The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty.
Hello, I am Lucas Toh, a first-year Master of Public Administration (MPA) candidate concentrating in Energy and Environment with a specialization in Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis. I am also part of the International Fellows Program.
What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?
I was living in Washington, D.C., working with the World Resources Institute (WRI). I held a number of roles there. My background is actually in ecology, so I started in their Forests program working on how to monitor forest and landscape restoration projects to ensure they are creating both biophysical and socioeconomic benefits for the communities who live in and around them. I also worked on greenhouse gas accounting and in the institute’s central research function, which upholds high standards for all of WRI’s publications and data products. WRI is known for providing high quality and timely research to businesses and policymakers, so I learned a lot while I was part of that team.
Why did you choose to attend SIPA?
SIPA offers a breadth of experiences. I love that I can take classes that develop conceptual thinking and provide me with practical skills. Outside the classroom, folks here are amazing and very diverse—people come from all over the world with backgrounds in government, finance, diplomacy, and research.
How have you applied your work with WRI to your studies at SIPA?
My time at WRI was incredibly valuable, because it helped me think in terms of systems and impact. Many of the problems that SIPA students are trying to solve are complex and interconnected, and we need to think about problems in a broader context if we want to come up with effective solutions.
How has your participation in the SIPA Energy Association enhanced your SIPA experience?
The SIPA Energy Association (SEA) has been one of the best things I have gotten involved with at SIPA. It’s filled with fantastic people who are passionate about the energy sector. SEA aims to help students build a deeper understanding of what working in the energy industry is like. We connect our members with alumni and professionals working in finance, consulting, renewable energy development, think tanks, and government. I am currently SEA’s Director for Energy Treks. Normally, these treks are weeklong trips where students visit cities like Houston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. to meet with prospective employers and alumni. Right now, because of COVID, we are doing these trips virtually, as a series of events with employers like RMI, McKinsey, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). It’s been great helping people see the diversity of opportunity there is in the energy sector.
What are you looking forward to doing during your remaining time at Columbia?
This semester, I am the teaching assistant for the GU (graduate-undergraduate) course U.S. Water and Energy Policy. The course professor, Paul Gallay, who previously led Riverkeeper and now directs the Resilient Coastal Communities Project, is very inspiring. I am also getting to engage the broader Columbia community, as the students for this class all come from different programs and schools. I was also a teaching assistant as an undergraduate at Brown University. I like teaching, and hope I get to do more of it in future semesters.
Is there a particular experience that stands out?
Currently, I am taking a class on ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and impact investing with Keiko Honda, former CEO of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). She’s extremely warm and knowledgeable. It has been very interesting learning about the forces and motivations underpinning what is now a massive investment trend with the potential to nudge private capital toward social good. I am especially excited to apply what I learn from her class during my internship this summer as a research assistant at Y Analytics, a public benefit corporation created by TPG’s Rise Fund. Y Analytics provides evidence-based tools and services to investors and companies that want to understand, value, and manage environmental and social impact. I’m also looking forward to diving into more of SIPA’s quantitative course offerings. I have heard great things about a number of courses, including Decision Models and Management, and Cost Benefit Analysis.
What are your plans after SIPA?
I plan to pursue a career that allows me to advance public-private cooperation to address the climate crisis. We need to make smarter decisions, quicker!
If you are interested in following Lucas in his SIPA journey and beyond, you can stay connected with him through LinkedIn.
A View from the Class is brought to you by the SIPA Office of Alumni and Development.