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Even before joining Duke’s International Master of Environmental Policy (iMEP) program, Jose Luis Diaz Ramos was a rising star in environmental policy. He knew he wanted to further galvanize his expertise in one of the most crucial areas of our current age, and he found a perfect venue at Duke Kunshan University. iMEP is a 4-semester, 16-course program designed to meet the growing global need for leaders versed in Chinese and international environmental issues and policies. Located in the Shanghai suburb of Kunshan, iMEP draws a worldwide group of talented students each year to prepare for global environmental leadership.  

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building at night architecture in Kunshan
The iMEP program is based at Duke's campus in China, Duke Kunshan. Students also spend time in Durham, NC.

Originally from Cundinamarca in the heart of Colombia, Jose Luis brought a wealth of experience and knowledge in Government and Public Affairs, complemented by a robust understanding of Economics. His academic journey led him to Universidad de Los Andes, where he pursued a dual degree, honing his expertise in these fields.

With over five years of dedicated work, Jose Luis has immersed himself in environmental and climate change affairs. His journey spans academia, civil society, and the multilateral sector, each stop enriching his understanding and broadening his impact. As an advisor at the Center for the Sustainable Development Goals of Latin America and a researcher at the Center for Economic Development, both integral institutions at Universidad de Los Andes, Jose Luis showcased his commitment to driving positive change from within academia.

Jose entered the civil society sector as an Associate at Transforma. He lent his expertise as a consultant for Conservation International, actively contributing to initiatives to preserve our planet's natural resources. His tenure as a consultant at the Interamerican Development Bank further solidified his standing as a respected figure in the multilateral arena, where he played a crucial role in shaping policies and strategies to address pressing environmental challenges.

Jose’s professional repertoire is characterized by a keen focus on environmental justice, energy transition, nature conservation, and social services provision, all underpinned by a steadfast commitment to combatting climate change. His multifaceted experiences and unwavering dedication underscore his status as a trailblazer in the field, poised to continue making significant strides toward a more sustainable and equitable future.

As he prepares to graduate, we asked Jose about his time with iMEP and his goals for the future.

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Jose Luis with other Duke students at COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in the UAE.

Q&A with Jose Luis

What drew you to iMEP?

I knew I wanted to do my graduate program in environmental affairs, and thanks to the lottery of life, I had the opportunity to dream about studying abroad. I started to look for programs in Europe and the United States. There are many good universities, and the number of programs in this field is increasing because of the urgency that we have right now. 

The iMEP program got my attention for two reasons. First, Duke has a high recognition of environmental policy, and the program has a good combination of social sciences and environmental sciences. In practice, I had the opportunity to learn from professors from Duke Kunshan and Duke University as well as well-renowned Chinese Universities such as Shanghai Jiao Tong and Fudan University.

Second, China is a crucial country to solve practically every major problem that we have in the world today. Unfortunately, in climate change, China is one of the biggest emitters; for guaranteeing socially and environmentally sustainable supply chains, China is the largest commercial ally for most of the developing world; for the energy transition, it is a dominant player in technology production and minerals processing; and this keeps going.

However, despite being such an important country, most people have a minimal understanding of China and its culture. This leads to stigmatization and, in some cases, even fear. And fear is what is preventing the world from advancing. I always say this, but in a world so fragmented between opposites and so afraid of everything that people don't fully understand, I felt that this program was trying to do something different. And I wanted to be part of that.

Having the opportunity to live in China while at the same time studying at Duke represented a perfect combination of a good education and a unique experience. It was an opportunity for me to push my limits and broaden my perspective about life.

It was a unique and life-changing experience.

Memorable moments?

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Studenbt group outside at night, many wearing Duke sweatshirts

I had the opportunity to meet amazing people.

In the Sanford School I took a mini seminar on Leadership in the Developing Context with Andrew Sisson, and I was impressed, even intimidated, by my classmates. People who had worked in challenging contexts shared interesting and complex experiences. Truly amazing.

I also took a course in the Nicholas School of the Environment on Public Speaking and Environmental Advocacy with Ingrid Bianca, with such incredible, passionate, and, honestly, nice people.

Also, when I was in China, I took an amazing course on clean energy with Jonathan Philips from the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability. It was a terrific course.

And, of course, Professors Coraline Goron and Binbin Li from DKU are the most supportive and outstanding professors you can find.

I also remember going to COP28 in Dubai, where Jackson Ewing from the Nicholas Institute of Energy, Environment, and Sustainability connected me with other Duke students. 

You're known as an imep leader.  was that your goal?

I’m honored that others would think of me as a leader.

I arrived at a challenging time in China. I started online because China was still closed due to COVID-19. International students were the first to receive approval to enter China. However, China had been closed for a long time with stringent policies. So, when I arrived at DKU, I started to promote activities so we could all get to know each other.

It was not easy; I must accept that. Our cultures are so different; I don't speak Chinese, which makes it more challenging. However, I think that through the various experiences that we started to share, we could learn more from each other.

I also learned a lot about myself. In my time in China, I became a person who listens more, knows how to read spaces better, and speaks when necessary.

I also created a newsletter with profiles of my classmates and recent developments in environmental and climate change affairs. We tried to share it with people at Duke to improve the knowledge between campuses. I still strive to increase awareness of the iMEP program at Sanford.

What will you focus on after graduation?

My area of interest is how we can make this world in which we live more resilient and socially just to climate change. I feel that we are in a world in which the interconnections between topics are critical for promoting long-term efficient solutions without repeating the mistakes from the past.

What is your “dream job”?

In the short term, I'm looking forward to working in the public sector in Colombia. It is something I have always wanted and feel that this is the moment to do it. A role in the Environment or Energy Ministry would excite me.

In the meantime, I'm also getting more politically active. Now that I am returning to Colombia, I feel there are so many things we can do better. Nevertheless, most politicians, not just in Colombia but worldwide, are more focused on securing their private interests than truly designing actions that make our world more environmentally sustainable, climate intelligent, and socially just. And I feel that I can make a difference. So, in the midterm, I would love to be the major of my municipality; let's see how that goes!

What will you miss most about Duke?

The knowledge and curiosity you always find in Duke students. It is an enriching experience to share a space with people curious about the world in the topics you like the most. Or even topics that you have no idea about. At Duke, I attended some events about indigenous peoples’ cultures, which was terrific. I hope I will find my curiosity wherever I go!

And the parks! Something unique about both campuses is that both are close to some fantastic Parks. In China, DKU is right in front of Dayu Bay and 15 minutes away by walking from Kunshan Forest Park. In Durham, my bus stop at Duke was right in front of Duke Gardens. We don't have such beautiful parks in Colombia, which is a shame.

Overall, I would also say that the people at Duke are lovely—professors, students, and workers.

During my graduate studies, my family and I were going through very challenging situations, as my mother had an aneurysm in 2021. My mother is still recovering, but for me, it was challenging personally to be away from my home without helping them. Sometimes, I fell apart, and I always found people there to listen and help me. I will always be grateful for that. 

Jose Luis Diaz Ramos' Photo Highlights


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Graduation Stories & Details

We will be sharing graduation stories throughout the week leading up to graduation on Sanford's website, and on our social channels. Need the graduation details? Check out the official Graduation Page to find parking info, live streams and more. 

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