Spend your spring semester living in and learning about one of Africa’s most ecologically diverse and dynamic developing nations.
This unique opportunity to explore current topics on tropic biology and sustainability in Kenya is open only to Columbia and Princeton undergraduates. You will have a chance to intimately learn from Princeton and Columbia faculty who have conducted extensive scientific research in Kenya and other parts of East Africa.
Program Structure and Costs
In partnership with Princeton University, Columbia offers a field semester abroad program in Kenya. This spring semester program focuses on Tropical Biology and Sustainability. Through a global immersion experience, no more than 20 students have the opportunity to study relevant topics in biology, conservation, environmental engineering, and sustainable development in ecologically diverse and developing Kenya. While the majority of the program is based at Princeton’s Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya, with support from both the research center and Columbia’s Global Centers | Africa in Nairobi, you will also travel across Kenya to places such as the forested slopes of Mt. Kenya, the wildlife-rich savannas of Laikipia, and the agricultural communities of western Kenya.
Over the 12 week program, you enroll in 4 field courses that take place for 3 weeks at a time. Unlike the typical university setting, this structure provides you with the unique opportunity to focus on one course at a time.
Applications due: October 15
Arrival in Kenya: February 2. 2017
Departure from Kenya: April 30, 2017
Program fee: $6,033
The fee includes programming as well as lodging and meal expenses while in Kenya.
Columbia students pay regular Columbia tuition. Financial aid, with the exception of federal work study, may be applied to study overseas.
Tuition and fees are subject to Board of Trustees approval and may change.
Estimated Out-of-Pocket Expenses for Program Duration: $3,500
Financial aid and scholarships
If you are on financial aid, check to see if it can be applied to studying abroad. In general summer financial aid is not available to Columbia College or The Fu Foundation of Engineering and Applied Science students, but may be available to School of General Studies students. Non-Columbia students will need to check with their home schools for funding availability.
Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship
Other Financing Opportunities:
For current Columbia University students and alumni, reach out to the Office of Global Programs and Fellowships to explore and apply for internal, national, and international fellowships. The Fellowships team will inform students about a full range of opportunities and help them determine which programs best meet their goals.
For Columbia College & SEAS students, financial aid is usually not eligible to be applied to study overseas in the summer. Please note that different schools do follow different policies. For this reason, meet with your financial aid advisor as soon as you can to discuss your personal financial situation
Must have be a Columbia/Barnard junior in good academic standing.
Minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA
1 Science class recommended
Faculty Director permission
How to apply
There is a two-part application process for this program:
1. Please apply directly through the Princeton website to start an official application. To do so click here.
2. You will also need to be cleared by Columbia and therefore, need to click "Start an Application" above to trigger that process and then fill out any additional supporting, required Columbia documents.
All coursework on the program is eligible to count towards the Environmental Biology Major/Concentration or the Sustainable Development Major/Special Concentration at Columbia. For more information on this please contact E3B Professor Dustin Rubenstein or the Office of Global Programs.
Spring 2017 Courses:
Sustainable Development in Practice (EEEB W3925). 4 Points.
Students will study the theory and practical application of sustainable development, touching on urban and rural issues in Kenya and Uganda. Students begin with an emersion at Kisumu's completed Millennium Village. Students will then spend time studying agriculture, education, infrastructure, water, and health issues in the village of Moroto in Uganda to understand the need for an integrated approach to sustainable development. Discussions with communities, field work, practical problem solving, GIS tools, e-tools, modeling, and understanding of the local constraints will form the foundation for this course.
Biology of African Animals and Ecosystems (EEEB W3920). 4 points.
This course offers a small group of students the unique opportunity to study the ecology, evolution, and behavior of African animals and ecosystems in one of the world’s most biologically spectacular settings, the wildlife-rich savannas of Kenya. In addition to gaining sophisticated training in fieldwork, hypothesis-driven biological research, statistics, and scientific writing and presentation, the course gives participants many opportunities to observe and study a diversity of plants, animals, and their interactions. Lectures include core topics in ecology and evolution with emphasis on the African animals and ecosystems that students will see in Kenya.
