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. Continue reading “SkillSpeak Series #10: Professor Adam Freed”

SkillSpeak Series #9: Professor Eron Bloomgarden

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 Eron Bloomgarden who teaches a course on Global Environmental Markets as well as Financing Natural Infrastructure. This interview was conducted by Abigail Orzolek, SUMANI Director of Communications.

Name: Eron Bloomgarden

Academic Background: BA Politics, Pomona College; MPA Columbia University; Executive Education in Finance at Harvard Business School

Current Professional Title: Lecturer, Columbia University; Partner, Encourage Capital

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

Environmental finance; impact investing; carbon finance

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

The field that I work in, environmental finance, requires knowledge and understanding of both finance and environment/sustainability. Encourage Capital employs is a solutions strategy approach. This means that we start with an environmental challenge and then try to build a financing/investment strategy that brings in private capital to help solve that problem. A crucial skill that I have leveraged in this field is the ability to speak both the languages of finance and of environmental policy.

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

One of the great strengths of the SUMA program, in my view, is student’s ability to select from a wide range of offerings. This flexibility allows students in many ways to design their own experience based on their interests. Beyond the formal education opportunities offered in the program, students have an excellent opportunity to connect with practitioners and “test-drive” the skills they are learning in the classroom. Continue reading “SkillSpeak Series #9: Professor Eron Bloomgarden”

SkillSpeak Series #8: Professor Gregory Falco

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 Gregory Falco who teaches a course on Sustainable Technology & the Evolution of Smart Cities. This interview was conducted by Mitika Bajpai, SUMANI Vice President & Director of Events.

Name: Gregory Falco

Academic Background: BS in Hotel Administration from Cornell University;  MS in Sustainability Management from Columbia University; PhD (in progress) in Cybersecurity of Critical Urban Infrastructure at MIT

Current Professional Title: Smart City Strategy Lead, Accenture; Adjunct Professor, Columbia University; Research Assistant, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, MIT

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

There is really no single field that I work in for sustainability. I live in a world of data, analytics, sensors and connected devices, which I apply to sustainability problems. The sustainability problems are sometimes related to energy, water, healthcare, transportation or waste. For these topics, I try to figure out how we can collect relevant data from these areas, analyze it, and then take corrective actions to help improve the way we live.

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

Leveraging my knowledge of the power of big data has been invaluable to pushing the boundaries in the sustainability realm. Understanding the ecosystem of IoT sensors and devices has enabled me to bring a skill set to the sustainability landscape that is still nascent thereby allowing me to add value to the field overall. Continue reading “SkillSpeak Series #8: Professor Gregory Falco”

SkillSpeak Series #7: Professor Jeffrey Potent

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 Jeffrey Potent who teaches courses on sustainable agriculture and systems thinking. This interview was conducted by Khyati Thakkar, SUMANI Events Director.

Name: Jeffrey Potent

Academic Background: Master’s degree in public policy, with a focus on environmental and energy policy, New School University

Current Professional Title: Adjunct professor, Columbia University School of International and Public Administration and the Columbia University Earth Institute

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

My focus areas include corporate and agricultural sustainability.

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

I have a diverse background in government (federal, state and local), business (small business and corporate) and academia (with faculty positions at Columbia, Cornell and Rutgers Universities). Within these organizations, I have been charged to address a multiplicity of environmental and sustainability issues and craft an array of management approaches. Each experience not only served to increase my understanding of the topic at hand, but also has helped me to embrace a systems perspective, wherein I have gained the capacity to understand dynamic interactions among individuals, organizations and the natural systems within which we all function.  It has also helped me to perceive that most of the environmental and social problems that we face as a society have resulted from a lack of understanding and appreciation of the ultimate interrelatedness and interdependency of all things within the biosphere.

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

While my Columbia course offerings are outside of the SUMA program, I have learned from my SUMA students and my faculty colleagues teaching within the SUMA program that a key element of the SUMA curriculum is the integration of sustainable development understanding and skills with practical management systems and practices. Continue reading “SkillSpeak Series #7: Professor Jeffrey Potent”

SkillSpeak Series #6: Professor Klaus Jacob

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 Klaus Jacob who teaches Disaster Risk Management and Urban Resilience. The interview was conducted by Mitika Bajpai, SUMANI Vice President & Director of Events.

Name: Klaus Jacob

Academic Background: Ph.D in Geophysics (Univ. Frankfurt, Germany)

Current Professional Title: Special Research Scientist (Emeritus Research Professor), Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Earth Institute, Columbia University. Disaster Risk Management and Urban Resilience Professor, Sustainability Management Masters Program

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

I specialize in disaster risk assessment and focus on building sustainable resilience in large cities threatened by sea level rise and climate change. Since 1968, I have been advising government, NGO and private sector stakeholders on climate change adaptation options and providing a sound scientific basis to make climate smart decisions. I focus on urban scales, infrastructure systems and on longer time horizons to balance most stakeholders’ short term approaches. The idea is to come up with sustainable measures, that may include iterative and adaptive methodologies.

