Professional Development Program in Environmental Sustainability

Professional Development Program in Environmental Sustainability

The Program

Each summer the Earth Institute's Professional Development Program in Environmental Sustainability for Secondary School Teachers brings graduate students, teachers and other professionals together with Columbia faculty to explore diverse ecosystems, conduct field research, and develop projects or project-based curricula. Through fieldwork, presentations and workshops, participants build a strong foundation in the principles of ecology, biodiversity, human dependence on natural resources, ecosystem services, and scientific inquiry and research design. Students can earn up to six Columbia University graduate credits in Human Ecology and Conservation Biology.

Professionals considering a career change and interested in understanding the theory and practice behind environmental sustainability, can test their long range plans with a summer snapshot through the Inquire Institute, receiving graduate credits in ecology that may then be applied towards their (current or future) graduate program.

The Earth Institute’s Professional Development Program in Environmental Sustainability for Secondary School Teachers (formerly the Inquire Institute and Teacher Training Institute) provides graduate students in education and K-12 teachers the opportunity to create integrated units of curricula for their classrooms. For K-12 educators seeking certification in science, the courses meet the NY State Department of Education science certification requirements and can be applied to a Master’s degree or to the NYC “30 points above” program for salary increase.  For graduate students whose interests lie outside the classroom, an academic advisor guides the development of an ecologically-focused project specific to the each student’s discipline. Student research projects may address topics such as the value of biodiversity in both the natural and built urban landscape, the policy and practice of watershed management, or issues of eco-tourism and its impact on tropical ecosystems.


Summer 2013 Earth Institute’s Professional Development Program in Environmental Sustainability

New York City

A refreshing examination of urban ecology in New York City is the driving focus of the 2013 program as well as the inspiration for the faculty-guided projects developed by the students. Students will explore many of the resources available with site visits and workshops taking place in and around the city. Columbia University’s Morningside Campus will act as the central location for coursework.

Previous Programs

Black Rock Forest, Lower Hudson River Valley & Highlands, New York

Black Rock Forest is a preserve situated at the junction of the Hudson Highlands and Hudson River Basin. The forest features dramatic topography, numerous lakes and streams, and high habitat and species diversity. Located near the town of Cornwall, NY (about an hour north of NYC), this 4,000-acre, temperate deciduous forest is dedicated to scientific research, education and conservation.

Black Rock Forest Consortium is a unique alliance of colleges and universities, public and independent K-12 schools, and leading scientific and cultural institutions that operate the forest. Current research at the consortium spans a broad range of disciplines such as: forest ecology, wildlife biology, ecophysiology, biogeochemistry and paleoecology. Black Rock Forest has served as the Institute’s central field location for studies of the Lower Hudson River Valley and Highland ecosystems.

The Caribbean, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Sites in the Caribbean offer a unique opportunity to experience firsthand the integration of environmental protection with economic development.
For instance, the Dominican Republic is home to a beautiful coastal Caribbean biome which for years has welcomed the Institute’s students to study a variety of terrestrial and intertidal organisms and their habitats.

The PUNTACANA Ecological Foundation and sustainable tourism has been a core focus of past Institutes, with the effect of human impact on this fragile ecosystem providing an excellent learning opportunity. The foundation’s mission is to protect and restore the natural resources of the region and contribute to the sustainable development of the Dominican Republic. It is located in a rural, costal setting near the town of Veron and the landscape around it includes Indigenous Eyes Preserve (Ojos Indigenas) –an area of mostly tropical shrub forest– and freshwater lagoons, home to an array of marine and coastal life. Additional surrounding areas include former sugar plantations, botanical and agricultural gardens, backcountry roads and coastal areas with beaches, sea grass beds and off shore coral reefs.

Application Process

Who May Apply?

Teachers and graduate students from all disciplines and anyone seeking graduate credits in ecology and conservation biology are encouraged to apply.


Program cost is based on current Columbia University per credit tuition rates and a small programmatic fee.

For the July 8 – 19, 2013 Inquire Institute:
Tuition: $4,320 (3 credits)
Initiation Fee: $220

Fellowship is available. If you are interested in applying for a fellowship please fill out the appropriate section of the application and apply early for consideration.

Application Checklist

  • Application (online or paper version)
  • Personal statement
  • CV
  • Academic transcript (unofficial copy acceptable)
  • Recommendation (from principal, director, professor, etc.)
  • Online application questions
  • A non-refundable application fee of $95

Application Deadline

The deadline to apply with fellowship consideration has passed.


New York City is the primary focus of the 2013 Earth Institute’s Professional Development Program in Environmental Sustainability as well as the inspiration for the student research projects. Biodiversity, the driving currency for many ecological services, will be explored in natural and built landscapes around the city. In addition, firsthand experience in the local wetlands will form a basis for discussion of the urban freshwater cycle. The Institute will also provide exposure to alternative sources of energy as well some current research on the topic. These three vital components of the New York City ecosystem, biodiversity, water and energy, will be woven into each aspect of the course just as they are present in the everyday lives of its residents.Teachers and Graduate Students in Education. Sustainability and environmental issues are rapidly gaining prominence in schools. In order to keep curricula current, faculty guide participants in developing new units that are integrated across multiple disciplines, appeal to students of different cultural backgrounds or learning styles, link to current standards (e.g., Scope and Sequence), and contain differentiated lessons for varying skill levels. Educators from all disciplines and age-levels have benefitted from the Institute, although the focus tends toward middle school science, math and technology.

The Earth Institute’s Professional Development Program in Environmental Sustainability inquiry- and project-based coursework is modeled so that participants first experience the process as students and then learn how to translate it to their own classrooms. For educators seeking certification requirements in science, the courses meet the New York (NY) State Department of Education’s certification requirements and can be applied to a Master’s degree or to the NY City “30 points above” Masters for salary increase.

Faculty members are experienced in bringing ecological research and concepts to students and professionals from all fields. With a growing need to understand conservation biology and sustainability, ecology and urban ecosystems, and research methods, students from various schools and disciplines gain insight into their own field through research, presentations and workshops. The Institute provides a rare opportunity to gain graduate credits through the guided development of an ecologically-based project chosen by each participant. Policy assessments, journalism articles, academic posters, and sustainable business plans are just a few of the notable options.

Previous Programs

The Earth Institute’s Professional Development Program in Environmental Sustainability has previously examined issues facing ecosystems in the Tropical Caribbean Biome and the Lower Hudson River Valley & Highlands. Sample student research projects from these field sites include:

  • Birds and Human Interaction in Punta Cana (Dominican Republic)
  • Golf Course Fertilization and Sea Water Nutrient Levels
  • Brook Trout Reintroduction in Black Rock Forest (New York)
  • Domestic Honey Bees & Parasites: Effect of Temperature and Population Density
  • Species Diversity in Natural versus Human-made Coastal Habitat

Sample curriculum projects developed collaboratively by students and inspired by their research and coursework include:

  • Citizen Scientists: Population and Community Dynamics
  • An Introduction to Inquiry for the Middle Grades
  • Comparing Communities: An Ecological Assessment of your Neighborhood


All students gain access to the Columbia Community—talks, workshops and networking opportunities as well as library and student facility access on campus—and, of course, alumni events!
our social network continues to grow, sharing ideas, opportunities and resources.

  • Check out ’02 Alum. Mitchell Porcelan’s students in this video, “The Anti-Idling Rap” (Created by Gabe Peterson,
  • Check out the blog from the 2007 Institute’s field site in the Dominican Republic.