Savanna Ecology and Conservation (EEEB W3923). 4 points.
Only six percent of Africa's land is protected, and these areas are rarely large enough to sustain wildlife populations. Mostly, wildlife must share land with people who also face survival challenges. This course will explore how wildlife and people interact in Kenya, where new approaches to conservation are being developed and implemented. Lectures will cover the ecology of tropical grasslands and first principles underlying conservation and management of these landscapes. Field trips and projects will examine the dynamics between human actions and biodiversity conservation.
Vector Biology. 4 points.
Malaria, trachoma, leishmaniasis and other vector borne diseases take a huge toll on the social and economic spheres of life in developing countries today. Any interventions that are developed from understanding the biology of vectors and the links with climate, demographic and environmental change will ultimately enable the development of more effective tools towards disease control and prevention. The Mpala Research Centre offers unique opportunities to explore questions related to health, environment, gender, changing livelihoods and vector biology. The added nexus of ongoing climate change, environmental degradation and shifting demographics have complex, intertwined influences on humans and livestock. Through hands-on activities, students will probe issues related to biology and public health. Students will learn basic biology, including life cycles and evolutionary history of disease vectors and their impact on humans and livestock. They will also gain experience in designing, conducting, presenting and evaluating studies concerning current applied questions in the Laikipia region, eastern Africa/Greater Horn of Africa and the broader developing world.
Past courses offered have included:
Natural History of African Mammals (EEEB W3924). 4 points.
This course offers an introduction to concepts, methods, and material of comparative natural history, with African mammals as focal organisms. Perspectives include morphology, identification, evolution, ecology, behavior, and conservations. Observations and experiments on a variety of species in different habitats and at a range of scales will provide insights into the adaptive value and underlying mechanistic function of mammalian adaptations. This course is based in Laikipia, but may travel to other sites across Kenya, which might include other conservancies and pastoral group ranches.
Water, Energy, and Ecosystems (EEEB W3922). 4 Points.
This course will provide an introduction to the principles of hydrological sciences and their application to ecology, with a focus on instrumentation methods for characterizing surface, subsurface, and biological hydrological dynamics in field settings. Lectures and field activities will address the theories of operation, design, and implementation of methods used to quantify hydrological patterns and processes with emphasis on characterizing the biological signature and ecological impact of landscape hydrological dynamics. Emphasis will be placed on applications of hydrological science to issues of sustainable landscape use, water resource conservation, and prevention/reversal of land degradation in dryland ecosystems.
Agriculture and the Environment (EEEB W3921). 4 points.
Students will compare productivity, diversity, and ecological processes in the diverse farming systems of Kenya, which include highland and lowland, large and small-scale systems, monoculture cereal crops, mixed farming with crops and livestock, pastoral systems, diverse tree crop systems from plantations to multispecies agroforests, and intensive horticulture. Students spend their time in Kenya learning state of the art techniques for characterizing soils, agricultural landscapes, and ecosystem services. They will use these methods across the range of farming systems to develop projects comparing various aspects of these systems, and explore sustainability issues from the ecological, agricultural, and livelihood disciplines.
Note: The University reserves the right to withdraw or modify the courses of instruction or to change the instructors as may become necessary.
The program is structured differently than most other study-abroad programs. Rather than taking multiple courses simultaneously, students are immersed in one intensive 3-week module at a time. Each course builds from the next, applying concepts, skills, and techniques learned earlier in the semester. Students must complete all four modules in order to receive credit for the program, and all modules take place fully in Kenya.
Graded work primarily includes formal written reports and scientific talks, as well as leading of group discussions of assigned reading, participation and final examinations (depending on the course). The program aims to provide students with experience with applied statistics, science writing, working in a group setting and public speaking on scientific topics to diverse audiences.
Upon successful completion of the program, grades are entered into Columbia's online grading system. Non-Columbia students (including Barnard) can request electronic transcripts online through the Columbia University registrar.
