Columbia’s undergraduate program in environmental biology educates the next generation of environmental leaders. Under the guidance of core department faculty and experienced researchers from organizations including the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, student majors complete an extraordinary range of internships at research sites around the world. In doing so, they develop professional working relationships with respected researchers and experience firsthand the realities of conducting original fieldwork under sometimes unpredictable conditions.
In 2010, Cristina Matesanz (pictured) traveled to Spain to research estuarine parasites. Other student interns in recent years have studied the biological effects of groundwater pollution in Bangladesh, the effects of farming practices on disease risk in Kenya, the infection dynamics of Lyme disease in Connecticut, bobcat habitat use in Virginia, sea turtle nesting behavior in Costa Rica, the effects of warming on alpine meadow plants in New Zealand, and much more. Their work, typically conducted after junior year, serves as the basis of their senior theses and inspires many to pursue careers in the field.
Retired corporate executive John Craig and former entrepreneur Judy Craig were introduced to Columbia’s program in environmental biology by their younger daughter, Elizabeth ’07CC, who majored in the subject. They attended a student presentation of field research — on topics ranging from cormorants in New York Harbor to arsenic in third-world countries — and were inspired to establish the Craig Family Scholars Fund to help cover the cost of research internships for selected students over five years. “We thought it was wonderful to help young people who really wanted to change the world,” they say.
When they made their gift, the Craigs were interested in the connections between ecology and human well-being. Since then they’ve formed the nonprofit organization Eliminate Poverty Now, which focuses on economic development and educational opportunity, with a strong focus on women, in east and west Africa.
Published: June 2011