Earth Institute Profiles

Hannah Lee

Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science '09

Hannah Lee, a senior in the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), has shown a powerful passion for sustainability, developing countries and leadership during her three years at Columbia.  Lee’s interest in the environment was sparked at an early age, influencing her decision to apply to Columbia and to pursue environmental studies, first through Columbia College and now through the engineering school, where she currently majors in engineering.  Since then, she has been involved, both through the Earth Institute and separately, in many projects pertaining to her interests of climate change, engineering and sustainability.

During Lee’s sophomore year, she began working with the Earth Institute’s Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy, where she documented state government coal policies as well as state clean coal technology projects. “My interest in carbon mitigation initiatives started in Professor Klaus Lackner’s and Professor David Walker’s course, Alternative Energy Resources,” explains Lee. “During my junior year, I took Professor Lackner’s Carbon Sequestration course and this summer I was able to extend my interest in this by traveling with Dr. Jurg Matter (Doherty Associate Research Scientist in the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory) to India to start a feasibility study for carbon capture and storage for a district power generation company.”

Another extension of Lee’s interest in sustainability has been demonstrated through her work with on-campus groups such as Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a student group currently working on three major projects in Ghana, India and Uganda, doing meaningful work in improving the lives of others through creative, sustainable engineering solutions. As the program coordinator for EWB, Lee has worked primarily on water supply and irrigation techniques, and most closely with EWB-Ghana, a nonprofit organization in Ghana co-launched by Columbia University.  In the summer of 2008, Lee conducted site assessment surveys in Ghana to evaluate the current state and future needs of a local community. 

Back on campus, Hannah Lee was a founding member and is now editor-in-chief of Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development, which she calls “an online and accessible medium to promote innovative ideas across disciplines around the world.”  With the help of the Earth Institute, Consilience launched its first issue in February 2008. The journal has since flourished in the Columbia community and abroad, and its next issue is due to be published in late November 2008.

Lee’s experience with leadership roles comes partly from her experience as a Youth Delegate to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia. In 2007, she was chosen along with 21 other students from around the country to represent her generation. Her research and travel were made possible with the support of the Earth Institute’s Global Roundtable on Climate Change (GROCC) and the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Development, to whom she submitted proposals for funding. When asked about the importance of her attendance, she said, “It is ultimately our generation who will be dealing with the effects of decisions made today, so youth voices must be represented at the conference.”

In April 2008, Lee was named a Udall Scholar as a recipient of a Morris K. Udall Undergraduate Scholarship.  This $5,000 award was given to recognize Lee’s deep and sustained commitment to the environment, which has been apparent throughout her three years at Columbia University. "I'm an engineering student with a passion for technology to meet basic needs and, overall, technology transfer to developing regions to help them adapt to the effects of climate change," Lee says.

When Lee is not busy editing her sustainable development journal or figuring out engineering solutions with EWB, she also served as a member of the Earth Institute’s Student Advisory Council. Outstanding students from the many schools within Columbia University are hand-selected by their deans to serve on this prestigious panel of student advisors, which helps the Earth Institute stay in touch with important student issues of sustainability and environment around campus. Lee was chosen for her demonstrated commitment to the environment, her leadership skills and her commitment to public service.

“Hannah Lee is an example of how students can take advantage of all the Earth Institute has to offer. Not only is she a regular participant in Earth Institute events and meetings, she also has found her passion studying sustainability,” said Louise Rosen, director of the Earth Institute’s Office of Academic and Research Programs. “She is a great role model for students looking to utilize all of the resources the Earth Institute has.”

Currently, Lee is hard at work on her senior design project for Upmanu Lall, Alan and Carol Silberstein Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering and of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, as well as a senior research thesis project on carbon sequestration through CO2 hydrate formation with faculty advisors Marco Castaldi, assistant professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering, and Jurg Matter.

“Ultimately, I would like to work in international development on the infrastructure and distribution of energy services to developing regions“ Lee said. “Through the Earth Institute, I have been able to work with grad students, professors and research scientists. I’ve learned the context of everything I need to go into development work. I will graduate with an incredible experience of having seen the depth of the Earth Institute’s programs and with lasting friendships with the faculty and staff behind the effort.”