A Pathway to a Career in Food, Agriculture, and Sustainability

Nick DiUlio for the Princeton Environmental Institute ・ Princeton Environmental Institute
Candice Chow-Gamboa Candice Chow ’09
Photo courtesy of Candice Chow

For Princeton students interested in the environment, the diverse world of environmental studies can encompass a variety of intersecting passions. For Candice Chow-Gamboa, that intersection was sustainable agriculture and global poverty.

“The impetus for my career path is the issue of how to feed the world without depleting its resources, and I discovered how those two things work together during my time at Princeton as an undergraduate,” said Chow-Gamboa, a Woodrow Wilson School major who graduated in 2009 with a Certificate in Environmental Studies from the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI).

Initially drawn to studying agriculture because of its role in alleviating poverty in developing countries, her focus has expanded to include the connection to climate change and resource efficiency. Looking back, Chow-Gamboa traces the genesis of her passion for this work to a PEI-supported internship she undertook between her sophomore and junior years.

During the summer of 2007, she took part in Bioversity International in Rome, Italy, an eight-week International Internship Program that encourages and supports research and other activities on the use and conservation of agricultural biodiversity.

“That experience kick-started my interest in food, agriculture, and sustainability,” she said.

Upon graduating from Princeton, Chow-Gamboa was awarded a High Meadows Fellowship from the University’s Pace Center opening the opportunity for her to work for two years as an Agricultural Policy Fellow for the environmental non-profit, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).  Based in Sacramento, California, she focused on policy incentives to reduce nitrogen pollution emanating from farming operations primarily in the Central Valley of California. She also worked on wetland and riparian habitat restoration and agricultural offsets for greenhouse gases in other parts of California and the United States.

The broad and multi-faceted nature of her fellowship experience gave her a holistic view of potential solutions to some of the country’s most pressing environmental challenges.

“I was thrilled to have that experience because the fellowship’s scope was closely aligned with my academic interests, and I was keen to learn more about the environmental nonprofit world in the United States,” stated Chow-Gamboa.

The fellowship experience naturally paved the way for a more permanent job at EDF as a  project analyst in their Land, Water, and Wildlife Program. Her responsibilities included grant and project management for state, national, and international agriculture greenhouse gas projects.  A key objective of her work was  to demonstrate the viability of voluntary greenhouse gas reductions in the agricultural sector.

What Chow-Gamboa found most interesting about this fellowship was the opportunity to engage with local farmers to foster conservation and sustainability.

“Whenever we approached farmers, we worked with them to find practices that benefitted both the environment and their bottom lines. It’s a business proposition, and I think that approach is really important because farming can be a challenging business, and it’s not enough to just tell farmers that they need to be more ecologically responsible. Economic incentives can help with the transition,” she said.

It was her fascination with this dual ecological-economic approach to sustainability that triggered her decision to leave EDF in order to pursue a master’s degree in business at MIT commencing this fall.

“In order to inspire more conservation initiatives particularly in the private sector, I need to be able to articulate why it makes good business sense, which is what led me to MIT,” said Chow-Gamboa.

She credits Princeton for kick-starting her career in this field. In addition to conducting environment-related independent work as part of  her Woodrow Wilson School major, she also had the opportunity to take courses addressing issues of food and agriculture and wrote her thesis – Sustainable Agriculture in the 2012 Farm Bill: A Climate Change Perspective – under advisement of a PEI associated faculty member with food policy expertise.

“The classes I took through PEI helped lead me to where I am today and were critical in shaping my life’s direction,” she said. “For example, during my freshman year I took “Fundamentals of Environmental Studies: Population, Land Use, Biodiversity, and Energy.” I left that class thinking every student at Princeton should take it. In whatever field you end up, it’s crucial to understand the physical impacts you have on this earth. This is something so fundamental, yet many people miss it.”

In reflection, Chow-Gamboa offers two pieces of advice for current and prospective Princeton undergraduates:

“First, make sure to take at least one environmental studies class.  And second, I think students who are interested in studying environmental issues should understand the role of businesses in contributing to and mitigating environmental degradation. Understanding the triple bottom line–the social, environmental, and financial aspects–of an issue can help you navigate what sustainability means in whatever field you work.”