• Mike Harrington Portrait
    Milano '18

    MS Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management ’18, Schools of Public Engagement

    What are you working on now?

    I work at the Tishman Environment and Design Center as the director of Sustainability Engagement. I do a lot of the sustainability programming for the university, especially during the months of April and for one week in September, which is known as Climate Week. I also do stuff around the Tishman Center’s website, some of the work with our external partners, quite a few different things, along with more policy stuff within the university and external to it.

    When you started your program, what did you think you would be doing?

    I don’t know, but I was inspired to join the program because I had been working in the environmental field for a while as a community organizer and I wanted to gain more of a theoretical understanding of sustainability issues. I also wanted to focus on it from an environmental and climate justice lens, and so I looked at programs in different countries around the United States. I settled on The New School’s program just because of the way that the program was structured and because it looked at structural inequalities and had a environmental justice focus, which I thought was in line with the work I wanted to do and the knowledge I wanted to have.

    What was a new way of learning that you experienced at The New School?

    A policy analysis course I took really changed how I thought about problem solving, because it was such a different way of looking at an issue and then thinking about it and being concise with the answer. It was difficult at first. I would say that probably was one of my favorite classes, because it helped me and really changed how I think about issues and how you address them and how policy is written. I sort of knew before, but the course broke it down into how policy memos are written. Rachel Meltzer was my teacher, though I know she’s not at the New School anymore. That class was really difficult, but it was very good.

    How did that change your way forward?

    Well, it changed how I thought about doing any sort of problem solving. When I was taking other courses afterward and we had to look at an issue or a problem,  I would use what I learned in that class to create a framework. I used the frameworks that we learned in that class to address issues step by step, thinking about how I could offer different types of solutions to problems and comparing it to the status quo, so that people could see what the differences were. That’s something I’ve done in my classes and even in my work at the Tishman Center. I do stuff outside of the Tishman Center,  and I use those skills there as well.

    Where do you see yourself in five years?

    In August, I’m actually going to be a student at The New School again, a PhD candidate in Global and Urban Policy, so I’ll be working toward that. I do want to expand my knowledge on how cities work and how the cities of the future can be constructed without environmental injustices. There’s a photography project I also do that is very much based on environmental and climate justice that I’ll probably still be working on, because I think it’ll take a while. That’s also a very good learning process for me.

    I don't want to focus on policy in my PhD program. I also want to look at design—urban design—and the confluence of that with policy. Since Parsons doesn’t have a PhD and I really want to do a design-focused program, I think it would be possible for me to have mentors and a committee including designers who could help me with that within the program.

    How do you want to leave your mark on the world?

    I guess I just want to be able to help people, especially people that are like me, who come from areas with very few resources and have to deal with the realities of planned racism. In American cities, racism is really designed into housing and infrastructure—even our highway system. I hope some of the knowledge that I gained I can share with people, so that they don’t have to grow up the way I did, with more opportunities and without so much stress and trauma. As one of my colleagues here says, everyone should have a choice. To paraphrase, everyone should have the same chance to make choices.  If you have limited opportunities, the choices that you can make are limited.

    I want people to have as many choices as possible, and I hope to make that possible through the work that I do, including my work at the Tishman Center and my photography work. Right now, I’m working on a project mostly about women but also about queer people who do climate work, to bring visibility to those people. From my perspective, at my level in academia, what I see is  that more than 90 percent of the people working in the field are white . The number of Black people that do this work has actually shrunk. I’m photographing a diverse group of women to show that there are different ways to do this work. Every person has a different job, and people look at the field in different ways, but they're all working toward the same things. I think helping highlight that sort of diversity and representation goes hand in hand with what I was saying before. When I was a kid, I didn’t even know that the sort of job I have now existed. I didn’t know that people could use this kind of work to fight climate change or that I could work at a university at the level I’m at in my job. I didn't think any of it was possible. I know that’s a long answer, but I hope to be able to give other people chances that they didn’t have.

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