Student Spotlight: Christine Ow
Christine Oh is currently a student at Columbia University MPA Program in Environmental Science and Policy. Originally from Singapore, she graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2022 with a BA in Political Science and minors in Global Studies, Korean and Environmental Systems and Society. After graduating from the ESP program in May, Christine will join Bluefield Research in Boston as a consultant working at the intersection of water and technology.
What made you choose ESP?
I came straight out of undergraduate and as an international student there are a lot of factors that come into play when you reach the final year. Do I find a job or do I go to graduate school? It was a mix of being a bit afraid to enter the job market but also, more importantly, knowing that I wanted to do environmental work. I wanted to explore the intersection of development and water. I didn’t think my undergraduate had given me enough skills, experience, or knowledge to specifically break into this industry.
With that in mind, I started researching programs and Columbia. SIPA (Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs) was always at the top of my list because I knew it was known for its development, but I didn’t want to commit to a two-year program. I found the ESP program, a one-year program, and spoke with the assistant director at the time, Stephanie. She said based on my interests, this sounds like a program I would really benefit from. I applied to Columbia and haven’t looked back, and it’s been a fun year so far.
What were the highlights of your experience with the program?
It has been a year of highlights. Moving to New York and seeing all the city has to offer has been so cool. The field trips we did in the summer are really fun. I hadn’t been on a field trip since middle school, so it was a really surreal experience. But also, it was very informative and I really liked how we got to see what we were learning on the ground in action, especially when we focused on urban ecology and how the city adapted to climate change. As far as classes go, water is my specific interest and luckily Columbia has a Aquatic Center as well as teachers in the water.
What were your favorite classes?
My favorite class so far has been my water governance class. The reason I liked it was because it was my first class dedicated solely to water. That is to go really deep into the systems and when it comes to managing water, what are the difficulties. The teacher did a very good job of organizing the big topics we needed to talk about because water is a very complex issue. Going to this class made me realize how much more complex it is. It also reaffirmed my love for the subject and my desire to break into the industry.
The other course I really liked was my Data Analysis and Visualization course, and that’s because it was challenging. I felt that when I came to graduate school, I came with the mindset that I wanted to push my limits and learn new things. I knew that for my personal development, it was really important for me to understand what coding is. It was a great introduction and it made me more aware of the abilities and truth be told it also made me a bit curious to learn in the future (more) at a slower pace.
What are your major areas of interest?
I am interested in water. This is a very specialized field in terms of the environment. I’m the only one in our cohort of 52 who explicitly focuses on water as a primary focus. The reason for this is that, firstly, I don’t think it gets enough attention, and secondly, I grew up in a country that lacked water. I’m from Singapore — it’s an island country, so we don’t have fresh water. We are a very small country that does not have its own natural fresh water source. So, ever since I was a child, the idea of water scarcity and the potential crisis that could result from it has always been hammered into my mind. Singapore is very developed and we are very water sure, but an appreciation for water is something I have had since I was a child. When I was exploring what my niche was in the development space, I found that people weren’t talking about how water underpins all forms of development. This is a crucial conversation because billions of people around the world do not have access to water. Many of these people are in the United States, which shocks a lot of people. With Flint, Jackson, more recently East Palestine and Philadelphia, water is an important area that is not talked about enough. I kind of made it my personal mission to get into it.
With this in mind, I currently work as a graduate research assistant at the Columbia Water Center, where my research focuses specifically on Indigenous water access. I’m building a database to allow researchers to get a more complete picture of which communities have access to water and which communities don’t, and more importantly, why they don’t. . I’ve been working on this for a few months now and it’s been a challenge due to the lack of information and it’s all very spread out, but it’s also been very rewarding and with the Columbia Water Center I’m trying to see where this research may lead in the future.
Where do you see yourself going in the future and what are your immediate plans after the program?
I am very happy to share that I recently signed a job offer with a research and consulting services company in Boston called Bluefield Research. They do research and consultancy for the water sector! I didn’t expect to go the private sector route, to be honest. I did not plan to become a consultant or research analyst for the private sector. I always thought I was going to be a non-profit – my goals were EDF or WRI, but this opportunity came when I was applying for jobs and I really like the company. I also think it’s important to be in tune with what the private sector is doing because water utilities in particular are incredibly private and a lot of the solutions to the water problems that we have can come from the private sector private. This is what I look forward to immediately. I will start this summer and I will work specifically on digital water, which is like cybersecurity and the intersection of water and technology. It’s another new frontier that I can’t wait to explore.
In the future though, I know that life will go on and things will change and my ambitions might change, but right now my big goal is to eventually work for the United Nations on their human-centered development work. water, and maybe pursue a doctorate. somewhere along the road. But for now, I can’t wait to finish the program strong and move to Boston!
What do you want people to keep in mind about the climate change crisis?
Climate change is happening and the environment is getting a lot more attention and that’s great. However, it’s really important for us to think of the environment as a fundamentally intersectional thing – it’s a challenge that we have to address in many ways. It will be impossible for us to meet our challenges of today and tomorrow if we continue to work in silos. I represent a very small corner of the environmental sector that is finally opening up and getting involved in bigger climate conversations. My call to action to everyone in the Columbia community is this: When you think about the environment, don’t just think about energy, sustainability, etc., but also try to see where the intersections are. Build relationships with people working in these other areas, so there’s collective movement and everyone isn’t trying to achieve the same goal using a different approach. If we can all come together and work as one collective machine, it will be far more powerful than our individual efforts.
Saj McBurrows is an intern in the MPA program in Environmental Science and Policy.
Students in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program enroll in a one-year, 54-credit program offered at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairsin partnership with the climate school.
Since its creation in 2002, the AMP of Environmental science and policy The program has given students the practical experience and the analytical and decision-making tools to implement effective environmental and sustainable management policies. The 1,112 graduates of the program have gone on to jobs in national and international environmental policy, working in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Their work addresses issues of sustainability, resource use and global change, in areas focused on air, water, climate, energy efficiency, food, agriculture, transport and waste management. They work as consultants, advisors, project managers, program directors, policy analysts, teachers, researchers and environmental scientists and engineers.