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‘Uplifted’: A philosopher takes wing

Alain Pérez, BA Philosophy ’23, MS Sustainability Science and Practice ’24, draws on the ethical principles of philosophy to think critically about sustainability challenges and solutions.

Alain Perez smiling outside with his arms crossed
Photo credit: Steve Castillo

As a child of Cuban immigrants growing up in Miami, Alain Pérez thought Stanford was a million miles away, but he was excited by the possibilities. He came with sights set on medical school, but soon grew enamored with the breadth of opportunities at Stanford – medicine, economics, philosophy, and more.

Eventually, Pérez landed on philosophy, which he felt would provide a broad and deeply analytical foundation for whatever career path he chose. In his senior year, the pragmatic Pérez began to look past graduation and to consider ways he might apply his interests to the world beyond Stanford. “I loved the analytical approach of philosophy, but I wanted to learn more about systems impact design and how we can bring better sustainability solutions to governments and the private sector,” Pérez recalled.

Pérez’s desire to help make government and industry more sustainable led him to the Change Leadership for Sustainability (SUST) program in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, where he earned a master’s degree in sustainability science and practice.

One course during the program, Problem Solving and Decision Making for Public Policy and Social Change, stood out. To Pérez’s surprise – and delight – the course drew heavily on his skills in philosophy and revealed unexpected connections between the two disciplines, philosophy and sustainability.

“It involved a lot of theory,” Pérez said. “It was a great way to bridge the ethical and moral principles of philosophy and to bring that into how we can effectively change the systems at a national or even global scale, while keeping an eye on the human impact.” The course also introduced Pérez to the professor who would become his advisor: Paul Brest, former dean of Stanford Law School.

One of the things Pérez has most appreciated in the SUST program is how such theoretical courses were balanced with more concrete classes, like those in Earth systems biology he took at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, or the course in corporate impact reporting he took through Stanford Graduate School of Business. With his master’s degree in hand, Pérez now awaits word on a White House internship that he hopes to squeeze in before starting a position in January with Boston Consulting Group as a sustainability expert advising clients in the federal government on a range of key issues.

Asked to characterize his time at Stanford, Pérez collected his thoughts, paused and said, “It is the community – the people – that makes this place special. There are so many friends, mentors, and professors that have uplifted me in immeasurable ways. That’s what I will remember.”

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