Frank Agwuncha Is Working, Teaching, and Wrapping Up a Master’s in Sustainability

Agwuncha has tips on where in New York to find Nigerian food, and the city’s most vibrant holiday market.

November 27, 2023

Notebook is a Columbia News series that highlights just some of the many fascinating students who study at our University. 

This December, once Frank Agwuncha puts the final touches on his coursework (the last thing he expects to turn in is a sustainability index project for the Sustainability Metrics Class), he will receive his Master of Science in Sustainability Management. Agwuncha joined the program (which is offered by the School of Professional Studies in partnership with the Climate School) last September, after spending more than eight years working at Shell in his native Nigeria, first as a geologist and then in project management. Columbia News caught up with Agwuncha to discuss what brought him to the University, and how he plans to use the knowledge he gained at Columbia to take his next career step.

What drew you to your program, and how does your past work experience connect to your current goals?

My experience at Shell was instrumental in shaping my global perspective and recalibrating my career aspirations.

Working as a geologist and in project management at Shell, I engaged in projects addressing local energy challenges in Nigeria while contributing to meeting global energy demands. The experience ignited my passion for sustainability, energy, and climate issues, inspiring my current goal of contributing to the energy transition from both business and policy perspectives. My attraction to the MS in Sustainability Management program stems from its holistic curriculum, which integrates business, science, and environmental studies. This blend of disciplines provides a well-rounded skillset necessary to tackle the complex climate challenges of our time.

You’re working while doing your program, both as a consultant and a teaching assistant. Can you tell us what a day in your life looks like, balancing work and school?

My current roles as a student, teaching assistant, and sustainability management consultant make for a dynamic and engaging daily schedule.

A typical day starts with dedicated research on assignments and projects for my courses. As a teaching assistant, I dedicate time to holding office hours and grading for the courses I support in the Sustainability Management program, Cost Benefit Analysis and Economics of Sustainability Management.

I’m also a Sustainability Management Consultant at Vertical Bridge, a company that builds communications infrastructure, and that, in 2020, became the first tower company to be certified carbon neutral. That role involves reviewing and advancing the net-zero strategy that I developed with the company this past summer. Providing directions and specialist inputs in business meetings with colleagues and clients is a crucial aspect of my job. I mostly set out time for in the morning and afternoon, and on rare occasions, I do some of this work at night.

I’m a Charif Souki Global Energy Fellow at Columbia, so I actively participate in events organized by the Center on Global Energy Policy to be up to date on evidence-based and actionable energy and climate solutions. Networking with professionals in New York City and Columbia's academic community adds a valuable dimension to my day. It's a challenging yet rewarding experience, and I get a lot of satisfaction from meeting people and contributing to meaningful initiatives.

What do you hope to do after you finish your master’s in December?

I hope to re-enter the workforce as a sustainability practitioner. My focus will center on the intersection between business, energy, and climate. The hands-on experiences and in-depth knowledge gained from Shell, Vertical Bridge, and the program position me to make a meaningful impact in this evolving field. In addition, I am enthusiastic about continuing as a Course Associate for the Cost Benefit Analysis course building on the rewarding experience of contributing as a Teaching Assistant for the past 15 months.

How do you like studying in New York? What are your favorite urban activities?

Studying in New York has been a unique life experience that I will forever cherish. The city's diversity, fast-paced lifestyle, and abundance of activities create an environment that fosters growth and exploration. I particularly enjoy strolling through the lively streets of Harlem, the Upper West Side around Columbia University, and downtown Manhattan. Exploring the rich culinary landscape of the city, with a special fondness for Lagos TSQa Nigerian restaurant, adds a flavorful dimension to my urban life. Witnessing the vibrant street markets during Christmas festivities, particularly at One Bryant Park is a magical experience that encapsulates the city's unique charm. The dynamic nature of New York has not only enriched my academic journey but has also provided a platform for personal and cultural exploration.