News Archive

posted 08/29/05

Graduate Students Gain Practical Skills in Environmental Policy and Management

Iain Keith (left) and Neal Parry, students in the MPA Program in Environmental Science and Policy, speak during a break between presentations. Photo credit: Laura Zaks

There was little rest this summer for students in Columbia’s Master of Public Administration Program in Environmental Science and Policy, who spent the last few months sharpening their knowledge of management and policy issues through the Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Management.

Fifty-eight Masters’ candidates gathered in five project teams to design a detailed operational plan for addressing important public policy issues affecting the environment. Each group is advised by a workshop faculty member who selects a proposed but not-yet-enacted state, federal, or local environmental law or a UN resolution, and works with students to develop a plan for implementing and managing the new legislation.

The workshops’ goals are to enhance students’ analytical skills in environmental policy and their ability to effectively communicate the scientific aspects of environmental management issues to political decision makers who do not have a science background. This summer, workshop groups reviewed and made recommendations on the implementation of the following laws: the U.S. Safe Water Currency for Peace Act; the Mercury Emission Act; the Marine Debris Research Prevention and Reduction Act; the Solid Waster Interstate Transportation Act; and a look at key aspects of the Kyoto Protocol.  

Graduate student Lauren Bome worked with 11 peers on analyzing the U.S. Safe Water for Currency for Peace Act of 2005, with the guidance of Steven Cohen, Director of the MPA Program in Environmental Science and Policy and Director of the Earth Institute’s Educational Programs. The group’s work culminated in a presentation of their findings, along with other workshop participants, in mid-August. Bome credits the program for building her knowledge of critical issues in international policy and says that the workshop gave her practical skills vital to academic and professional pursuits in environmental management.

“I learned how complex and sometimes difficult it can be to break down a problem in order to really understand it,” says Bome. “At the same time, I learned how important and beneficial it is for a policy maker to understand the science behind a problem before implementing or even proposing solutions to solve it.”

Workshop participants will continue their analysis of their individual legislation in the fall when they will develop an organizational and contracting plan, a budget, and performance management system as well as a master calendar to guide implementation of the new law. In addition to these practical skills, the students also learn how to work efficiently as a group, honing their abilities to work collaboratively as a team. Without these skills, says Bome, the success of their assignment would not have been possible.

“I cannot stress enough how important teamwork has been in this project,” says Bome. “It would have been impossible to complete such a detailed and analytical assessment of this Act without each of our 12 group members. The fantastic teamwork shown by our group from our first meeting to the final briefing was the key to our success.”

For more information about the Master of Public Administration Program in Environmental Science and Policy, please visit

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