Dr. Lisa Schipper, class of 1986, was chosen as EB’s third recipient of this award for her commitment to tackle one of the largest issues currently facing the planet: climate change.
As a social scientist at the Environmental Change Institute in the School of Geography and the Environment at Oxford University, she currently conducts research to better understand the relationship between climate change and development. She has also co-led a chapter for the United Nations' IPCC, set to be published in 2021.
What did you enjoy most about your time at EB and why?
I was at EB from age 5 to 11 (1st-5th grade, CP-CM2), although I was in Sweden for part of CE1 (G2) and in the UK for half of CM2 (G5). Probably because of these moves, EB represented stability for me, the standard against which I measured everything else. Compared with the Swedish school that I attended in the UK, EB was strict and very advanced. I remember that the teachers at my Swedish school didn’t understand how I could be two years ahead in math already at age 11. It felt to me like the other schools I attended outside of EB weren’t real schools. The children didn’t even listen to the teacher — how could that possibly be?
So – from the advantage of hindsight now, I can see that stability and rigour were the things that I valued most. Of course, at the time, I simply saw this as enjoying my routines and my friends. It set a standard for me that is very high, but I think reasonably so.
Please describe your current work/studies.
I am a social scientist doing research on the relationship between climate change and development. I look at how and why people are vulnerable to climate change in developing countries, and what they are doing to adapt to it. For the last fifteen years, I have been doing research in Central and South America, south and Southeast Asia, east and west Africa. I started off looking at climate change already for my undergraduate degree (Environmental Science at Brown University), and then looked more specifically at development for my subsequent degrees (MSc and PhD in Development Studies from the University of East Anglia) so I have been doing this long before it was a trendy topic. I am really glad to see that the public have picked up on how urgent it is to solve climate change.
Right now, I work in the Environmental Change Institute in the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford, so I also teach and supervise at under- and postgraduate levels, which I love. I edit an academic journal called Climate and Development and since 2018 I am co-leading a chapter for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It will be published in 2021 as part of the 6th Assessment Report.
How do you feel EB has influenced you or led you towards your choice of profession?
Attention to detail and valuing academia have been two things that, I have no doubt, were first implanted in my mind by EB. These are not things that you can find anywhere. I think it is the combination of the French rigour in schooling with the creative and ‘out of the box’ spirit of Berkeley that allow for the development of people who are driven but also independent. We don’t want to be cookie-cutter professionals – we want to find our own pathways toward making a difference.
My choice of profession has probably most been influenced by my father, who was a researcher at Berkeley. He worked on household energy efficiency and sustainable transport, and instilled a value for the environment in me that I am now trying to transfer to my daughter. But I had and have better focus than he did, and I think this is because I am super-organised – something I attribute to my French schooling. This has helped me with time management and work-life balance— my father was hopeless at that!
What would you say to parents just starting out at EB?
My parents put me in EB because they were preparing to go to Switzerland with us to take up a Fulbright fellowship that my father had been offered. As a result, they thought I should learn some French. He eventually declined the offer and we never went to Switzerland.
Nonetheless, my Swedish mother really liked the European and international atmosphere at EB and so we remained there. Eventually, my sister also started in EB (and was lucky enough to be there when the school expanded into the 8th grade). I think that all parents who put their children in EB have different reasons, and different expectations: to put academia in focus; to give their children a global and international perspective; or to make sure their children can speak fluent French.
Current political movements around the world are fostering citizens to become more insular, afraid of the unknown, and anti-global. Children who attend EB will become the opposite: aware of the world and eager to explore it; curious about the unknown and keen to make new friends; and, without doubt, they will be global citizens who feel their identity is not constrained to a nationality, but instead feel that they are advocates for a global society where we look out for each other and the environment.
Describe your favorite memory from EB.
I have so many memories that are so clear in my mind and that fill me with happiness. The way we had to play inside when it rained (and the musty smell that accompanied that – probably coming from us children!). When we had an earthquake in the third grade and had to duck and cover under our desks. The artwork and singing that we did, especially with the chorus (I still sing in a choir). Jan’s wolfdog puppies. Michael’s dissection experiments, where I think he was the most excited out of us all. My energetic teachers – how did they cope with us?! The time we spent as a 4th grade class in a temporary room by the playground (while construction was going on for our new classroom)…
But I suppose that all of these memories are alive. Because of the best part of all – my EB classmates and I still have frequent contact.
Do you feel that EB adequately prepared you for life after EB? Do you feel you are a citizen of the world?
Sometimes when I have a low moment of poor confidence (as all academics do…c’est comme ça!), I remind myself that I have hidden assets – the most important of these is my many languages. The French that I learned at EB gives me an enormous advantage. I recently did fieldwork in Benin for a month, and of course, it would have been impossible if I hadn’t had such fluent French.
I also use the language on a daily basis with parents of my daughter’s classmates, colleagues in the office, and other colleagues with whom I work closely. This opens all kinds of doors and creates trust. This, coupled with the Spanish I started learning at FAIS, and the German that I learned during my undergraduate study, give me five languages that I can move in and out of with relative ease. This does indeed make me feel like a global citizen. This has been put to the test by having lived in nine countries, including three countries in Asia and five in Europe. Every time anyone asks me, "Where are you actually from? I cannot make out your accent/culture/background?" I am ecstatic – this is exactly what I want!
Would you consider sending your children to EB? Why?
Of course – if I lived in Berkeley. My daughter is trilingual (Swedish, German and English) and would, of course, benefit from French too. When we lived in Vietnam from 2016-18, she had a French classmate who spoke little English and that inspired her to want to learn French as well.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Out of the many achievements in life so far, this Award stands out because it was not the result of something that I made a conscious decision about or did myself – it was my parents who put me in EB. Since both of them have died in the last few years (both to cancer, both falling ill very rapidly despite healthy lifestyles and relatively young ages), I cannot help but feel that they would have been the proudest of this Award. Given how conflicting and impossible many parenting decisions are, it would surely have been extremely comforting for them to know that they made the right decision back in 1981!