Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Meet Our PhD Student: Kangkang (KK) Tong

Q: What's your story?

I was born in a city where the Yangtze River runs through in China. Our family used to live on growing rice. My childhood experience living in a rural area drove me to choose environmental science as an undergraduate. After I gained my bachelor degree, I went to the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences to pursue a masters degree in ecology. After living in Beijing, one of the biggest cities in the world, for about four years, I decided to travel around a little bit, since I did not know what I should do for my rest of life. In the tradition of young people in China, I traveled to Tibet and then went to Nepal. I enjoyed hiking in the Mt. Everest area, and then I went to New Zealand. After travelling for about one year, I decided to come back to school and pursue my PhD degree, hoping to become a faculty member in the future.

Q: How did you end up in the PhD program at the Humphrey School?

When I pursued my master's degree I read Professor Anu Ramaswami’s paper about urban greenhouse gas emission footprints. After I decided to come back to school, I emailed Professor Ramaswami to ask whether she would be my adviser. I enrolled in the Master of Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy program for my first year, since the PhD program did not exist. One year later, I applied to the PhD degree program at the Humphrey School.

Q: What projects are you currently working on?

My PhD program is largely supported by NSF-PIRE (Partnership for International Research and Education): Developing Low-Carbon Cities in the US, China, and India Through Integration Across Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Social Sciences, and Public Health. I’m working under this program and focus on studies of Chinese cities. My work is to explore the environmental impact of urban activities from the perspective of infrastructure. In addition to environmental impact, I’m also looking at financial data to explore how public finance systems work around Chinese urban infrastructure systems.

Q: Have you participated in any cool events or conferences since joining the PhD program?

Last year, I went to Australia for an industrial ecology conference. It was my first time attending an international conference and I presented my four Chinese cities paper in front of a number of experts. I was happy that everything went well and I had chance to meet scholars doing environmental research from other institutes.

This June, I worked as a volunteer for the Public Management Research Association Conference at the Humphrey School. I was really happy to participate in the sessions and to learn  how scholars from public management/administration do research. As a PhD student, I had conversations with both junior and senior researchers about how to conduct research. Their suggestions on what I should do to prepare for my future career were very helpful. The real bridge between my environmental science background and public policy study has been forming gradually through listening to presentations and discussing issues with other researchers.

I also had the chance to be a student facilitator guiding conversations about climate change, at the World Wide Views on Climate Change event. The attendees' opinions on climate change will be integrated with citizens from other 130 cities and presented at the UN Climate Change conference in Pairs, France this December. This was my first time to listening to the public’s voice on climate change and I really enjoyed it.

Q: Have you recently published any research?

During my master's study, I published three Chinese papers. I recently submitted a group paper on estimating the infrastructure based greenhouse gas footprint of four Chinese cities and I’m preparing to submit another paper about the Chinese five-year plan.

Q: What are your future research plans?

As I mentioned above,  I’ve almost finished two projects and I’m doing another group project about city typology. In addition,  I’ll look at the financial data of urban infrastructure to understand how Chinese urban infrastructure systems are funded and what the influential factors are for deciding how much money is spent on these systems. The results can potentially shed some light on what we can do if we decide to fund a sustainable infrastructure. This discussion will be a part of my dissertation.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Conversation with Former STEP Student Charlotte Wood

Charlotte Wood graduated from the Humphrey School this past December and is currently based in Washington, DC.

Q: What’s your story?

I was born and raised in Rotorua, New Zealand. In 2008 I played with the NZ U17 & U20 women's soccer teams at their respective FIFA World Cups and subsequently accepted a scholarship offer to play soccer and study at Oklahoma State University. After a year as a microbiology major, I realized two things. First, I really did not enjoy working in a lab, and second, economics and political science were a lot more interesting than my high school teachers had led me to believe. As a result, I switched my academic focus to environmental science and policy which led me to the Humphrey School and then to Washington, D.C., where I live now.

Q: How did you end up at the Humphrey School?

I first heard about the Humphrey School from Tracy Boyer, my advisor at Oklahoma State and former Humphrey alum. After looking into what the Humphrey school offered, I visited as part of the diversity day’s initiative and was immediately impressed by the sense of community and wide range of opportunities offered to students at Humphrey. The MS-STEP program was also a perfect fit for my background and future interests, as it allowed me to build off my science background and develop a complementary policy skill set.

Q: What did you study during your time here?

As an MS-STEP student, I studied a range of issues within the science policy arena. I came to the program with an interest in water issues, something I pursued in both class work and through a research assistantship with Professor Deb Swackhamer. While still being passionate about water resource policy (register to learn about the upcoming webinar I’m organizing here), I ended up taking course work or researching a range of issues including innovation policy, renewable energy, green chemistry, and global policy.

Q: Any advice for MS-STEP students?

Two things. First, get involved with the Boreas Leadership Program at the Institute on the Environment. The networking opportunities are great, the workshops incredibly helpful, and you actually have the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and practice the skills you develop. Second, don’t think you have to choose a specific focus. During my 1.5 years as a student I worked on issues from wind energy to green chemistry. I initially thought my ability to choose a focus was disadvantageous, but after entering the world of science policy I’ve learnt that a broader set of interests just sets you up for a different type of work.

Q: Do you have any fun memories of the STEP program that you'd like to share?

One of my favorite memories from my time as a STEP student was our 2014 STEP retreat where we stayed at a cabin for the weekend, hiked, cooked great food, cross country skied, and took some time to discuss what was and wasn’t working for us in the STEP program. It was incredible that such a diverse group got on so well despite being crammed in a cabin for the weekend, but that’s just what makes the STEP program so great.

Q: What are you doing now that you've graduated?

After graduating from Humphrey in December, I moved to the Washington, D.C. area and started working at the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) as the AGI/Schlumberger Fellow in Geoscience Communication. I primarily work with the Critical Issues Program, which aims to make it easier for decision makers to find, understand, and use geoscience information in the policy making process. There isn’t really a typical day in my position as my fellowship has me working on creating new content at the AGI office, at Capitol Hill attending briefings, and at a myriad of science policy events and conferences throughout the DC area. As you can imagine, the networking skills from Humphrey have really come in handy.

When I’m not working, I’m really enjoying the novel experience of not having papers, projects, and research to worry about when I get home at night. Instead, I get to explore the fantastic bike trails (not as great as MSP, of course) in the DC area, work as a soccer coach with a local club, and cook delicious meals rather than subsisting off the regular West Bank rotation of Afro Deli, Hard Times, Keefer Court, Arcadia, and Republic. My fellowship with AGI runs until February 2016 and after that, who knows. Maybe it’s time to head back home to New Zealand?
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