Featured C+Ser: Somayya Ali Ibrahim

If you read Somayya Ali Ibrahim’s (C+S ‘09) resume alone before applying to C+S, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine her working at the Center for Climate Systems Research, based at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. After all, she wasn’t exactly your traditional C+S student, with degrees in pre-med and business administration.

But C+S isn’t just looking for students that pre-fit the NASA mold. It’s looking for people who have a vision and are motivated to realize it. And Ali Ibrahim had plenty of both, wanting to focus her career on the true costs of climate change.

The program appealed to me because it was one of the only master’s degrees of its kind to focus on the intersection between climate science and social science [making it] ideal for those from different types of backgrounds,” she said.

Her classmates with a background in climate science helped Ali Ibrahim get through the climate dynamics and prepare her for a field where collaboration is key.

“This vast breadth of experience and backgrounds was exciting (and reassuring)!” she said. “No one felt like they knew everything, and no one felt like they were out of their depth. Everyone was in it together, and we all helped one another, utilizing our individual strengths.”

Ali Ibrahim credits C+S with helping her find her interest in climate and cities as well as her current employer. Cynthia Rosenzweig, a NASA scientist who specializes in climate and cities, came in to present in Regional Climate and Climate Impacts, one of the program’s core courses.

Ali Ibrahim approached Rosenzweig after class and walked her back to her office while sharing her own story and burgeoning interest in the city-climate nexus. That conversation led to an internship with Rosenzweig working on the Urban Climate Change Research Network, a consortium of scientists around the world working on (surprise!) defining the impacts of climate change on cities and how to adapt to them. Turns out it was a pretty good fit. Eight years later, Ali Ibrahim is the associate director of that same project, which now includes 800 members and six international research hubs.

In the last 10 years, the international community is really beginning to recognize the role that cities—and climate science for cities—have in confronting climate change issues,” she said. “I am helping advance the knowledge of city leaders and practitioners on how they can make their cities more resilient and capable of responding to climate change.”

Ali Ibrahim’s lesson for C+S students: “Always take a chance to chat with a guest speaker if the topic vaguely interests you! You never know where it will lead.”

For Ali Ibrahim, that led to a job that continues to motivate and inspire her.

“As someone from Birmingham, Alabama and Peshawar, Pakistan, who’d never traveled internationally apart from these two places, nor been involved in the climate world prior to applying for C+S, it’s been an exciting journey and I’m grateful to the program for, without exaggeration, helping me change my life.”

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