Reflections from Daniel and Edgar on their Internship Experience

Daniel and Edgar, Sustainable Development undergraduates from the School of General Studies, have both contributed to a variety of projects with the Office of Sustainability during their time as interns. Read below what they've written about their experiences, and what they plan to do next!

Daniel Leal
Edgar Flores
April 17, 2024
Daniel Allalemdjian (left) Director for Sustainability and Transportation in the Office of Sustainability, with Daniel Leal (middle) and Edgar Flores (right), undergraduate interns from the Sustainable Development program.

Daniel Leal

Over the past year, my journey with Columbia University's Office of Sustainability has been a remarkable chapter of growth, learning, and impactful contributions towards a more sustainable campus. Reflecting on this period, I am proud to have been involved in several key projects aimed at reducing indirect emissions (Scope 3), which align with Columbia's Plan 2030 and mission of transforming its campus into a living lab for sustainability.

Among the initiatives I've enjoyed the most is working on news items for online content such as from interviewing sustainable commuters at Columbia to add their stories at the Wow Commute Stories webpage. One news story in particular that marked be was highlighting Columbia’s new deal with Amtrak, supporting sustainable business travel along the busy northeast corridor frequented by Columbia affiliates. Writing about this partnership allowed me to connect with different professionals at Columbia University Facilities and Operations and taught me how translate multi-level sustainability initiatives in clear and straightforward language. After this project, I was able to get more engaged with our Columbia Transportation commitments in reducing University-related business travel.

Another project I was able to contribute to this year was related to Columbia’s Living Net Zero implementation pathway. This new initiative is focused on reducing the University’s indirect emissions (Scope 3). My job was to research solutions for impacting business travel and purchasing emissions and present my findings into an easy-to-view matrix. This experience has been incredibly enriching, offering me a deeper insight into the complexities of sustainability in a multiple-school context and how some of our partner universities have been developing innovative solutions to reduce their indirect emissions.

Collaborating with Daniel Allalemdjian and Jessica Prata from the Office of Sustainability has been a highlight of my time here. Their guidance has reinforced my belief in the power of a shared vision for sustainability and the importance of community engagement in driving real change. This year has not only been about contributing to Columbia's sustainability goals but also about personal and professional development. I've learned the value of collaboration, clear communication, the importance of innovative thinking, and how to engage a diverse community in our shared mission. These experiences have deepened my appreciation for the myriad ways we can contribute to a more sustainable world, starting with our campus.

As I look to the future, I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for Columbia's Plan 2030 and Living Net Zero efforts. The projects I've been part of are just the beginning. Reflecting on my tenure at the Office of Sustainability, it's clear that the skills and insights I've acquired will influence my path post-graduation. Among these, the importance of clear communication stands out—a skill that has not only enhanced my ability to articulate sustainability concepts but also to inspire and mobilize others in a dialogue towards decarbonization.

Edgar Flores

Writing this news piece is difficult for me, mainly because it will be hard to say goodbye once I graduate. I often stared at the office fridge magnets because they provided a hidden story behind each Mylar laminated shape. One in particular always stood out: "I always know the ending; that's where I start" (Toni Morrison). Along with a "Help Wanted" magnet on the front, perhaps indicative of my near future.

Since starting my work here, I have had zero regrets. I have learned more than I can list in a tastefully bundled retrospective, but The Office of Sustainability has taught me trust. Each person at the sustainability office has bestowed wonderful traits onto me: Dan trusting my gut, Helen being fearless, Janice's compassion, Jess's confidence, and Samreen's razor-sharp accuracy.

Since joining the team, I have helped implement e-bike initiatives aimed at improving e-bike safety through researching and preparing website content for the new E-Bikes and Electric Mobility page.

In preparation for the Office of Sustainability’s Living net Zero initiative, helped to produce pivot table carbon reports using Microsoft Excel. I also participated in these Living Net Zero Think Tank meetings and took notes.

I researched less obvious commute options for getting to Columbia from car-centric areas such as New Jersey and Westchester County, and I was able to use my local knowledge to help others. I also helped scout potential locations where Columbia could place electric bike charging nodes.

I have worked at multiple Clean-+ Go-Green events as well as the semesterly Bike to Campus Day events.  I researched and prepared newsletter content for the bicycle interest group email list, and contributed to the Wow Commute Stories webpage by interviewing Raju and drafting his commute story. I have also been attending Think Tank meetings comprising almost all Columbia schools to develop sustainable interventions that could be implemented at the school level.

I have provided the office with personal feedback on my experience and perspective through participating in the Living Net Zero think tank meetings, using my background in event coordination to facilitate and improve future events. I have utilized my novice photography skills to contribute to the Office of Sustainability’s photo stock update with a couple of images of transportation for the future. 

I want to use these acquired skills to give back to the City of New York and continue its kinetic nature of moving people from all different backgrounds around the city in the world of transportation or one day work towards a sustainable future in other fields that I can mold myself into.