Environmental Protection Agency. During her tenure at the EPA, she led the Superfund and oil spill programs in Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 as a senior executive and was the executive in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s emergency response to the World Trade disaster. Callahan’s talk was titled “Formulating and Implementing Environmental Policies and Programs: the Respective Roles of Professionals with Policy, Administration, Law and Science Backgrounds.” Her talk emphasized the importance of speaking truth to power, and detailed her experiences as a senior manager at the EPA. A second featured speaker was Jennifer MacDonald, a program analyst at the United States Department of Energy, and graduate of the first class of the M.P.A. in Environmental Science and Policy program in 2003. MacDonald’s talk was entitled, “Implementing Federal Efforts in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance: Department of Energy (DOE) and Other Federal Initiatives on Energy and Environmental Regulation.” MacDonald talked about her current project developing an integrated sustainability strategy for the federal government in an effort to achieve a clean energy economy and inspire other types of organizations through governmental example.  

Steven Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute, delivered opening remarks and served as moderator of the alumni panel. The panelists were Amit (Sri) Srivastava, a 2010 graduate of the Environmental Science and Policy program and currently a presidential management fellow with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; A. Tianna Scozzaro, a 2009 Environmental Science and Policy graduate, who is currently the hearings coordinator for the U.S. Congress on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming; Amanda Bergquist, a 2009 Environmental Science and Policy graduate, who is currently a program analyst for the Directorate at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); and Dan Stellar, a graduate of the M.I.A. concentration in Environmental Policy from the class of 2007, who is currently assistant director of the Columbia Water Center, a unit of the Earth Institute. The topic of the panel discussion was “Searching for Jobs in a Tough Market: Effective Strategies and Lessons Learned.”

After the formal program ended, students and graduates had a chance to network and to chat informally among themselves during a catered reception. “Hearing success stories from SIPA alumni helped broaden our focus beyond the world of midterms and grades,” said Haley Rogers, a current student in the M.P.A. in Environmental Science and Policy program. “It reminded us why we're here, and that our contribution to the real world as environmental professions is still needed and valued.” For the alumni who came to the event, it was also a valuable experience. Susie Shuford, who graduated from the Environmental Science and Policy program in 2009, was glad she attended. “It was great to be able to answer questions and give advice to current students,” she said. “The alums enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with one another and the current goings-on of the program.

According to Steven Cohen, “Part of attending programs such as the Master in Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy or the concentration in Energy and Environmental Policy is to be able to make connections with people who are working in the field. The graduates of our programs are now in important positions in government and global agencies, positions that allow them to use their Columbia education in order to be leaders and to effect change. Not only is it extremely gratifying for those of us who were the architects of these programs, but it should be very encouraging for current students to see where they might find themselves in the not-too-distant future.” With already over 400 graduates from the Environmental Science and Policy program, current students will join alumni in a steadily growing and thriving community.