The Learning through Ecology and Environmental Field Studies (LEEFS) Program

The Learning through Ecology and Environmental Field Studies (LEEFS) Program

Given the key role of ecology in sustainable development, we are committed to educating K-12 Teachers, a critical cohort who carry forward the work of sustainable development. The wellbeing of youth and the wellbeing of our planet are intrinsically connected.

During the 21st century, today’s youth will become adults who face some of the greatest environmental challenges: adapting to climate change; conserving remaining biodiversity; protecting and accessing clean water, developing innovations in renewable energy; restoring the urban infrastructure and the natural systems upon which the built environment rests; preventing emergent infectious diseases while simultaneously engineering better medicines; and finding the balance of the requirement to feed the planet, while maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Thus, today’s secondary school students need a robust education to help them address these multifaceted and complex challenges that have critical environmental, socio-economic and political impacts. Their eventual quality of life and economic wellbeing is directly linked to their academic success, and this success is deeply connected to excellent education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

At Columbia University, Earth Institute’s current K-12 Programs include three National Science Foundation (NSF) funded initiatives: The Technology, Research, Ecology and Exchange for Students (TREES) Program, the Learning through Ecology and Environmental Field Studies (LEEFS) Program, and the School-based Ecology and Environmental Discoveries (SEEDS). One additional program is the Earth Institute Professional Development Program in Environmental Sustainability.


Learning through Ecology and Environmental Field Studies (LEEFS) creates partnerships between Columbia graduate students and science teachers in New York City public schools. LEEFS emphasizes experiential learning and integrated inquiry, encouraging participants to cross disciplinary boundaries and ask broader questions raised by studies of ecology and environmental and earth science. The LEEFS program improves the communication skills of Columbia’s graduate students, preparing them to be scientist-citizens and members of the professoriate of the future. It elevates the scientific knowledge and hands-on skills of grades 6-12 science teachers, informing their educational practice, and it helps them stimulate their students’ interest in careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines. The LEEFS program is funded by a $3.1 million, five-year grant from NSF’s Division of Education and Human Resources.