Alumni Spotlight: Complementary Degree Program Benefits Lauren McNamara '21
December 9, 2021
Environment, Sustainability and Policy provided the foundation she needed to reach her career goals.
While majoring in international relations and economics at the Maxwell School, Lauren McNamara ’21 became increasingly interested in a career in environmental research and policy.
In her junior year she learned about a relatively new degree program that complemented her studies, fit in her schedule and set her on course for the career she envisioned. Environment, sustainability and policy (ESP) is considered an integrated learning program, designed to pair with a range of majors across Syracuse University’s 13 schools and colleges, everything from public health and religion to supply chain management.
“I knew that I was interested in going into environmental work, but I was missing that natural sciences foundation,” said McNamara, who earned a bachelor of arts. “ESP has given me the qualitative and quantitative foundation that I needed.”
McNamara learned about ESP in her junior year, shortly after returning from a study abroad trip to Strasbourg, France. She worried at first about fitting the additional degree requirements into her already busy schedule. In addition to her studies, she worked as an intern in the University’s Center for Sustainable Community Solutions/Environmental Finance Center, helped prepare fellow students for international travel as a Global Ambassador and volunteered with local nonprofits as a member of the Alpha Omega National Service Fraternity.
“When I got back from France, I was able to complete the international relations and economics degree requirements,” she says. “The faculty were amazing in encouraging me and helping me make it all work.”
A hallmark of ESP is its requirement that students complete a capstone, or final research project. McNamara created a 30-minute podcast featuring interviews with Maxwell geography and the environment faculty members Timur Hammond, assistant professor, and Robert Wilson, associate professor. They discussed air pollution disparities between BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) and non-BIPOC communities in the United States.
“I compiled interviews, news clips, secondary research and more to provide background,” says McNamara of the capstone. “I also researched and proposed policy solutions for the new president’s administration. The project reinforced to me how environmental issues overlap with every sector of the world today.”
"I knew that I was interested in going into environmental work, but I was missing that natural sciences foundation. ESP has given me the qualitative and quantitative foundation that I needed."
McNamara also benefitted from a remote internship working for SU alumna and Massachusetts State Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley, D-Boston. “Her background is very much aligned with my interests,” says McNamara. “During my interview for the internship, she was very interested in my ESP major. It definitely made my application stand out.”
During that internship—in the spring semester of her senior year—McNamara decided to continue her studies with Maxwell. She was accepted into the School’s top-ranked M.P.A. program.
Her decision was finalized following a meeting with Maxwell alumnus Robert Perciasepe ’76 M.R.P. He had presented to one of McNamara’s ESP classes and offered to meet with students individually. It was quite an honor for McNamara; now president of the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Perciasepe previously served as the deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration.
“He provided me with a lot of perspective with his experiences at Maxwell and his career path after,” says McNamara.
Following graduation in May 2021, McNamara took a month to enjoy some downtime with family back home in Massachusetts. She returned to campus two months later to begin the year-long M.P.A. program.
“It is definitely very exciting,” she says. “One of the main reasons I stayed with Syracuse for my graduate program is the faculty—they who have shown how great Maxwell is on an academic and personal level. I’m excited to see what I else I can do in the School.”
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