SkillSpeak Series #10: Professor Adam Freed

The following interview is a part of SkillSpeak, a series of short interviews with SUMA professors, where they share bits of wisdom and knowledge, advising on skills that are crucial for a successful career in sustainability. This week we have Adam Freed who teaches a course on Sustainability Metrics as well as Financing Natural Infrastructure. This interview was conducted by Abigail Orzolek, SUMANI Director of Communications.

Name: Adam Freed

Academic Background: BA History, Haverford College; Masters in Urban Planning, NYU

Current Professional Title: Lecturer, Columbia University; Principal, Bloomberg Associates

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

I focus on cities, and within that, broadly across all the different areas of sustainability: looking at social, economic, and environmental issues. The power for transformative change is in the intersection of those three spaces.

What skills have you leveraged on so far, to expand your presence in your field of sustainability?

Taking a data driven approach: to both the diagnosis of problems, and the underlying causes of those problems. This allows for developing targeted solutions and impact. This has probably been the biggest skill that I’ve both developed and been able to apply.

Another two that I would add, perhaps more common, but no less important, is developing a good narrative and communication around that process. You can have all the data in the world, but if you can’t articulate it, so that people understand why it’s important and what action is needed, you will not be able to succeed. The other is building partnerships, which tends to be glossed over. It’s often said “we need to engage stakeholders”, but figuring out who are the key partners that are needed to get the political support, to increase the scale and scope of impact a program can have, or actually implement it, is critically important. That is what we try to do here at Bloomberg Associates.

What are some of the most relevant skill-building opportunities offered by the SUMA program?

Any class that has quantitative components to it. When I advise students I always say to “take the classes that you can’t pick up a book of, and learn on your own. For me, in grad school, statistics was likely the best class that I took, because I was never going to pick up a stats book, or sit down, and start playing with SPSS. Focus on what gives you more of that real world experience. You can read policy and intuitively learn or understand it, and have conversations about it, but take the classes that stretch the bounds of what you already know.

What skills would you advise a future SUMA graduate to develop in order to build credibility within your field of sustainability?

This goes back to being able to understand and use data. If you want to improve parks, the question is: To what end? Is it to provide citizens a five minute walk to a local park, to improve the maintenance of parks, to increase attendance, is it normalize the quality between economic zones within the city? Whether your focus is on the economic, social, or environmental side, when I see that you have a heavy quantitative background, even academically, these are the skill sets, that as an employer, I’m going to prefer.

Using data, being explicit on goals and objectives, and telling a good story is the skillset that will help students, and what I would encourage them to invest in.

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