31 October 2022

Image for the news item 'From Emmanuel to Harvard' on 31 Oct 2022
Aoife at Mount Holyoke, MA with Harvard Hiking Club

After completing her BA and MPhil at Emma, Aoife embarked upon a year as a graduate student at Harvard University, focused on environmental policy and climate change, thanks to the support of Emmanuel’s Herchel Smith Scholarship. Below she writes about her year of personal and professional development, which led her to an exciting internship at the UN Environment Program.

From September 2021 to May 2022, I was lucky enough to attend Harvard University as a graduate student focusing on environmental policy and climate change. This year of learning and personal and professional development was only made possible by the generous support of Emmanuel’s Herchel Smith Scholarship. My undergraduate degree which I loved so much at Emma – geography – may not have been as common a discipline in the States, but its composite parts were scattered across the graduate schools, and I took full advantage of this.

I was able to design my own environmental curriculum by taking part in classes at the Law School, School of Public Health, Kennedy School of Government, and some choice classes at the College. This provided me with many new perspectives on the familiar interdisciplinary issues of climate change, environmental degradation, and a just energy transition. I also benefitted from the more applied American educational style which brought together the academic grounding Cambridge has given me with the lessons I learnt working in Local Government afterwards. 

Courses on science, economics, and policy challenged me to think critically but also ambitiously. In one class, I was asked to find a pathway to net-zero for the US by 2050 taking all the key emission sectors into account – something which all countries must achieve, but which is much easier said than done! In another, I worked on a smaller and more focused project designing the first steps for a Tribal Nation interested in solar agrivoltaic opportunities and the associated energy independence and food sovereignty co-benefits.

Outside of class, I had a wonderful time on Harvard’s Climate Leadership Program which brought together like-minded students from across the graduate schools for weekly discussion and speakers’ events. A highlight was our trip to Harvard Forest where we got a hands-on tour of the ecological research being undertaken. Here, I had the opportunity to climb up a (very rickety) carbon flux tower to see New England’s Forest canopy in Fall and get a better understanding of the daily carbon monitoring taking place. These towers were something I had read about while tucked away in the Fane Room pouring over Nature articles at who-knows-what-time but seeing them in person and being reminded of the amazing job forests do as a carbon sink was something else.


Above: (left) the carbon flux tower in Harvard Forest; (right) Aoife and fellow graduate students at the Harvard Forest Archives

This year has given me the time to grow and has renewed my motivation to find equitable climate solutions across scales from the local to regional and international. I’m incredibly excited to be embarking on the next chapter as an intern at the UN Environment Program where I hope to play a small part in their work to build a more sustainable world. Thank you again to all the donors who help us to help make a difference when we are just setting out and need it most!

Aoife Blanchard

BA Geography, 2015 / MPhil Polar Studies, 2018 

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