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Kenyan Undergraduate Immersion in Tropical Biology and Sustainability

Monday, June 9, 2014
Prof. Rubinstein (back right) with students in Kenya

Columbia University is encouraging more of its undergraduate students to study abroad and make use of its network of Global Centers, yet this is difficult for science majors, particularly during the semester. In what has become Columbia’s first study-abroad program in the sciences, we recently began a three year pilot of a semester-long Program in Tropical Biology and Sustainability based in Kenya in partnership with Princeton University. This collaboration between Columbia’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology and the Earth Institute’s undergraduate major in Sustainable Development offers students the opportunity to study and do research in one of Africa’s most ecologically diverse and dynamic developing nations. Although the program was envisioned to integrate the biological, social, and engineering sciences so that students can study topics from interdisciplinary perspective, it was built from two existing Columbia and Princeton programs grounded largely in tropical biology. 

The President’s Global Innovation Fund will be used to redesign and expand the program around a series of core themes and to leverage existing expertise at the Columbia Global Centers | Africa to study first-hand how humans and wildlife interact with each other and the environment across East Africa. The primary goals of this proposal are to engage the Columbia Global Centers | Africa as a partner and to expand into a regional East African program by: (1) creating greater cohesiveness among course modules by refocusing around two key themes (water and energy); (2) exposing all students to natural, social, and engineering science courses every year; (3) increasing the size of the program by creating a core and elective system to meet all students’ needs; (4) developing long-term consistency in the program by teaching the same core courses each year; and (5) establishing a partnership between Columbia faculty and students and their Kenyan counterparts. This program will give undergraduate students not only the unique opportunity to study biology, sustainable development, and engineering first-hand in East Africa, but also to learn scientific skills that can then be applied to their own independent research and that can be brought back to the Morningside campus to enrich the NYC community. We plan to add a capacity building component by including students from Kenyan universities in many of the course modules. This will be integrated as a key part of the redesigned program to enhance joint and collaborative research between Columbia and Kenyan scholars and students. And because some of the courses will engage Kenyan students as equal participants,

Columbia students will not only broaden their cultural experience, they will also model a different way of learning for Kenyan students. Moreover, we will appoint Columbia graduate students as TAs, contributing to their teaching and mentoring skills. Finally, the program will also directly engage the Columbia Global Centers | Africa staff in connecting with undergraduates so as to build a network of scholarship that benefits both parties through research and teaching. Ultimately, our goal is to educate Columbia students to become global environmental leaders in science, government, or private industry by giving them an integrative global immersion experience.




Associate Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology


School of the Arts
Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology Department
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