This post was written by Antoaneta Tileva of the School of International Service at American University and originally appeared on the School of International Service website.
The Global Environmental Politics (GEP) program at SIS is committed to training the next generation of environmental leaders. The program equips students with the analytic and technical skills to build impactful careers focused on environmental protection and sustainability. We asked Simon Nicholson, director of the GEP program, to tell us more.
What is the core mission/vision of the program?
SN: We are a community of students, faculty, and alumni committed to working on the critical environmental and sustainability challenges facing people and the planet. To that end, our program offers two distinctive master’s degree tracks. The first is the Global Environmental Policy (GEP) option, for those interested in an interdisciplinary exploration of efforts to advance environmental protection. The second is the Natural Resources and Sustainable Development(NRSD) track, a dual-degree program with the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica, for those interested in looking at international environmental protection and international development from the South and the North. Students in the NRSD program spend their first semester in D.C., and then a full year in Costa Rica, capped by a final semester back at American University’s DC campus.
How is the program unique?
SN: The GEP program has a unique orientation, a unique location, uniquely talented and committed students, and unique program structures.
Our orientation builds directly from the mission of the School of International Service, which is a school committed to a broad and interdisciplinary approach to the study of international relations that values public service, environmental stewardship, human rights, and social justice. The key word in the name of our school is service.
Our students go on to serve the world through effective and thoughtful work in the public and private sectors. Our program also looks to take full advantage of our Washington, DC location. Students benefit from studying in a global epicenter of political life through carefully tailored events, site visits, internship and job placement opportunities, and much else. This is a place where it can truly be said that much of the best learning happens outside of the classroom.
Our NRSD track is unlike any other program around, for the opportunity it provides to spend significant time at a premiere institution in Latin America studying with field-leading academics and practitioners. And the faculty based in DC, serving both the GEP and NRSD tracks, is among the world’s best. Our faculty includes figures like Ken Conca, a water governance and environmental peacebuilding specialist, Judy Shapiro, an expert on China and the environment, and Paul Wapner, one of the most important voices on questions of environmental ethics, social movements, and global environmental governance.
You can see the profiles of all of our extraordinary faculty members here. Their research, teaching, and public engagement spans urban sustainability, climate change and energy, food security and food politics, climate geoengineering, sustainable design and architecture, and much else.
What are some things your program does to further your students professionally?
SN: We are one of the oldest and most established programs in the country focusing on global environmental policy and international sustainable development. As such, we have a large alumni network and many other connections throughout DC and around the world. Our students truly are joining a community of people committed to work that improves the world. Professional relationships tend to flow directly from the deep personal relationships that are built among all members of our community.
The GEP program is also immensely proud of the practica that teams of graduating students have been conducting in recent years. Students have investigated water and peacebuilding efforts in the Middle East, the ins and outs of the Farm Bill and broader U.S. agricultural policy, carbon offset projects in Costa Rica, and much else. These sorts of academic experiences are a direct bridge to fulfilling careers.
Describe the students in your program:
SN: Our students are grassroots activists, international environmental policy specialists, participants in intergovernmental climate change negotiations, and volunteers in grassroots community organizations. They focus on water, food, energy, climate change, urban development, global fisheries, sustainable design, and much else. That is, our students are a diverse bunch, united by a deep commitment to the hard yet immeasurably rewarding work of building a more just and sustainable future.
Tell us about your own research and areas of expertise:
SN: My own work focuses mainly on global food politics and an emerging area known as climate geoengineering. The latter topic, which looks at big, speculative technologies that might be developed to tackle climate change, has been engaging the bulk of my energies over the last couple of years. I have set up, with some colleagues and students, an initiative known as theWashington Geoengineering Consortium, where folks can learn more about work in this area. I also gave a TEDx talk on the subject recently that the interested and/or adventurous might take a peek at.