Tell us about your experience in the Urban Development and Sustainability-MPA. What drew you to it? What classes have had the most meaningful impact on you?
Enrolling at Baruch has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. My perspective has been stretched and my understanding of the world deepened. The class that had the greatest impact on me and helped change the way I think was Intro to Public Affairs (PAF 9100) taught by Professor Sullivan. He pushed me to think bigger, be open to an opposing side's viewpoint, and to always explore all the different stances on an issue. Needless to say, this way of thinking has transformed my conversations with people. Instead of just asking what someone's opinion is, I now also want to know why they have that belief and what experiences led them to that train of thought. A person's perspective is their truth, and by understanding how a perspective was formed I can better understand not only that person, but also the issue we're discussing.
This open-mindedness will be crucial for me to be successful in my career centered around environmental sustainability and conservation, which is unfortunately an issue that has become incredibly political and partisan. I chose to focus on sustainability in my studies because I have a passion for creating a healthy, stable world that will provide natural resources and a habitable climate for generations to come. We're facing some complex challenges as ecosystems are disrupted and natural resources depleted in an ever-growing world. There are so many opportunities to foster a healthy planet – whether it's implementing an urban sustainability plan, stabilizing our food source, or preserving wetlands. Every effort is important. I feel a responsibility to be a part of the solution and look forward to putting what I've learned into practice.
What do you hope to accomplish with this specialized MPA track once you've complete it?
During my studies I've been learning about the three E's of sustainability: the Environment, Economic prosperity and social Equality. I believe that an informed public is key to accomplishing a truly sustainable world that incorporates these three pillars. Informed people are: more supportive of change because they understand the need to shift; more likely to become environmental stewards and share information with others; and more apt to be active participants in the fight for what's right.
It's too easy for people to ignore ecology and environmental limits because most urban economies are so distanced from the ecosystems they depend on due to trade. Not to mention, our economy – the single greatest organizing system of society – and it's indicator, GDP, do not account for the very thing that makes its operation possible: the input of natural resources. Because of this, people don't understand where their products come from and don't readily see the rapid depletion and damage being done.
To this end, I'm working on becoming an environmental educator in hopes of closing this gap. I want people to understand the way their natural world works as it provides everything we need to live. And I want people to know that it's not an either or choice between the economy and the environment as too many politicians claim – we can have both a prosperous economy and healthy environment. I hope to help spur change in both people's attitude and actions through education.
What was your most gratifying accomplishment while leading your conservation team around New Jersey this past summer?
In my role as a Crew Leader I had my eyes opened in ways I didn't expect. My crew (9 boys and 1 girl ages 14 to 19 – as you can imagine, they kept me on my toes all summer long) and I were placed in an urban park in Newark, NJ and the majority of the crew members came from the surrounding low-income neighborhoods. While conservation work was the core of the program, the summer was also about so much more. It took time, but I earned my crew members' trust because I was truly interested in them and hearing their personal stories.
We developed incredibly rewarding relationships and had deep conversations about race, culture and socioeconomics. Several members opened up about what it's like to grow up in "the hood" (their words) – they told me that by freshman year of high school each of them had been jumped and that it was "just something everyone goes through;" as if it were a coming of age ritual. We discussed stereotypes and the validity of those claims after experiencing judgment from strangers. Needless to say, perspectives and understanding were expanded for all of us.
For me the summer highlighted the importance of true sustainability, which encompasses environmental, social and economic justice. Most crew members started the summer openly stating that they did not care about the environment and were only there for the hourly wage. But as the summer went on, it became clear this attitude was due to the fact they'd never before been afforded opportunities to engage with and learn about the environment. The summer culminated with a camping trip and it was rewarding to watch some members explore the great outdoors for the first time. They were awed by the stars, having never seen so many of them before, asking questions about their environment and taking as many pictures as possible while they exclaimed, "I have to get a picture to show people; we don't get this in the hood!" It was so gratifying to watch their horizons expand and at the end of the program four members told me they hope to go on to participate in further conservation work with the Student Conservation Association.