The sustainability challenges faced by our planet require responses based on solid knowledge of the human/environment interface, proven technological mitigation and adaptation techniques and the means to translate this knowledge into action. It has never been more important to educate a new generation of thought leaders and practitioners with keen understanding of the links between natural and social sciences, and who can put solutions into action.
This fall, the Earth Institute, Columbia College and the School of General Studies launched a pioneering undergraduate major in sustainable development. The cross-disciplinary program provides students with knowledge of natural and social sciences and analytical and problem solving skills that will enable them to address the complex issues of sustainable development. The major and accompanying minor are designed to train a new generation to address issues of globalization, economic development, climate change, water scarcity and other significant global environment and sustainability challenges.
The Sage Foundation, the private family foundation of Steven A. Denning and Roberta Bowman Denning, has provided a gift of $300,000 over five years that will help establish the Global Fellows Program within the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development. The Denning family has been a great supporter in establishing the academic field of sustainable development at Columbia. In 2006, they endowed the Denning Family Professorship and Program in Sustainable Development. Ecosystems expert Ruth DeFries, who currently holds the professorship, has played an integral role in helping to define and establish the new undergraduate major.
The Global Fellows Program will enable more undergraduate students who are enrolled in the major or special concentration in sustainable development to pursue opportunities for study abroad, research or work outside of the Columbia campus, New York City and the region. This new program will allow students to work closely with faculty and researchers in sophisticated assistantships and on senior thesis research projects. Students will be able to conduct local, national and global field studies where they will be able to delve more deeply into specific issue areas of sustainable development.
Opportunities for students to apply textbook knowledge and skills to real-world problems are a critical component of any academic program. The experiential learning opportunities provided by this program will help students synthesize their classroom learning through practical application. This kind of training is crucial to helping sustainable development majors become the next generation of sustainability leaders.