Education News

Learning Through Ecology and Environmental Field Studies


The Learning through Ecology and Environmental Field Studies (LEEFS) program is now accepting applications for the 2010 to 2011 year. LEEFS is a fellowship program funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Education and Human Resources. It is administered by the Earth Institute’s Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC) and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, as well as the Earth Institute’s Office of Academic and Research Programs.

The program’s nine graduate student fellows spend one day each week working in the classroom with a New York City middle or high school science teacher. One goal of the program is to enhance science education in grades 6 through 12 in some of New York’s poorest neighborhoods, while enriching science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) content and instruction for the partnering schools. The NSF GK-12 programs help improve graduate fellows’ communication and teaching skills through classroom interactions with both teachers and students. LEEFS is Columbia University’s third GK-12 grant, following one awarded jointly to the departments of Biology and Mathematics and one given to the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

"Teaching children is hard work, but I think it’s also the most fun a scientist can have,” said Robert Newton, research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and co-principal investigator (PI) for LEEFS. Newton specified that the strength of the program rests in its ability to encourage scientific inquiry and develop teaching and communication skills while enhancing the science curriculum and learning experience for those students who get to work with the fellows. “It does our graduate students a world of good to work one day a week with a teacher at a neighborhood school, getting to know the students and their teachers, and learning about their lives. The impact on the middle and high school kids is palpable and immediate, and the fellows seem to get a lot out of it at the same time."

LEEFS graduate student fellows have the opportunity to work directly with students in the classroom, bringing their own research to kids in grades 6 to 12. They assist teachers and students in setting up environmental monitoring programs at their schools, lead in-class labs, help teach lessons aligned with the NYC curriculum and tutor students individually. In turn, fellows receive an NSF stipend for the one-year commitment. Fellows have an opportunity to enhance their communication and teaching skills, thus preparing them to be active citizen-scientists, as well as better professors. LEEFS helps to strengthen the NYC science curriculum while simultaneously allowing the fellows to grow in their experience.

“LEEFS provides an avenue for the integration of qualitative research methods and the tools of cultural anthropology into the environmental and natural science curriculum, and for engaging high-needs students in that process,” reflected Adriana Garriga-Lopez, a current LEEFS fellow. “LEEFS has made me a better teacher.”

The LEEFS Web site highlights the work of the fellows, teachers and students within the school-fellow collaborations and beyond. The Web site also provides information on research and projects that they have done collectively, general information on the program, and other valuable resources such as lesson plans of current fellows, information on schools working with LEEFS, and links to the other GK-12 grants NSF has given to Columbia.

Applicants interested in the program must be continuing graduate or doctoral students at Columbia University studying in the STEM disciplines. Current LEEFS fellows include those from the departments of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology; Physics; Chemistry; Earth and Environmental Science; and Anthropology. View the application. The deadline to apply is March 15, 2010.

If you are interested in learning more about the program or applying, we are now accepting applications. Please visit the LEEFS Web site  for more information or contact Audrey Lapiner at or by phone at 212-851-0261.