News Archive


posted 04/24/06

Tough Environmental Policy Question? Bring in the MPAs

MPA students Makiko Yamazoe, left, and Melissa Kahn at the MPA final briefings presentation on April 19. Throughout the semester, MPA students have studied subjects such as environmental sciences, statistics, economics, and management, and applied what they learned to real life environmental issues for their final briefings.

Photo credit: Kristin McElroy

One hundred million personal computers were disposed of in 2004, and they are not benign -- computers contain hazardous materials harmful to human health and the environment, and no policy exists to manage this e-waste. Is anyone working on this problem?

Bring in the MPAs. This semester, a group studying to get their Masters' in Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy examined this problem as part of their final briefings in their Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Management class. This group was one of five student groups who presented final briefings on complex policy issues to an audience of students and faculty on April 19, 2006. 

The e-waste group examined existing programs in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington, Japan and the European Union and surveyed the views of stakeholders in the legislation. The team reported concerns reg narding the impact on existing markets, as well as a preference for a national policy versus a patchwork of stand-alone programs.

"What was great about the workshop is that it has provided me with so many transferrable 'real world' skills, from having to synthesize relatively complex information to a comprehensive briefing, to communicating with the team and making sure everyone has a chance to contribute to the discussion," said student project manager Christine Chase.

The Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Policy Analysis combines the culmination of knowledge learned throughout the past year, where they studied subjects including environmental sciences, statistics, economics, and management, and apply it to real life environmental issues.

"The Workshops apply much of what our students have learned throughout the past year, where they studied subjects such as environmental sciences, ethics, statistics, economics, and management, to solving real world environmental problems," said Steven Cohen, Director of the MPA program in Environmental Science and Policy. "Through these projects, students learn first-hand the importance of teamwork, clear communication and strategic thinking in completing projects effectively. Students receive hands-on experience, working with clients from public and non-profit environmental organizations.  Our program places a premium on learning by doing. Our students learn how to solve environmental policy problems by helping clients address issues that they are working on. Everyone wins — our students learn policy and management analysis and our clients receive free, high quality analytic work."

Workshop Projects

Click on the links below for more information.

Regulating Electronic Waste in New York City – Advisor: Steve Cohen

Community Wind Project Development – Advisor: Tanya Heikkila

The European Union Emission Trading Scheme – Advisor: Tanya Heikkila

Workshop on Corruption and Environmental Degradation – Advisor: Sara Tjossem

Sustainable South Bronx: Greening an Industry – Advisor: Gail Suchman

The projects began in January and are typically completed at the end of April, where students will present a formal briefing and provide a formal written report for each client.  The MPA programs at SIPA have been doing projects similar to these since 1982. 

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines — earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences — and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor. For more information, visit