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

I have leveraged my Earth Science geological-time-scale perspective to ensure long-term sustainability of communities is fully considered when addressing their short-term needs. A technical skill that I found very useful in my career is the presentation of data in a visual form, specifically GIS. Your visual data can convey a very powerful message, if used in the right context. I also found it integral to balance knowledge with emotions. Don’t ever be afraid to apply your knowledge and voice your opinion. Continue reading “SkillSpeak Series #6: Professor Klaus Jacob”

SkillSpeak Series #5: Professor Lynnette Widder

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 Lynnette Widder who teaches Resiliency and Responsiveness in the Built Environment as well as Hungry City Workshop. The interview was conducted by Ian Brecher, SUMANI Trendster Editor and Knowledge Partner.

Name: Lynnette Widder

Academic Background: Master of Architecture from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture; BA from Barnard College; academic focus on architecture and construction history.

Current Professional Title: Lecturer in Discipline

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

I work in the sustainable built environment, from building to urban scale. I also write, curate, design and build various topics in architecture more generally.

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

My work in sustainability includes teaching, research (building energy assessment, lightweight panelized construction for high performance building, various topics in big data for tracking patterns in urban resource flows around human behavior), R &D for my sister’s small textile company (textile-reinforced earth block and adobe construction) and some consulting. I became involved in sustainability because of my interest in the historical connection between building construction and architecture. This may sound obvious to a non-architect, but the way in which buildings are realized is central to the quality of the spaces they make, and the culture they engender. From that kind of involvement in material culture, wanting to know more about the energy/material link was natural.

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

I take a broader view on the idea of “skills”. Technology and standards change all the time, so most techniques and methodologies have an expiration date built in. That is not to say these are not vital components of a masters degree, but it is as important to see as skills the kinds of things that seem totally academic at first glance: understanding the history and theory of your field, keeping an open mind to problem definition rather than starting from finite problem solving, creative analysis (design thinking). Open research is another skill that this program cultivates, and which has infinite application to a “wicked problem” like sustainability. Continue reading “SkillSpeak Series #5: Professor Lynnette Widder”

SkillSpeak Series #4: Professor Alexander Heil

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 Alexander Heil who teaches Economics of Sustainability Management. The interview was conducted by Avantika Goswami, SUMANI President. An audio version of this interview can be found here.

Name: Alexander Heil

Academic Background: PhD in Transportation Economicsanalyzed commuter behavior to understand how people travel to work, determined the important decision-making variables and developed a series of quantitative models that would point out how changes in policy variables (such as the price of parking) affect modal choice

Current Professional Title: Chief Economist, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Adjunct Professor, Columbia University

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

Transportation economics – with a focus on the analysis of different policy alternatives for a multi-modal agency such as the PANYNJ in line with regional economic growth trends – in which sustainability is a critical element

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

Despite the fact that I do have quantitative skills, they are not my most useful skills. It is very easy to get stuck in a role as a quantitative analyst or economist, running models and maybe writing reports; but you have to be able to translate and communicate that to the public / peers / other stakeholders. I find that translating economic trends and data into something that is digestible by others who are not as quantitatively inclined is a much greater skill. You do need to have an appreciation of data and analysis, because without that you cannot engage with others on the policy proposals that are being discussed. My focus is simply more on practical application – using media like podcasts, newsletters and short articles to get people engaged.

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

I think the program is great because it allows students to connect with their peers on areas and topics that they are interested in, as well as practitioners in the field such as myself; in that sense it has an outward-looking focus. It is important however on the other side that students do not forget that there is a quantitative / analytical rigor that one needs to apply to sustainability problems, so you need to get those basic quantitative skills lined up. The program brings out a bit of both aspects. I have found that the students are very talented and there is a nice synergy that has been created here. Additionally, during the time that students are here in New York City there is so much that happens on the sustainability front with very small firms (start-ups) that are developing new technology on one hand. The city of New York is also pushing towards sustainable practices and policies, it’s all over the board.

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

Understanding the economics underlying transportation, how does a transportation network operate, how are these decisions made on where to live / work / locate business and warehouses, what modes of transportation are to be used, what kind of (positive/negative) impacts do those modes have, etc. Having a good sense of these business models and the economic context in which they operate, are critical in particular for transportation.

SkillSpeak Series #3: Professor George Sarrinikolaou

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 George Sarrinikolaou who teaches the Practicum in Innovative Sustainability Leadership. The interview was conducted by Khyati Thakkar, SUMANI Events Director.

Name: George Sarrinikolaou

Academic Background: B.A. English, Cornell University; M.A. English, Columbia MPA in Environmental Policy, Columbia University

Current Professional Title: Director, Office of Academic and Research Programs, The Earth Institute, Columbia University; Lecturer, M.S. in Sustainability Management, School of Professional Studies, Columbia University

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?  

