Alyssa Menz CC’15 found sustainable development a fruitful avenue for exploring environmental issues and international relations, interests she honed beyond the classroom through fieldwork, conflict studies and language immersion.
A recipient of several fellowships from The Earth Institute, Menz initially adopted a scientific approach. In 2012, she spent five weeks in Jordan through a Summer Ecosystem Experiences for Undergraduates program, which involved hiking and snorkeling while learning about local ecology and sustainability challenges. “That was a region I wanted to get to know, especially in terms of water scarcity,” says Menz, who spent the following Spring Break in Bermuda through a weeklong Earth Institute program that focused on coral reefs.
The most pivotal of Menz’s experiences abroad, however, came during summer 2013, when she returned to Jordan and also visited Israel and the West Bank on an 18-day trip offered by The Earth Institute and the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. The program, which highlighted transboundary environmental issues vis-à-vis conflicts in the region, gave her a new focus and “helped me determine my professional aspirations,” says Menz, who will begin master’s studies in the Nature, Society and Environmental Governance program at Oxford in the fall, fully funded by a Jarvis and Constance Doctorow Fellowship. She hopes to start a consulting firm that helps countries, regions and communities overcome discord by having the parties work together to address common environmental problems.
In the course of her travels, Menz became aware of Africa’s bushmeat crisis — the unsustainable hunting of wildlife for food — and was inspired to spend the Spring 2014 semester learning about fauna and farming practices in Kenya through the Columbia-Princeton Tropical Biology and Sustainability Program. Afterward, she spent a week at home in Binghamton, N.Y., before traveling to Turkey, where a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship Program covered her expenses while she studied Turkish for two months during the summer.
Menz’s only hesitation to spending a semester abroad was being away from the swimming and diving team, to which she devoted 30 hours a week. A diver since she was 7, Menz qualified for NCAA Zones each of her four years and was team captain as a senior. She says having been a college athlete improved her time management skills. “It ensured I was always on time with my work,” she says.
Menz also was on the executive committee for Columbia College Student Ambassadors, created in 2013 to better connect alumni and students, and volunteered with the Undergraduate Recruiting Committee. “Every day I wake up thankful to have had the opportunity to come to Columbia,” says Menz. “I really want other people to know how fantastic Columbia is and to share my experiences with them.”
Nathalie Alonso CC’08, from Queens, is a freelance journalist and an editorial producer for LasMayores.com, Major League Baseball’s official Spanish language website. She writes “Student Spotlight” for CCT.
This article was originally published in Columbia College Today.