MIP Feature Friday: Olivia Seideman

Olivia Seideman at Lake Khuvsgul, Mongolia, during her summer internship in 2019. Courtesy of Olivia Seideman.

Olivia is a student in the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy (MIP) program specializing in energy and the environment. Before coming to Stanford, Olivia took part in AmeriCorps, where she worked at a social entrepreneurship nonprofit in New Orleans. She earned her bachelor’s degree in global environmental change and sustainability from Johns Hopkins University and is originally from Castro Valley, California.

FSI: What are you passionate about within the energy and the environment domain?

OS: I’m interested in environmental justice and climate justice. And I am really passionate about the intersection of environmental sustainability and social justice, or social equity. So, thinking about how those concepts work in tandem, and how in effecting policy change or systemic change, we should implement solutions that take both social and environmental outcomes into account. I don’t always succeed and I still have a lot to learn, but I try to think more holistically about practices or policies that are both good for the environment and good for society as a whole, especially historically marginalized groups such as low-income, Indigenous, or people of color. Mainstream environmental policy has often sidelined these voices.

I like that in the MIP program, I’m not pigeonholed into environmental policy and have the freedom to explore these issues. I appreciate that there is flexibility within the energy and environment concentration to take classes about environmental justice and climate adaptation and resilience. I’ve been able to continue to study topics I’m passionate about without being tied solely to environmental policy.

What kinds of things have you been learning about in those classes?

I’ve been really lucky to have been able to take a couple of fantastic environmental justice-related classes at Stanford. I took one last year called Creative Climate Futures, which was looking at urban inequality, art, and climate change, and the relationship between those three concepts. Some of the focus was on how different artists — particularly in communities of color or Indigenous communities — are using different artistic methods to communicate about climate change. I also did an environmental justice directed reading with a professor in the Environmental Communications department last quarter. That was really interesting because we talked about different messaging strategies for environmental justice movements, examining the role of tactics like social media and narrative storytelling in facilitating or inhibiting these movements.

What were you doing before you came to Stanford?

I took two years off between undergrad and grad school. I knew coming out of undergrad that I wanted to travel a little bit and that I wanted to get some work experience before returning to school. So I spent the first three months out of school working on organic farms in Europe, which was cool because I’d studied environmental sustainability, and it was a great way to both travel and gain experience using some of the sustainable agricultural practices I’d studied in undergrad. I got to see how small farmers face challenges in organic farming and come up with innovative, nontoxic solutions. I came back from Europe and went to rural Ohio, where I organized for the Democratic coordinated campaign for the last two months of the election cycle in 2016.

I went back to Europe after that, and I traveled again, this time working mostly in hostels. And then I moved to New Orleans and did AmeriCorps for a year. I worked at a nonprofit that supports social entrepreneurship in New Orleans and was hired as their community outreach facilitator. In that capacity, I got to help develop, launch, and run a business accelerator program for entrepreneurs of color in the city. So I was kind of working at the intersection of community outreach and equitable economic development. Since it was modeled after their social entrepreneurship accelerators, I got to learn from a lot of professionals in that space, and I gained some knowledge about mission and outcome-driven entrepreneurship as well.

When you were applying to graduate school, what about the MIP program stood out to you, or what was different than the other programs that you were looking at?

When I applied to grad school, I knew I was interested in the intersection of social equity and environmental sustainability, but I didn’t really know what I wanted my niche to be within that space. I was looking mostly at policy programs because I wanted to come away with a skill set that would help me effect more systemic change. I think grassroots and direct support work is really important, but I’m personally more interested in doing that higher-level policy work.

I liked that the MIP program was a little broader than other policy programs I was applying to, so there was room for me to explore my various policy interests without feeling stuck in one particular area. I could continue my environmental studies with the ENRE concentration, but I also had room to explore policy issues that weren’t solely focused in that space.

I also liked the international focus a lot. Working in the international context is different than working in the domestically in the U.S., but there are some similarities and I gained a lot of skills that are transferrable to either context. I felt like the MIP program could be a good way to expand and get a broader experience that would give me the versatility to work either abroad or in the U.S.

Aside from classes and academic activities, what are some of the most meaningful experiences you’ve had at Stanford?

I really valued the internships I did last summer. I’ve become really interested in urban planning since I got to Stanford, so I did about five weeks of research at a university in Taiwan, looking at factors that influence transit ridership. After that I spent eight weeks in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia at the Asia Foundation, where I worked predominantly on an urban forest-management project, which was probably one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had, period. I got a really phenomenal opportunity to go out in the field with local forest rangers, and watching them work was fascinating — at one point, the old Soviet-era van we were in suddenly veered off road because one of them had spotted a marmot poacher out of the corner of his eye! I feel really lucky to have been able to take advantage of that experience, and I learned a lot from my two summer internships.

How would you describe the MIP community?

I really value the fact that international students make up about half of the program, and since a lot of our coursework obviously focuses on international politics, it’s valuable to have different backgrounds and perspectives in class discussions. It is a really great group of hardworking and passionate people who care a lot about what they’re doing, which I think is one of the things that makes the MIP program special. And it isn’t super competitive — I would describe it as collaborative and supportive. It’s been a great environment.

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The Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies is Stanford’s premier research institute for global affairs.

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FSI Stanford

FSI Stanford

The Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies is Stanford’s premier research institute for international affairs. Faculty views are their own.

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