Kenyan Undergraduate Immersion in Tropical Biology and Sustainability

President's Global Innovation Fund
Columbia Global Centers | Africa
  • Dustin Rubenstein, Assistant Professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology - Arts & Sciences

In what has become Columbia’s first study-abroad program in the sciences, the PIs 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 the 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. 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 grant will be used to redesign and expand the program around a series of core themes and to leverage existing expertise at the Nairobi Center 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 global center 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 first-hand in East Africa, but also to learn scientific skills that can then be applied to their own independent research. This project hopes 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, Columbia graduate students will be appointed 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.