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.