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Columbia Offers New Masters of Public Administration in Earth Systems Science, Policy and Management

By Mary Tobin

Columbia has pioneered a multi-disciplinary professional environmental master's degree -- the Masters of Public Administration in Earth Systems Science, Policy and Management -- in order to educate and train new practitioners able to enter the work force tomorrow. The first MPA program of its kind, providing a cross disciplinary curriculum requiring more environmental science than any other public policy master's degree, began in June at Biosphere 2 Center located outside of Tucson, AZ.

Forty-three graduate students from around the world will make-up the inaugural class entering the MPA program, designed to train future policy makers on one of today's most complex issues -- the sustainability of the planet. This program is a unique effort to combine environmental science with traditional MPA studies. At the core of the courses are case studies, data sets and problem solving workshops dealing with diverse environmental issues, from arsenic in water wells to population density in desert regions.

The intensive 12-month degree program is a collaboration between the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and the Columbia Earth Institute (CEI), which enables earth, life and social scientists to work together in understanding Earth to enhance sustainability. It combines the SIPA curriculum in management and policy with a new curriculum in Earth systems science.

"It is very exciting to be pioneering a program that immerses policy makers in the very topics that they will be engaged in creating policy for," said Steven Cohen, director of MPA in Earth Systems Science, Policy and Management, School of International and Public Affairs. "The future health of the planet is largely in the hands of the people who provide governance. It is critical that in addition to learning how to create and manage policy, they have a deep knowledge of the science that will be informing decisions."

The new master's program requires the completion of 54 course credits over a period of three continuous semesters. Students will receive hands-on instruction inside the 3.1 acre Biosphere 2 Laboratory that houses several biomes, or mini eco-systems, as well as in the newly developed student village and resource center.

Six full-time faculty and five adjunct faculty members, recruited for their expertise and renowned in their respective fields, lead courses that provide an understanding of scientific method, the chemical processes affecting environmental quality and public health, collection and analysis of field and laboratory data, and systems modeling where calculations will be used to predict how Earth systems will or may act. Also integral to the curriculum are courses in financial management focused on how to implement economical solutions for the most taxing of environmental problems. Graduates will be prepared for the role of analyst, manager and translator of scientific knowledge.

"The faculty are committed to providing a thorough and hands-on learning experience and educating a cohort of public sector, problem-solving, environmental professionals," said Cohen.

The first class comprises 43 students from countries such as China, Mexico, Russia, Japan, Ukraine and Canada. The group includes two employees from foreign government environmental ministries.

"As we launch this program, we feel a sense of awe at the extent of the challenges to our environment," SIPA Dean Lisa Anderson said. "We are confident, however, that through this kind of innovative training, future policymakers will learn how to craft effective solutions."

Biosphere 2 Center President and Executive Director Charles Barry Osmond said, "Biosphere 2, one of the largest living laboratories in the world, is superbly equipped to run an MPA program of this caliber. The lessons from the research conducted inside the Laboratory and regional case studies provide the subject matter that students will use to explore how people can better approach environmental problems."

A partial list of courses to be offered in the MPA program include:

  • Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology;
  • Climate and Water;
  • Populations and Land Use;
  • Earth Systems and Environmental Politics, Policy, and Management;
  • Microeconomics and Policy Analysis;
  • Quantitative Techniques and Systems Analysis in Policymaking and Management;
  • Political Context of Public and Private Management;
  • Ethics, Values, and Justice;
  • Financial Management, and
  • The Economics of Sustainable Development.

Published: Jul 29, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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