Environmental and Sustainable Development Workshops and Studios

Columbia University students develop their environmental interests and put them to practical use through a variety of workshop courses. These workshops offer students the opportunity to work with government clients, community organizations and international groups to analyze and craft solutions to real environmental problems and issues of sustainable development.

Students examine data, investigate existing programs and develop workable solutions that can then be put to use by clients. They learn to think creatively, interact with the world around them and turn theoretical concepts into practical solutions.

SIPA MPA and MIA Workshops

A critical part of the SIPA experience is an integrative capstone experience. This hands-on course draws on every part of the MIA and MPA curriculum, and assures that students are ready for the career path they've chosen. In the Workshop, a small group of students and a faculty advisor serve as management consultants to a real-world government or non-profit client.  After analyzing relevant issues, students make policy recommendations and identify avenues for further research for clients.

Energy and Environment Workshops

The SIPA Energy and Environment Workshop course consists of groups of graduate students who, under the direction of faculty, work closely with a client (e.g., governmental agency, public interest group, international organization, corporation or research institution) on a significant issue in environmental or energy policy.  The workshop enables students to gain valuable experience by applying theories and skills acquired in the classroom while at the same time assisting clients and policymakers on real-world problems.

Environmental Science and Policy Workshops

Students in the Spring Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Policy Analysis Work with Clients  

In the spring semester, students in the MPA program in Environmental Science and Policy Workshop gain professional experience in the Workshop course through undertaking analytical projects for real-world clients in government and nonprofit agencies. Under the supervision of faculty members, these groups produce reports analyzing major environmental policies or management problems faced by their clients. These projects are part of the 3-semester workshop requirement for the Environmental MPA Program. The spring Workshop enables students to integrate the environmental science lessons learned in the summer semester with the policy, politics and management issues they have learned throughout the program.

Students will be working with faculty members Kathleen Callahan, Lecturer at SIPA and former Deputy Regional Administrator of U.S. EPA Region II; Steve Cohen, Director of the MPA program in Environmental Science and Policy and Executive Director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University; Nancy Degnan, Executive Director of Columbia University’s Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC); Gail Suchman, Adjunct Professor at SIPA and Columbia Law School, and an environmental lawyer in private practice; and Sara Tjossem, Lecturer and Associate Director for Faculty and Curriculum for the MPA ESP program. This spring, clients include the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, the Abu Dhabi (UAE) Urban Planning Council, The Nature Conservancy, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) along with West Harlem Environment Action (WEACT). Descriptions of the projects for this semester can be found by clicking on the link below.  

SIPA Economic and Political Development Concentration Workshop in Development Practice

In the Workshop in Development Practice, students participate in ongoing cutting-edge development efforts.  Working in teams with a faculty advisor, students assist a variety of clients on a wide array of assignments that explore the intersection of development concerns with sustainability, public health, human rights, corporate social responsibility, humanitarian affairs, media and new technology.  For example, past workshop projects with a sustainability focus included an evaluation of a community-based disaster risk reduction project in Indonesia; a feasibility study for a sustainable tourism project in the Western Balkans; development of a business plan for a bamboo bike venture in Kenya; and a study of the social and environmental impacts of mining operations in Brazil.  Workshop clients have included UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Bank; national and local governments; NGOs such as Catholic Relief Services, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, WaterAid and Women’s Refugee Commission; research institutes; and development advisors such as DAI and Technoserve.

Special Concentration in Sustainable Development Capstone Workshop

Faculty Advisor: Stuart R. Gaffin, Associate Research Scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research

This course is intended to be a distinct academic experience to complete the undergraduate degree in sustainability studies. A team of students act as a mock management consulting firm working for clients to perform a specific policy-science analysis.

The workshop has three clients this spring, (1) NYC Park Rangers Program – students will help to develop climate training teaching modules for Park rangers to use with the public.  Focus will be on 3 coastal NYC Parks: Pelham, Fort Totten and others. The project will involve close work with Rangers, field work and will make use of Columbia local climate impact expertise.(2) Special Housing Project "Mosholu Gardens" Bronx- This project will allow students to work with a special housing project where 60% of residents have severe mental illnesses. The client would like Columbia students to research, survey and help design the outdoor green spaces (at grade and rooftop) to maximize therapeutic and health value for these residents. The green spaces would promote food production, gardening, and native plant ecosystem maintenance. (3) New Canaan Nature Preserve – Students will help to build and energy retrofit design. Under the guidance of client students will survey a property to help conceive of cost-effective building green design retrofits.   The project will involve some travel to New Canaan and the client plans to teach students green building design techniques.

Urban Design Lab Workshops

The goal of the Urban Design Lab (UDL) is to advance sustainable development in New York and other cities by proposing and implementing multidisciplinary, design-based solutions to urban problems.

The UDL brings together academics and professionals from disciplines involved in shaping and supporting the built environment – urban planning and design, architecture, landscape architecture, historic preservation, engineering, and real estate – with those from other fields such as public health, environmental science, climatology, ecology, education, business, economics, social science, humanities, and law. It bridges academic and practical approaches and functions as a catalyst for action, assembling different stakeholders to work together to design and implement practical strategies.

With expert practitioners and access to cutting-edge academic research in each of these sectors, the UDL is uniquely positioned to provide solutions targeting New York communities’ most vexing development challenges and to preserve the city’s status as a global economic leader. The UDL’s model is applied to cities around the world that are faced with similar development pressures.

Workshop in Sustainability Management

The capstone course is a client-based workshop that will integrate each element of the curriculum into an applied project, giving students hands-on sustainability management experience. Workshop projects are necessary and appropriate elements of a balanced professional degree program. In this course students will learn how others manage programs and conduct analysis; they will apply what they have learned in the introductory course and other curricular areas to projects with real-world clients. Students will serve on teams and undertake a special analytic project and serve as consultants for public and nonprofit agencies, and therefore increase their understanding of the real-world constraints under which sustainability managers operate. The workshop also serves the purpose of sharpening the students analytical and communication skills, by allowing them to apply their previous experience and knowledge gained from the program to real-world problems. The required outputs for the workshop are a project control plan (PCP), a midterm briefing to the class, a final briefing to the class and the client, and a final report. The specific form of the report generated by each project is negotiated between the agency, the faculty advisor and the members of each consulting team.