Summer Ecosystem Experiences for Undergraduates (SEE-U)

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Sep 22, 2011 / 0 comments

Summer Ecosystem Experiences for Undergraduates (SEE-U)

By: Brian Kateman

The Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC) at the Earth Institute, Columbia University, offers students of all majors from all accredited colleges and universities a unique opportunity to learn about ecology and environmental sustainability in unique natural settings. 

The Summer Ecosystem Experience for Undergraduates (SEE-U) program features a suite of exotic locations that expose students to the wide variety of flora and fauna that exist in the world’s wetland, marine, freshwater, desert, and forest ecosystems.  Through the synthesis of classroom lectures and applied lab research and field experience, students become better equipped to solve the complex environmental problems of the 21st century. 


Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC) at the Earth Institute, Columbia University



SEE-U operates field study sites in Brazil, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Jordan.  Each site draws upon a general scientific curriculum but is then tailored to the varying surrounding ecosystems.  Whether exploring the Atlantic Forest, one of the most endangered regions in the world, the beautiful coastal Caribbean in Punta Cana, or the Red Sea Marine Science Center in Aqaba, students gain a keen understanding of the process and maintenance of sustainability and how this relates to human interaction with their environment.

The newest SEE-U study program takes place in Jordan and is offered by CERC in conjunction with the Columbia University Middle East Research Center in Amman. The core mission of the program is to enable students to develop a critical understanding of environmental issues in Jordan, spanning a wide breathe of topics including limited natural freshwater resources, desertification and deforestation, and conservation of biodiversity. 


Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC) at the Earth Institute, Columbia University



“The SEE-U program immerses the students in the native country and successfully teaches them how to think like a scientist,” says Nancy Degnan, CERC’s executive director. “Jordan is an ideal location to add to the suite of SEE-U destinations. We are thrilled to partake in this unique educational endeavor, which will highlight the science, culture and environment of this exceptional country. The opportunities for institutional collaboration and hands-on learning are vast. It will be a memorable and eye-opening experience for our students."

Jenna Lawrence, SEE-U Jordan instructor, looks forward to five weeks of a profound learning experience. “With unparalleled access to protected areas and academic resources, students will have the opportunity to collaborate with Jordanian experts in ecology and sustainable development on cutting-edge research projects with real-world implications."

Through the support and teachers and field assistants, students in the SEE-U program have the opportunity to pursue their own individual projects and passions. Jesse Hollister, a political science major at the School of General Studies at Columbia University, spent his summer of 2010 in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic.  As part of his coursework, Jesse devised a study to assess the availability of illegal hawksbill tortoiseshell products: “I devised a two-part study to determine the availability of tortoiseshell products in souvenir shops in the vicinity of Punta Cana and, furthermore, to identify shop patrons most likely to purchase these items. I visited souvenir shops in prominent shopping plazas and found an abundance of tortoiseshell products for sales...results showed a clear correlation between one's awareness of wildlife conservation efforts and one's propensity to purchase tortoiseshell regardless of age, gender, nationality, level of education, etc.” 

For many students, the SEE-U Program has become the highlight of their college experience and serves as the perfect complement to more traditional education:SEE-U has been perhaps the most amazing and eye experience of my life. No amount of classroom work could have ever compared to the important lessons I learnt about conservational biology by seeing the natural order of life in the rainforest.”


Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC) at the Earth Institute, Columbia University



But studying abroad is also a personally enriching journey, one that fosters immense growth through living and learning in an unfamiliar culture.  As one SEE-U student said, “In this program you don’t only learn about ecology. You also learn about a new country and about yourself, and you bond with your classmates and instructors in a way that is impossible to do in a formal classroom.”

For more information on the SEE-U program visit: or

contact CERC at [email protected] or 212-854-0149.

The Earth Institute, Columbia University, SEE-U Jordan
The Earth Institute, Columbia University, Earth Institute Profiles




All photos courtesy and copyright Desmond Beirne