Recently seen exchanging the scholarly pencil-behind-the-ear look for a black baseball cap as he dashed to the Union Square Greenmarket for a New School “popup” class, Rick McGahey has had his hands full these past few weeks. Since becoming the new director of the Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management (EPSM) program, the urban economist and Milano professor has been developing big plans for the coming academic year. The New_S caught up with him to discuss his role, why New School students are a special bunch, and what to expect from the EPSM program.
New School News: What do you hope to bring to the EPSM program?
Rick McGahey: I want to continue the strong program that’s been started, support our terrific students, and look for ways to grow. Emphasizing the relationship between environmental issues and social justice is a major priority.
NSN: How is EPSM different from your typical environmental studies programs?
RG: EPSM enables students to take a look at the big picture and then concentrate on an area of interest. Environmental and sustainability programs cut across science, policy analysis, economics, management, finance, communications, and other fields. We want our graduates to draw on all of these areas, and then apply what they’ve learned to large-scale problems.
NSN: You have a background in labor and urban development economics. How does that lend itself to environmental policy and management?
RG: Much of my work focuses on job creation and regional economic development, especially for low-income and marginalized populations. These groups benefit most from “green jobs,” and also suffer disproportionately from environmental harm—exposure to toxins, food shortages, unhealthy food, and disasters like Hurricane Sandy or Katrina. We can’t solve environmental problems without outcomes that benefit everyone, especially the poor and marginalized.
NSN: What’s needed right now in terms of environmental policy and urban and regional development?
RG: We need to scale up promising innovations. There is a lot of creative work that links environmental and regional economic development and places emphasis on social justice. Those innovations need to grow and be built into options for broader social policy.
NSN: What qualities distinguish Milano EPSM students?
RG: Our students are great. Many of them tend to be further along in their careers, and all of them are focused on making a difference in the world, whether in energy, food, building, job creation, sustainability, climate change—you name it. Our students’ ability to combine a variety of skills, ranging from science to policy analysis to advocacy, allows them to be leaders and agents of change.
NSN: If you could audit one course in EPSM, what would it be?
RG: That’s a tough one—I’m very impressed with all of our courses and our great faculty. Probably Climate Change and Cities, taught by Shagun Mehrotra, which draws on his experience working with cities and mayors around the world who want to address climate change.
NSN: What can we expect from EPSM in the coming months?
RG: We have a marvelous new dean coming to Milano, Michelle DePass. She is currently a president-appointed assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency and has a long history of grassroots advocacy and engagement related to environmental justice, especially for people and communities of color. She will be a great leader for all of Milano, but we at EPSM are especially excited about her commitment to environmental issues.
But we aren’t just waiting for the new dean to arrive. We will continue engaging in a number of ways—“Pop-up” educational sessions at the Union Square Greenmarket and elsewhere, supporting The New School’s initiative to divest from carbon-intensive stocks, promoting our five year BA/MA to New School undergraduates, creating and also co-sponsoring events and speakers on key environmental issues, and reaching out to other Milano faculty and to our colleagues across the university. Environmental Studies, Parsons, and NSSR in particular have some great assets to bring to the field of sustainability, and we want to work more closely with them. But the biggest impact, and where you’ll see continuing creativity and leadership, comes from our hard-working, engaged, and smart students.