In conjunction with the Earth Institute, Columbia College and the School of General Studies offer a B.A. and a special concentration in sustainable development for students interested in studying the complex issues of development as they relate to the interactions of the natural and social systems.
In the undergraduate program in sustainable development, students learn the theory and practice behind combining sustainability with development by engaging in a range of cross-disciplinary studies. The Earth Institute—in collaboration with Columbia College; the School of General Studies; the School of International and Public Affairs; the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences; the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology; and the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering—began the special concentration in 2007 in an effort to introduce students to sustainable development early on in their higher education. The energy and interest that the special concentration generated from faculty and students foretold the need for a full major in sustainable development, which was launched in the fall of 2010.
The program benefits from the pioneering work of Earth Institute faculty and researchers in the field. Students will take classes specifically designed for the program—classes that were developed by experienced Earth Institute faculty and practitioners in the field through a series of collaborative discussions.
Program co-directors, Ruth DeFries, Denning Family Professor of Sustainable Development and Jason Smerdon, Assistant Research Professor and Storke-Doherty Lecturer agree that “Graduates of the program develop a strong foundation in the natural and social sciences and expertise in critical areas of sustainable development such as water, health, climate change and food. They possess cutting edge skills in economics, GIS modeling, and have the capacity to engage in critical thinking based on their comprehensive knowledge of science, policy and the values and beliefs that influence decision making.”
A minimum of 15 courses and a practicum are required, for a total of approximately 47 points, to complete the major. Students will take courses within the following framework:
A minimum of nine courses and a practicum are required for the special concentration. Students will take courses within the following framework:
The practicum requirement gives students practical experience and puts them in direct contact with practitioners from the Earth Institute and affiliated institutions. A workshop requirement provides students with an opportunity to work with clients on projects that address real workplace issues.
The following courses have been developed specifically for the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development’s curriculum:
In this program, students build their holistic understanding of sustainable development under the guidance of practitioners, researchers and experts. The course offerings provide grounding in economics and the natural and social sciences, as well as training in analysis and solutions to complex problems facing sustainable development.
Students in the program come from every department—ranging from Economics to Chemistry; this diversity of backgrounds brings an array of perspectives on topics of sustainability to the program. Students completing the major or special concentration in sustainable development go on to work in a diverse range of professions. From the private sector to the public sector and from the local level to the international level, graduates of the program take the lessons they learn and apply them to their professional situations.
Courses are taught by an expert faculty, including researchers who are leaders in the fields of earth science, engineering and environmental management and renowned practitioners in fields ranging from environmental law to alternative energy financing.
As one of the few undergraduate degree programs offered in sustainable development, this one is notable for its strong connections with the Earth Institute and key leaders in the field such as Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute. Students are taking full advantage of these opportunities by attending lectures and career panels, becoming active in student organizations and pursuing internship and opportunities. Brown bags and fieldtrips allow students to learn about current issues in sustainability from practitioners. Fieldwork is an integral part of the academic experience and funding is provided for students to undertake fieldwork off campus and abroad, through the Global Fellows in Sustainable Development Program. Students are also able to participate in the Global Honors College, an international academic exchange program.
Columbia College students who would like to declare their major or special concentration in Sustainable Development may do so by submitting a declaration form in person during the spring semester of their sophomore year. General Studies students may also declare their major or special concentration in the spring semester using the online declaration system. If you have any questions prior to making your declaration, please feel free to contact the undergraduate program in sustainable development in order to schedule a meeting.
For more information, please visit the undergraduate program in sustainable development page.
Interested students should contact the program manager:
2910 Broadway, Suite A-110,
Mail Code 3277,
New York, NY 10025
School of General Studies
School of International and Public Affairs
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology
Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering
Columbia College Declaration
General Studies Declaration
Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development Website
Office of Fellowships