Imagine taking a class field trip across the country, or even to another continent. As a cutting-edge player in today’s environmental research, the Earth Institute at Columbia University recognizes the importance of expanding traditional learning and education to settings outside of the classroom. Every year, the Earth Institute’s Office of Academic and Research Programs provides specific funding for course support, which allows instructors and professors the opportunity to organize field trips out of the classroom learning experiences. For the 2008-2009 academic year, the Earth Institute has awarded over $37,000 in funds to twelve courses in eight different departments, which far exceeds the amount given out in previous years.
“As an urban campus, we can’t bring all of the environments we are teaching in to the classroom, but we can help faculty bring the students into those environments through the course support program,” explained Louise Rosen, Director of the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute. “This program offers faculty funding to be able to provide field work in their classes. Fieldwork is an important learning experience for students.”
This May 2009, Patricia Culligan, Professor of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, will travel to Ghana with her undergraduate Engineering for Developing Countries class for the fifth time in the past two years as part of the Council on International Educational Exchange. This year’s trip will offer 20 undergraduate students the opportunity to focus on collecting data on sustainable solid waste management in a neighborhood in Ghana. The opportunity to assist a community while gaining overseas experience in their field of study is sure to be a unique life experience that many of the participating undergraduate students will not forget. Michael Shields, an alumnus from the course, comments on his time in Ghana: “I can honestly say that my experience working in Ghana has fundamentally altered my perspective on many aspects of life. Not only does it make me appreciate how fortunate I am, but more importantly it reiterates that we can all use that good fortune to make a difference in the lives of others. My experiences in Ghana have been among the most gratifying of my life because I can directly see that my work is having a positive impact on the lives of others.”
Another field experience will be offered this upcoming spring break by Earth and Environmental Science Professor Nicholas Christie-Blick, whose undergraduate geology class will travel to California’s Death Valley to gain experience in developing scientific interpretations from actual field observations. The class, “Geological Excursion to Death Valley,” focuses on the geology of Death Valley and the adjacent areas of the California desert. Alumni of the course, which will number 120 undergraduate students by the end of this year, remember the Death Valley trip as one of their best experiences at Columbia and Barnard. Says Peri Sasnett (CC ’11), “As a budding geologist, it was a fantastic opportunity to be able to go to such an ideal locale and learn from enthusiastic and expert teachers. The trip solidified my geologic ambitions and sparked a further passion for the subject matter.” Not only did it attract students from scientific disciplines, but it also provided the opportunity for non-science students to appreciate the valuable geological fieldwork. “As even students with no scientific background found the trip inspiring, the Columbia community would be well-served by the creation of many more similar opportunities to explore the earth sciences in the field,” affirms Stephen Cox (CC'09). Needless to say, the opportunity to visit what has been deemed the best geological example of the Basin and Range configuration will continue to be a worthwhile experience for undergraduate students.
The mixed undergraduate and graduate Earth and Environmental Engineering class on Alternative Energy Resources, led by Professor Klaus Lackner and Professor David Walker, will be taking a tour of the waste-to-energy facility at Covanta in Rahway, New Jersey this year. The focus of the trip is to gain an appreciation of the size and complexity of a small steam-driven generating installation. The class, which includes students from Columbia University’s undergraduate School of Engineering and Applied Sciences as well as the graduate School of International and Public Affairs, will also investigate the ways alternative disposal schemes affect our environment.
These are only three of the twelve trips that the Earth Institute at Columbia University will be sponsoring throughout the 2008-2009 academic year. Undergraduate students enrolled in Barnard’s “Intro to Environmental Science” course can also look forward to traveling to Black Rock Forest in Upstate New York; Graduate students enrolled in “Advanced Systems and Technologies in Civil Engineering and Construction” will travel to India to participate in the design and construction of a housing project; and undergraduates will travel to Costa Rica for a five-day field course for CERC’s Certificate in Conservation Biology class. These trips and explorations will not only enrich the educational experiences of students and faculty directly involved, but also certain will strengthen Columbia University’s environment and sustainability programs.