Life in Kenya
Each course has different housing arrangements – tents campsites or dormitory rooms at Mpala, and rooms in hotels or other field stations when students are away from Mpala.
While at Mpala, students mostly live in a permanently tented camp with large safari-style shared tents about a mile from the Research Center near the Ewaso Ngiro River. The Ewaso Ngiro River is beautiful, and thorn scrub acacia dominates this red soil (well drained) habitat and large yellow thorn acacias surround the area, providing shade. Wildlife is all around, including a diversity of birds, elephants, and hippos. Please note that students are not allowed to swim in the river, and the site is secured by an electric fence.
The camp tents have wooden beds and mattresses. All bedding, pillows, and towels are provided. Bathroom facilities include sinks with running water, bucket showers (with clean borehole hot water) and flush toilets. Students should bring their own shampoo, but individual bars of soap are provided. Tent cleaning and laundry is done daily by the camp staff.
For some courses, students will be housed in dorms at the Research Centre.
While at Mpala, the group assembles for meals and lectures in a large and comfortable dining tent. Meals are prepared by Mpala cooks who have much experience with groups of visiting students. Vegetarian dishes are provided at all meals, but vegetarians are relatively rare in Kenya and the diversity of options will be somewhat lower than what vegetarian students may be used to. In general, past participants have commented favorably that the Mpala food was far better than they had expected it to be, and much better than dining halls on campus. Drinking water is boiled, purified rain water that is safe to drink. Hot tea and coffee are available in the dining tent at all times.
During the 3 day Spring Break between modules two and three, students have the option of hiking Mount Kenya with a professional guide.
Daily Living and Schedule
Each course is a three week module, where students spend over 12 hours per day totally immersed in field biology for six days a week. Students have one full day off per week (typically Sundays).
Most days will consist of waking up around 7:00 a.m. or earlier and leaving for fieldwork after breakfast. The group breaks for lunch around 1:00 p.m. and often guest lectures and meetings are scheduled in the early afternoon. The group heads back to the field in the mid afternoon and returns before dinner around 6:00 PM. Before or after dinner, students have free time or continue lectures and discussions. At night students often sit around the campfire in discussion, go for a night drive in search of nocturnal animals, or spend time working on project write-ups. Bedtime typically falls between 10:00-11:00 PM.
For certain courses, students will travel to other parts of Kenya to explore other ecosystems and communities. Students travel together with faculty and program staff to each location, in 9-passenger minivan-type vehicles with a top that rises up so that they can stand and look at wildlife from the vehicles.
While it an intense experience, the programs strives to maximize the benefit of student time in Kenya by packing in as many activities as possible. Students should come to Kenya prepared to be engaged and enthusiastic throughout the course, even when at times you might be tired, hungry, or dirty. While students find the program challenging, they also find the experience incredibly rewarding and fun.
The program is based at the Mpala Research Centre (MRC) in central Kenya. It lies 45 kilometers from the base of Mt. Kenya in the Laikipia district near the town of Nanyuki, roughly 4 hours from Nairobi. Mpala is a large property of almost 50,000 acres with extensive research facilities and labs used by resident and visiting researchers, along with the full infrastructure (internet, fax, phone) needed to support a large research and visiting scientist community in a remote location. Trustee institutions of Mpala include Princeton University, the Smithsonian Institution, the Kenya Wildlife Service, and the National Museums of Kenya. Laikipia district is home to many large scale cattle farms and private game reserves. Wildlife and cattle mix peacefully, and now that many ranches have been converted to game reserves, all wildlife is thriving in the area, including many endangered species like wild dogs, Grevy’s zebras, and rhino.
