Global field experience is a key element of Columbia University’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development. The newly-created Global Fellows in Sustainable Development Program was established through a generous gift to the Earth Institute from the family of a Columbia College graduate. They too saw the positive impact that an out-of-classroom learning experience can provide. Fieldwork is integral to the program, which emphasizes that students should engage in field research so they can apply the concepts they have learned in the classroom for a well-rounded academic experience. When asked about the added value of fieldwork to the academic lives of students in the program, Ruth DeFries; Denning Professor of Sustainable Development, professor of ecology, evolution and environmental biology, and co-director of the program; said, “There is no substitute for the experience that students will gain from travelling and working outside of their familiar confines, as they are able to see the real issues of sustainable development and how they affect real people in real places.”
The program enables undergraduates to conduct practical fieldwork in environmental and sustainable development that is related to their academic studies. This summer, five students from the undergraduate program will engage in diverse projects aimed at the planning, creation and implementation of sustainable practices on three different continents. These students are the first recipients of funding from the Global Fellows program. Moving forward, students can apply for funding to conduct fieldwork in the fall, spring and summer semesters.
The varied nature of this summer’s fieldwork projects is in keeping with the interdisciplinary nature of the sustainable development program. This summer, projects range from researching the relationship between agriculture and climate change in Sauri, Kenya, to building and installing wind turbines in rural villages in Peru. This fieldwork challenges students to think about sustainability not as an abstract idea, but as a holistic method for problem solving. Upon returning from his work in Africa, Derek Nelson, a junior pursuing a special concentration in sustainable development, said, “Through the Global Fellowship program, I was able to help with the implementation of development methods I studied at Columbia. Seeing the interventions at work firsthand in Sauri, Kenya, truly reaffirmed my interest in development.”
The first cohort of Global Fellows includes three sustainable development majors and two special concentrators. Throughout the summer, these students will take part in a diverse range of exciting sustainable development projects in New York and around the world:
Erica Bower, a sustainable development major, will undertake a food and sustainability education internship at Columbia Secondary School. She will assist teachers with the preparation and implementation of sustainability and gardening programs for inner-city youth. This experience will provide her with the opportunity to learn how sustainable practices are integrated into local communities in New York City.
Jorge Christopher Canales, an urban studies major with a special concentration in sustainable development, will volunteer with a non-profit in Peru called WindAid that supplies wind turbines to produce free electricity for high-need communities. He will work in the village of Trujillo, and hopes to make a significant difference in the lives of the community by improving the infrastructure needed to bring them electricity and running water.
Derek K. Nelson, an evolutionary biology major with a special concentration in sustainable development, worked with the Millennium Villages Project in Sauri, Kenya from May to June as a research assistant under the supervision of Sean Smukler. Derek conducted research on three agricultural intensification methods, the results of which will indicate how farms can improve food security while also reducing carbon footprints.
Shamm Petros, a sustainable development major with a concentration in human rights, will be in Amman, Jordan, this summer as part of the Summer Ecosystems Experiences for Undergraduates (SEE-U) program. Shamm will supplement her biology studies by examining Jordan’s unique biodiversity stemming from the depletion of natural freshwater resources, deforestation, overgrazing of land and desertification.
Raquel Solomon, a sustainable development major with a minor in French, will study abroad at Witswatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa, for fall 2011. There, Raquel will study the innumerable challenges that South Africa faces when it comes to ensuring sustainable development and improving access to affordable housing and energy for people living in poverty. This experience will give Raquel first-hand exposure to these important issues at one of South Africa’s leading universities.
Visit the Columbia College Fellowships page to learn more and to apply for funding for the 2011-2012 academic year.