Sejal Soni '05


Pine Point School Class of 2005
Stonington High School Class of 2009
Tufts University, B.S. (Environmental Science, Geology), 2012
Columbia University, M.P.A. (Environmental Science and Public Policy), 2016

Since my days on the Quest with Mr. Banister, I have had a fascination with the ocean that has transformed into a love of all aspects of nature and the environment. This led me to my undergraduate studies at Tufts University, where I majored in Environmental Science and Geology. In college, I continued to explore the ocean through scuba diving and worked my way up to the level of Divemaster, the first professional scuba diving certification.

Through much soul-searching, informational interviewing, and online research, I realized that my interest in the environmental field is in the connection between people and their natural world, more so than environmental science itself. I figured I had a few options to break into the environmental advocacy and policy fields, but graduate studies seemed like the obvious choice given my lack of basic knowledge and personal resources in the field. I researched public policy and public administration degrees, grappling with understanding the differences between the various programs and what I would ultimately get out of them.

The graduate program that I chose, and finished in May 2016, was a one-year Master’s of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University. It’s a rigidly-structured three-semester degree with about 50 students from diverse backgrounds. The focus is on creating professional public servants that can use data and scientific understanding to make sound environmental decisions. Courses in the summer semester are almost exclusively science courses that emphasize how scientific inferences can be used to make arguments for or against a particular agenda. The fall and spring semesters center around economics, statistics, policy analysis, and public administration. Throughout the year, a workshop seminar class keeps our academic understanding practical by simulating a professional consulting scenario in groups of about 10 students.

Sejal Soni Fall 2016 ViewPoints article
Read more details about Sejal's work in this article from the fall, 2016 issue of ViewPoints.

Since my days on the Quest with Mr. Banister, I have had a fascination with the ocean that has transformed into a love of all aspects of nature and the environment.

Needless to say, we all learned a lot. Our strong efforts towards this truly innovative project were recognized by Columbia’s School for International and Public Affairs through the Leous/Parry Award for Progressive Sustainability, which highlights one project per year that takes a novel, interdisciplinary approach to a sustainability challenge.

For me, this project was the first time I felt that I had contributed meaningful and strategic work in the field I hope to continue to be in for a long time. Public administration is a broad field, and when applied to sustainability, it becomes even broader and full of gray areas where competing interests and conflicting ideals make any decision popular and unpopular at the same time. Now that I have gained knowledge and practice in environmental public administration, I hope to use it to work in the public, private, or nonprofit sectors toward a sustainable future that is shaped by large and small communities together.