Challenges of Sustainable Development

May 2017

I took this class because it is required for susdev majors, but I actually liked it quite a bit. It is somewhat intense in terms of the difficulty and the breadth of the content covered, but I think it offered a great foundation for the social side of sustainable development issues. The class is broken into two parts; Professor Wong covers the Economics portion, and professor Greenleaf covers the Social Science portion, with some guest lecturers as well. In my opinion (and the opinion of at least 5 other people I've spoken to) Professor Wong was far superior as a lecturer. His slides were posted in advance and were really helpful during class and as study materials. He also did a great job making things interesting, staying organized, and providing readings that were directly related to the concepts. Not to mention he's just a super nice guy who really cares about his students. Greenleaf mainly just read from a piece of paper and showed very sparse slides, and awkwardly tried to make a class of 75+ students more of a discussion than a lecture, which was not effective. I skipped about half her lectures and never really felt like I was missing out. I often felt that I didn't understand the important takeaways from her material, which is a shame because it was probably interesting. This class requires 3 books and recommends a fourth, which I found frustrating because they were pretty expensive. I actually didn't really do most of the readings throughout the class (there was about 40-100 pages per class, which I didn't have time for), however when I referenced them while studying, I found that they were incredibly helpful, so I do think they are selected well. Greenleaf's readings were really long and were mostly just case studies; they were probably cool, but I didn't read any of them because they were way too long and there were way too many. Luckily, the TAs in this class were phenomenal! Both the TAs and the professors made the class INCREDIBLY organized. The recitations were easily the most helpful of my time at Columbia, and the TAs as well as the professors have a lot of office hours where they will walk you through the most confusing topics. For the economics portion of the course, I think office hours were pretty essential sometimes, because Wong moves fast and it can be easy to get lost and stay lost during lectures if you haven't done the readings. That being said, I disagree with those who say it's necessary to take econ prior to challenges; it would certainly make things easier, but definitely is not essential. The psets in this class were reasonable, but were graded in a picky manner IMO. There were 2 essays for which everyone had the same topic, but you could look at it through an economic or social lens or do some kind of creative work on it (examples and suggestions are given). I loved the essays, not only because the topics were super interesting, but because you are given a great deal of freedom with regard to how to approach them. The midterm was kind of hard, and the final was fair, but had a really annoying section with reading IDs similar to those in lithum/CC for Greenleaf's section. Overall, if you're really interested in susdev, I'd totally take this class. I came through with an A having done a reasonable amount of studying, attending most lectures, not doing the majority of the readings, and putting about 2 days' worth of work into each essay and test. If you have to take this class as a susdev major, you'd be lucky to have professor Wong!

Apr 2017

I really enjoyed this class. The first half of the semester is very econ based, which isn't exactly my strong suit. I did learn a lot about sustainability on a global scale which was really cool. Professor Wong is awesome. Very engaging and funny, his slides are very informative. Maron is okay. She's not super boring but not the most engaging, and it's important to come to class for her half of the semester as her slides are not very helpful. Overall would definitely recommend this class to non sus dev majors who want to learn more about the subject

May 2014

Unfortunately, Sachs is more like a guest speaker who comes in once a week, and does not seem to even be aware of what is happening the rest of the time. He lectures on topics that are nowhere near his field of expertise (such as biodiversity), simply repeating, but much more inaccurately, what experts in the field are teaching in Science for Sustainable Development. Sachs is completely ineffective as an undergraduate professor, allowing the TAs to suffer with economic theory which they find nearly impossible to teach in the time available. The problem sets had errors that confused the TAs and which made some questions impossible to resolve. Worst of all, the midterm was simply canceled because Sachs could not care to modify his two-year-old exam, and students complained that others had 'cheated' off last year's midterm. In summary, this class was certainly the worst I have taken so far, as it is terribly structured, extremely stressful, and in all ways disappointing, as everyone looked forward to studying with Jeffrey Sachs.