Fall 2010 Internships

Fall 2010 Internships

As part of his fall internship Keith Miao, Columbia ’12, helped the Modi Research Group with the development of a system that uses solar energy to provide electricity to poor, rural households in developing countries.  This project has the potential to deliver more efficient and cost-effective electricity to poor communities, providing them with lighting and expanded access to mobile telecommunications and basic communications technologies like television and radio. Each semester, the Earth Institute, Columbia University offers exciting internship opportunities such as this to Columbia and Barnard students. Students have the opportunity to work at one of the Earth Institute centers or programs in a variety of multidisciplinary units. These intern projects, along with many others, have given interns the hands-on knowledge and experience to learn and grow professionally within the field of sustainable development.  Students gain office experience and exposure to cutting edge projects, both of which are important for when they enter the work field after graduation, at the same time centers and programs get much needed administrative and research help.  

This fall, the Earth Institute funded seven internships. These opportunities varied from writing for the Columbia Climate Center blog to testing software for the Shared Solar team, as well as setting up and organizing lab space. Interns worked on projects which examined the effects of climate change and human behavior on NYC’s natural ecosystem and its surrounding regions, and assessed the success of initiatives to promote cooperative, transparent, equitable, and efficient investment in the extractive industries. 

Keith Miao, who is pursuing a special concentration in sustainable development, chose the Millennium Villages Project & Haiti Regeneration Initiative Land Degradation Surveillance Framework internship in order to balance the more theoretical learning experiences in the classroom with hands-on practical experience. He sees the internship as providing a “motivational real-world context in which to place my studies in school” and appreciates having had the opportunity to “gain insight into a real sustainable development project which has vital importance to the field as a whole.” On a practical level, Keith also wanted to learn more about digital soil mapping. 

Every Friday, Keith heads over the George Washington Bridge from the Morningside Campus to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s Geosciences building to meet with the team. Keith’s role on the team is to review literature in order to find statistical methodologies that other researchers have used in digital soil mapping.  He then tries to determine what methods can be taken and applied to the mapping design. According to Keith, the goal of the work is “to extrapolate and interpolate soil conditions by matching our ground observations with the spectral signature we receive from remote sensing sources and information obtained from digital elevation maps.” The Friday morning meetings offer Keith the opportunity to work directly with the other researchers who are his mentors in the field. “They teach me new things that will carry me further into the research project.” Internship experiences such as Keith’s are valuable because they introduce students to new subject areas in different parts of the world, while allowing them to build work experience during their academic careers.  One of these new areas that Keith has gotten involved with is helping to analyze baseline soils and vegetation data. After an afternoon that may involve looking at and discussing remote sensing imagery with the team, Keith returns to the Columbia College campus, having been given a specific task for the upcoming week.

Melissa Barandiarán, Columbia ‘11, is a Peruvian national and a Master of International Affairs student doing an economic policy concentration with a specialization in advanced policy and economic analysis at the School of International and Public Affairs. She chose to do the Extractive Industries & Sustainable Development internship option with the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment. Commenting on her choice of internship Barandiarán  says, “I was attracted to the internship because it combines a topic in which I want to develop more knowledge in the future, which is extractive industries, with economic development in a region that is new for me, Africa.”  Her project includes documenting and assessing the successes—and identifying what “success” means in the context of past and ongoing initiatives to promote investment— in the extractive industries in order to maximize the contribution of these investments to local, regional, and national development.
For the faculty and researchers involved in all the internships, the student interns make significant contributions to the projects.  Mary-Elena Carr, associate director of the Climate Center, supervises intern Thomas Chen, a student at the School of International and Public Affairs.  Thomas has been responsible for producing blog posts as well as the weekly ‘Climate News Roundup’ postings for the “Climate Matters” blog. Carr comments on the blog saying, “One of the main goals of the Climate Center is to communicate all of the wonderful research being done on climate change here at Columbia. Having a student dedicated to translating this research for the general public through our blog allows us a different level of engagement with this mission and contributes unique voices and perspectives to a dynamic blog environment.”  Sean Smukler, the principle investigator of the project at the Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program where Keith is interning, is equally enthusiastic about Keith’s work. Smukler observed Keith’s marked interest for the project noting, “Keith's extreme motivation and curiosity has pushed him to explore methodologies that we haven't had the time or energy to touch. His excitement for the project and for learning new things is definitely inspiring for the entire team."

These internships are open to current undergraduate, graduate and PhD Columbia and Barnard students. To learn more about the Earth Institute Internship Program, please visit the Earth Institute website at: To find out about upcoming opportunities you can email us at