Dan Rubenstein: Princeton Director and Professor of Natural History of African Mammals
Professor Rubenstein is Princeton’s Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology. He is a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as well as Director of the Program in African Studies. Professor Rubenstein received his PhD in Zoology from Duke University in 1977. He received his BS in Zoology in 1972 from University of Michigan. He also holds an MA, awarded in 1980, in Sociobiology from the University of Cambridge, and an MA, received in 2004, in Behavioral Ecology from the University of Oxford. Professor Rubenstein’s research focuses on decision-making in animals, searching for general principles that inspire complex patterns of behavior. His most recent research has centered on equids – horses, zebras, and asses. He is considered one of the leading experts in research pertaining to zebras.
Dustin Rubenstein: Columbia Director and Professor of Biology of African Mammals
Professor Rubenstein is an Associate Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University in New York City. At Columbia, he is Director of the Center for Integrative Animal Behavior, and Chair of the University Seminar in the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior. He is also the Director of the Program in Tropical Biology and Sustainability. Additionally, he is on the Faculty in the Program of Neurobiology and Behavior, and teaches in Frontiers of Science, part of Columbia’s undergraduate Core Curriculum. He received his A.B. from Dartmouth College in 1999, and his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2006 as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellow in the Biological Sciences. His research takes an integrative approach to understand why complex animal societies form and how organisms cope with environmental change through studies that combine behavior, ecology, and evolution with those of the underlying molecular and neuroendocrine mechanisms. He has studied a variety of organisms, including birds, crustaceans, reptiles, and insects throughout Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
Paula Kahumbu: Professor of Savannah Ecology & Conservation
Paula Kahumbu is a well-known Wildlife Conservationist who grew up in Kenya. Dr. Kahumbu received a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton Univesity in 2002 where she conducted field research on elephants in Kenya. She is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenyan Conservation NGO Wildlife Direct (www.wildlifedirect.org) – a platform to support conservationists on the ground in Africa via blogs, videos, diaries, photographs, podcasts, and other online resources. She is also leading the Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign with Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta.
Dino Martins: Executive Director of Mpala Research Centre and Professor of Vector Biology
Dr. Dino J. Martins is a Kenyan entomologist and evolutionary biologist. He is currently the Executive Director of the Mpala Research Centre and a Research Scholar and Lecturer in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. He holds a PhD from the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University (2011), and a BA in Anthropology (with distinction) from Indiana University (1999). Dr. Martins’ current scientific research is focused on the evolution and ecology of interactions between species: including insects and plants, vectors and hosts and parasites.
Rob Pringle: Professor of Savannah Ecology & Conservation
Professor Pringle is an Assistant Professor at Princeton in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. His research examines various facets of ecology and conservation. The end goal is to understand how wild ecosystems work by looking specifically at their modular components and emergent properties. The majority of his work has taken place in African savannas, but he has also conducted research on small Caribbean islands. He graduate from the University of Pennsylvania in 2001, received an MSc in Economic and Social History from Oxford in 2003 as well as an MSc in Environmental Change and Management from Oxford in 2004. In 2009, he completed his PhD in Biological Sciences from Stanford.
Margaret Wanjiku: Professor of Sustainable Development
Margaret Wanjiku is currently working as a Regional Public Policy Advisor, at the Columbia Global Centre in Nairobi. She previously worked with the Netherlands Development Organization, SNV as Local Governance and Gender Advisor, the Collaborative Centre for Gender and Development (CCGD) a Kenyan women’s advocacy organization as a program manager for the Gender Budget Initiative Programme. Previously, she has worked on assignments for the European Commission, World Food Programme in Kenya, and Iceland Agency for International Development in Uganda and Malawi, World Vision International, among others.
Her areas of expertise include public policy engagement, analysis and advocacy, governance and decentralization. She received a MS in Public Policy and Management from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, as well as an MA and a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Nairobi. She is currently a Doctoral candidate at the University of Nairobi.
Main contacts in New York
Office of Global Programs
606 Kent Hall
1140 Amsterdam, Mail Code 3948
New York, NY 10027-6902
For questions related to:
In the event of an emergency after office hours, please contact Columbia University Emergency at 212-854-5555 or Columbia University Public Safety at 212-854-2796.