I work in sustainability education, developing and managing academic programs geared toward educating future sustainability professionals. Previously, I worked as a sustainability manager, conceiving of, implementing, and managing programs associated with air quality, sustainable design, greenhouse gas reduction, climate change adaptation and neutrality.

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

Sustainability practitioners must have a scientific understanding of environmental problems such as climate change and air pollution, technical knowledge of green technologies such as clean fuels and energy efficiency, as well as quantitative skills to analyze environmental impacts, costs and benefits, etc. But I think that the most important skills in my sustainability career have had to do with the integration of environmental concerns in organizations – the analysis of internal and external environments, interpersonal communication, presentation skills, tact, management, and leadership that it takes to persuade people and organizations to change by accounting for the environment.

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

The SUMA program functions at both levels that I identify above. It offers classes in the scientific, technical, and analytical aspects of sustainability, and it also offers courses in understanding, managing, and changing organizations. The program’s science courses, as well as courses such as those in cost benefit analysis, statistics, and financial management are necessary and important. But the skills that will determine whether one can really advance sustainability are to be found in the courses that deal with the integration of environmental concerns in the way that organizations do business. Those courses include Sustainability Management, Sustainable Operations, Sustainable Finance, and the Practicum in Innovative Sustainability Leadership.

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

Completing the SUMA program and graduating from Columbia University are sufficient in gaining credibility as a professional in the field. But to accomplish anything of substance – if that’s what you mean by building credibility – requires leadership – the determination to change how things work. We face serious environmental problems, which threaten sustainability, because people are unwilling to change how they use resources, what they choose to consume, and how they live. I see the role of the sustainability manager as one in which she uses a combination of policy, technology, but leadership most importantly to achieve change.

SkillSpeak Series #2: Professor Satyajit Bose

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 Satyajit Bose who teaches Cost-Benefit Analysis and Sustainable Investing & Economic Growth. The interview was conducted by Avantika Goswami, SUMANI President.

Name: Satyajit Bose

Academic Background: PhD in Economics, dissertation on the Economic impact of climate change, many years working in finance

Current Professional Title: Associate Director and Lecturer in the Masters in Sustainability Management Program

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?  

My work deals mostly with evaluating the monetary costs and benefits of sustainability-related investments.

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

Financial analysis, economic cost-benefit analysis, light programming and data science skills, and perhaps most important, making friends quickly and learning to listen carefully and read between the lines.

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

This depends on your own background. For some students, the finance and management skills will have been internalized and these students should focus on skill-building in the physical dimensions and the policy. For others, the finance and management skills will be new and essential for career advancement. Good managers are well-rounded individuals, and school is the place to learn. There is no learning without struggle. Therefore you should invest most effort in your weakest areas.

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

By definition, a manager must oversee people who have more specialized knowledge about their own jobs than the manager herself does. A good manager nevertheless leads by having clear view of the big picture and gathering and processing information from many specialized experts, and anticipating problems and solutions for the organization as a whole. Learn to develop an understanding of the system, not just the particular business process. Of course, you must have some easily recognizable skills to get in the door. By all means, learn to use the index/match function in Excel and do a Monte Carlo analysis. But you have to go beyond these “crammable” skills. Take advantage of the precious opportunity you have in school to learn outside your comfort zone so you can start to piece together the big picture.

SkillSpeak Series #1: Professor Amy Karpati

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 Amy Karpati who teaches The Science of Urban Ecology. The interview was conducted by Mitika Bajpai, SUMANI Vice President & Director of Events.

Name: Amy Karpati

Academic Background: B.S. in Natural Resource Management, M.S.T in Adolescent Education, Ph.D. in Ecology & Evolution

Current Professional Title: Adjunct Professor in the Masters in Sustainability Management Program

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?  

I work in the field of biological conservation and urban ecology.  This means that I look at cities as ecosystems, and try to figure out how we can change the biophysical and socio-cultural aspects of cities to enhance biodiversity and improve ecosystem function, which provides the ecosystem services we all rely upon.

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

An understanding of how ecosystems function, how our actions affect their functioning, and how those effects on ecosystems in turn affect our own sustainability has been my most valuable skill. Keeping up-to-date with the latest research in urban ecology as well as continually learning about creative urban ecological solutions has also been essential to my work.

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

SUMA offers so many opportunities for networking with other sustainability professionals. The benefits of these networking opportunities are two-fold: not only do you learn how to speak the language of sustainability through discourse with others in the field, you also learn about sustainability from a broad array of perspectives.  Sustainability management is complex in that it involves the integration of many disciplines, and the SUMA program allows students to access these different disciplines.

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

Within my field of sustainability – which largely focuses on the physical dimensions of sustainability – an understanding of ecosystem structure and function is essential.  This includes an understanding of both so-called “natural” ecosystems and human-altered ecosystems.  Curiosity, creativity, and risk-taking are important habits of mind in this field, as urban ecology and sustainability involves out-of-the-box thinking and an inventive approach. An additional understanding of the social, cultural, and political aspects of urban ecology will make you stand out in this field.