Undergraduate Special Concentration in Sustainable Development Begins Second Year

Undergraduate Special Concentration in Sustainable Development Begins Second Year

Alternative energy, climate change, the food crisis and the spread of infectious disease: what do all of these challenges have in common?  Each of these issues forms a core focus of the rapidly expanding discipline of sustainable development.  In 2007, Columbia University launched the Undergraduate Special Concentration in Sustainable Development, an innovative program that prepares undergraduates to address some of the most pressing issues of our time.  The special concentration allows students to draw upon classes in a wide range of disciplines including political science, anthropology, environmental science, economics and urban studies, equipping them with a comprehensive understanding of complex global issues.

“The first year of the Undergraduate Concentration in Sustainable Development was a great success,” said Kevin Griffin, Interim Program Director and Associate Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “As we approach the program’s second year, we are looking forward to building on that momentum with even more new courses, new faculty and an exciting schedule of undergraduate events.”

The Special Concentration was developed collaboratively by the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Columbia College, the School of General Studies, and the departments of Earth and Environmental Sciences; Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology; International and Public Affairs; and Earth and Environmental Engineering. The program’s courses are designed to provide a base of knowledge of the theory and practice of sustainable development and engage students in the real-world applications of sustainable development research.

Students in the Special Concentration examine the challenges of sustainable development through nine courses and one required practicum, all taught by many world-renowned leaders in their fields. Of the nine required courses, five focus on “Systems,” including Science of Sustainable Development and Challenges of Sustainable Development. Students also choose two electives courses focusing on sustainable development “Stresses and Solutions,” which address specific sustainable development challenges and how to solve them.  A sustainable development “skills” course, a “synthesis” course, and the practicum round out the program requirements.

The Special Concentration is not a stand-alone course of study; in addition to the requirements of the Special Concentration, students must complete a full concentration or major. Typically, students declare their major or concentration/special concentration at the end of their sophomore year.  Juniors and seniors who have already declared their major or concentration can also still declare the special concentration by visiting the Registrar’s office.  Students need approval from their major’s department to declare the special concentration, and should have their approval forms signed by their major advisor and the Special Concentration Interim Program Director, Kevin Griffin.

Upon graduation, students who have completed the Special Concentration are well-equipped for a variety of career paths or graduate study programs in sustainable development, political science, environmental science and more.  The Special Concentration presents an exciting course of study for undergraduate students who want to learn how to tackle the problems of sustainable development using innovative methods developed through rigorous research and scholarship.

During the first two weeks of Fall 2008 classes, there are several information sessions planned to give students who are interested in the concentration a chance to meet Professor Griffin, learn about the program and ask questions about the concentration’s requirements, courses and related events.  Professor Griffin will hold two information sessions about the special concentration on Wednesday, September 10, 12:30-1:30pm in Schermerhorn Extension, Room 417 and Thursday, September 18, 4:30-5:30pm in Schermerhorn Extension, Room 555.  At the information sessions, students will also have the chance to learn about the many opportunities to get involved with the Earth Institute through internships, research assistantships, seminars, panels and workshops.  Professor Griffin will also hold office hours every Thursday from 1:00-4:00pm.  If you are interested in attending Professor Griffin’s office hours, please email for the location.

For a full list of courses, faculty and answers to frequently asked questions, visit the Special Concentration in Sustainable Development web page.  For more information about the Special Concentration or to sign up for the Special Concentration email listserv to receive updates about events, internships and new courses, please send your name, year, major and school to