New NSF Grant to Earth Institute and GSAS: Learning through Ecology and Environmental Field Studies

March 30, 2008

Dr. Newton with the hardy few - winter sampling in marsh.



In a cross-cutting initiative of the Earth Institute and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, two member organizations of the Earth Institute, the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory and the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC) and three GSAS departments (DEES, E3B and Chemistry) have been awarded a National Science Foundation GK-12 grant of $3.2 million.

The NSF recipients will spearhead an inquiry based, experiential learning program entitled:  Learning through Ecology and Environmental Field Studies, or LEEFS.  The grant is focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM disciplines – and effectively links advanced graduate students and their research to middle and high school teachers and their students in Title I/III schools throughout New York City. 

The LEEFS project integrates and expands on existing partnerships between units of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and New York City Title I/III schools, which have a high percentage of students from low-income families.  The team of scientists working on the project includes co-PIs Stacey Brydges from the Department of Chemistry.

Nancy Degnan from the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, Shahid Naeem from the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, and as PI of the project, Robert Newton from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

LEEFS pairs Graduate Fellows from the Earth Institute with public school teachers from thirteen middle and high schools throughout the NYC metro area, and one high school in the Dominican Republic.  The Fellows will be selected primarily from graduate students receiving training in the fields of ecology, and earth and environmental science. 

Focusing on field and field-related laboratory science, with a strong emphasis on biodiversity and conservation, ecological sustainability, geochemical cycles and land-use issues, the project builds on recent research into the benefits of field-based learning for students and explores innovative ways to enhance graduate students’ pedagogical training. 

Public school teachers from Grades 6-12 will join their LEEFS Fellows for four to eight weeks prior to the start of the next academic year in a program of science internships, professional development, and curriculum planning .  During the school year, the partnership will support teachers as they undertake environmental field and laboratory science projects with their classrooms through weekly visits by the LEEFS Fellows.

The LEEFS partnership is closely linked with the NYC Department of Education initiatives in inquiry-driven, hands-on, and experiential learning. LEEFS builds on CERC’s existing educational outreach, which supports the new scope and sequence in science for middle schools, as well as Lamont-Doherty’s summer field program for High School teachers.   

The program’s goals are to:  (1) improve the quality of science education for secondary school students and motivate students from low-income families to pursue careers in science; and (2) improve Graduate Fellows’ communications skill by pairing them with experienced teachers and placing them in direct contact with young learners.  The LEEFS project team at the Earth Institute believes project is the kind of innovative training necessary to produce the next generation of scientists and educated citizens required to find solutions to the complex environmental challenges facing us in the 21st century.