A Learner’s Takeaways From the Earth Institute’s Professional Learning Program
Cassie Xu and Sarah Edmunds
|February 1, 2021
In fall 2020, the Earth Institute launched its first-ever non-degree programs, with offerings for professional learning and pre-college preparation. The Earth Institute’s non-degree programs aim to prepare learners to understand, analyze, and apply cutting-edge research to the complex problem of our changing climate. In the professional learning program, participants engage with leading scientists in small workshop settings, and accelerate their education and career with today’s most in-demand skills, without the long-term commitment of a degree program.
We’ve been blown away by the caliber of our learners and their commitment and dedication to learning in a tumultuous time. Below, Sarah Edmunds, a fall 2020 professional learning participant, shares what drew her to the workshops and how they are advancing her career and interests.
If you are interested in learning more, please visit our website. For spring 2021, we are offering a Climate Foundations workshop led by Lisa Goddard and a Toward Resilient Cities and Landscapes workshop led by Thad Pawlowski.
What is your current role and what are some of the responsibilities you have in this role?
Sarah Edmunds works with the Wildlife Conservation Society. She says that the workshops she’s taken as part of the Earth Institute Professional Learning program have helped her to make conservation science more accessible to diverse audiences.
I am the manager of interpretive programs for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a global conservation organization whose mission is to save wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. WCS manages field conservation programs in nearly 60 countries around the world and operates five zoological parks in New York City: the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and New York Aquarium. Together with my talented colleagues on WCS’s multidisciplinary exhibit design team, we create innovative exhibit experiences at the zoos and aquarium that connect our visitors to animals and inspire them to care about and take action to protect wildlife and wild places.
In my role, I lead the development of the stories we tell through exhibits. I work with stakeholders to identify the project goals, and develop the story by gathering information and talking to content experts. On any given day I might be mulling over how to explain ocean acidification in fewer than 20 words, asking a field scientist questions about her research, searching for a video clip that perfectly illustrates an animal’s behavior, or testing a prototype of an interactive exhibit element with zoo visitors.
What drew you to the Earth Institute professional learning programs this past fall?
I was excited about the opportunity to both broaden and deepen my understanding of topics related to environmental sustainability from Columbia-caliber instructors and guest speakers, alongside fellow motivated learners of diverse backgrounds. A big draw was that the program that was specifically designed to be accessible to working professionals.
What workshops did you participate in, and what did get out of those?
I participated in two workshops: “COVID-19: From Recovery to Resilience” and “UN Climate Negotiations: Why is a Deal So Elusive?”
In the COVID-19 workshop, I gained a foundational knowledge about the whole-community approach to disaster management. I was exposed to new economic and socio-political concepts that helped me better understand the challenges of recovering from the pandemic and strategies for preparing for future disasters. At the same time, I was able to draw connections between this relatively unfamiliar topic and my own work studying the challenges of mitigating, adapting to, and communicating about the threats of climate change.
The UN Climate Negotiations workshop was a fascinating dive into the history of global climate negotiations up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, full of compelling anecdotes about what the meetings actually looked and felt like, told by people who were there as negotiators, journalists, lawyers, NGOs, and spectators. As someone who was born after the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established in 1988, this workshop gave me some valuable perspective about the global progress that has been made on combating climate change over the past three-plus decades, and even — gasp — hope for the road ahead.
How do you think the Earth Institute non-degree program has contributed to your career goals?
As a science communicator, I am always on the lookout for opportunities to build my understanding of complex social and environmental issues while continuing to work full-time. The Earth Institute professional learning workshops provided me this opportunity and new ideas I can draw from in my work making conservation science more accessible to diverse audiences through zoo and aquarium exhibits.