Study abroad in Australia with SFS and learn about climate change in some of the world’s most ancient ecosystems. The Australian rainforest is rich with biodiversity, and living at our field station in the middle of the rainforest, you’ll be completely immersed in it. Tree kangaroos, cassowaries, rainbow lorikeets, and pademelons are your neighbors as you study conservation, socio-ecological resilience, rainforest management, and impacts on the Great Barrier Reef – the world’s largest living organism, home to a host of iconic marine species such as sea turtles and giant clams. Become a part of large-scale restoration ecology experiments in collaboration with Indigenous groups and community NGOs, and finish the semester with an extensive field research project.
Explore the world’s oldest rainforest – the Daintree – then work alongside community volunteers to regenerate critical rainforest habitats
Travel to the Great Barrier Reef to learn about the biological links between rainforest and reef ecosystems
Experience firsthand the transition from savannas on the edge of the Outback to the lush green coastal rainforests and mangroves.
All students are welcome to apply for our need-based financial aid. Students who exhibit financial need for their program will be offered SFS financial aid. SFS aid is offered through a combination of scholarships, grants and loans.
Pell Grant Match
SFS matches Federal Pell Grant funding for students applying to an SFS semester program.
Many SFS students receive aid through their home institutions or other outside sources, so check with your financial aid office to see what aid may apply to an SFS program.
Itinerary varies from term to term and is subject to change. Program activities take place 6 days a week with one day free.
Week 1: Welcome to Australia! Move into cabins, meet roommates, and attend program orientation. Start classes with a visit to the Atherton Tablelands and tree planting with a local conservation group.
Week 2: Lectures on terrestrial and marine ecosystems in the Wet Tropics, plant identification, animal behavior, and ecological processes in the rainforest. Excursion to Mandingalbay Yidinji (MY) country to learn about the Indigenous MY people’s approach to conservation. Snorkeling at Green Island on the Great Barrier Reef.
Week 3: Intro to research and field work: attend lectures on survey design, social science research, field measurement techniques, and scientific writing. First data collection exercise in the field. Week finishes with a homestay with a local family.
Week 4: Workshop on data analysis techniques. Field lectures on rainforest microclimates and impacts of forest fragmentation. Visit to Skybury Plantation to learn about sustainable coffee and papaya farming.
Week 5: Daintree National Park expedition: field lectures, a stop at Jindalba Boardwalk, and a crocodile cruise down the Daintree River. Trip to Cape Tribulation and then west to the Australia Outback for field lectures. Free weekend in Cairns.
Week 6: Learn about climate change in the Wet Tropics. Two-night stay at a research station on Orpheus Island on the Great Barrier Reef: explore marine ecosystems firsthand through snorkeling and hiking. Field lectures on fish morphology and behavior, coral health, coastal marine habitats, and the impacts of marine debris.
Week 7: Field lectures on tropical savanna and secondary rainforest ecosystems, rainforest restoration principles, and property rights in environmental conservation. Mid-semester break begins.
Week 8: Mid-semester break ends. Discuss responses to climate change. Directed Research (DR) projects begin. Visit to Yungaburra markets, field lecture on reversing forest fragmentation, and tree planting project.
Week 9: Environmental policy debate and lectures on management of introduced species, environmental triage and prioritization, and effective rainforest restoration methods. Preliminary data collection for DR project begins. Study for final exams.
Week 10: Final exams for Rainforest Ecology, Natural Resource Management, and Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values. DR data collection continues. Free weekend in Cairns.
Week 11: Final week of data collection in the field for DR project. Local tree planting event.
Week 12: Data analysis: organize, analyze, and write up your results in a scientific paper.
Week 13: Final papers due. Create a DR presentation and poster based on your research findings. Present to students, staff, and community members.
Week 14: Re-entry exercises and cabin cleanup. Farewell “magical mystery tour” of the area. Head home.
This academically rigorous program follows a six-day/week schedule. The interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to help students actively discover and understand the complexities of environmental, social, and economic issues in Australia. Read more about the SFS program model.
Major academic themes include:
Rainforest ecology and conservation
Habitat restoration ecology
Threatened species conservation
Development and settlement in the rainforest
Rainforest fragmentation and recovery
On the Rainforest to Reef program, you will take three 4-credit disciplinary courses and a 4-credit capstone Directed Research course. Courses are participatory in nature and are designed to foster inquiry and active learning. Each course combines lectures, field exercises, assignments, tests, and research. All courses are taught in English.
Click on each course to view a description and download the syllabus
SFS 3020 Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values - Australia (4 credits)
This course provides insight into the broad social context surrounding natural resources to determine effective approaches to resource management. Students explore the sociocultural context of resource management including: hierarchies and power structures; formal and informal decision-making processes; value systems relevant to natural resources, including religious factors and environmental ethics; past and present uses of natural resources; economic factors (local, regional, external); ownership patterns; attitudes and other factors that effect change and their historical basis; and legal basis for enforcement of environmental policy. Students are also introduced to major constituencies that effect conservation (NGO conservation groups, economic interests, etc.) and their underlying philosophies.
This course introduces structure and function of tropical rainforests including floral and faunal components. In this course, students explore the ecological processes that maintain biodiversity and the evolutionary processes that generate that biodiversity. We examine the dynamic relationships between plants and animals and how those processes have influenced or are influenced by the current landscape. On a larger scale, we investigate tropical vegetation patterns along climatic gradients and discuss mechanisms for preserving and restoring tropical ecosystems.
SFS 3700 Principles of Forest Management (4 credits)
This course presents the ecological and analytical tools used in the management of terrestrial, living resources. Students use examples from the tropics to learn the theories that are the foundation for land management, and in particular forest management, worldwide. Students are also introduced to field methods in forest mensuration, and these skills are used to monitor forest health as a case study in natural resource management performance. Students apply their knowledge by participating in long- term research projects that assess the environmental impacts of resource development and monitor the progress and success of restoration and rehabilitation efforts in areas suffering from chronic human-induced disturbances.
SFS 4910 Directed Research - Australia (4 credits)
This course prepares students to distinguish hidden assumptions in scientific approaches and separate fact from interpretation, cause from correlation, and advocacy from objectivity. Students learn specific tools including: experimental design; field techniques; basic descriptive statistics; and parametric and non-parametric quantitative analysis. Emphasis is placed on succinct scientific writing, graphic and tabular presentation of results, and effective delivery of oral presentations.
You will gain practical skills in the field such as: GIS use and applications, species identification and population monitoring, forest survey methods, citizen science protocols, research design and implementation, quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, and research presentation.
You will visit different ecosystems and communities which may include primary and secondary tropical rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef, tropical savanna, wet sclerophyll forests, coastal scrub and mangrove, Melaleuca (paperbark) swamps, Indigenous communities, and local conservation and restoration groups.
In the Directed Research course, each student completes a field research project under the mentorship of a faculty member – beginning with data collection and analysis and concluding with a research paper and presentation. Project subject areas span ecology, natural resource management, conservation science, environmental ethics, and socioeconomics.
At the end of a narrow, winding road, in the middle of a lush rainforest, lies this remote field station. Our 153-acre property is surrounded by protected World Heritage forests, and you can see incredible wildlife from the front steps of your cabin. Nearby Yungaburra and Cairns provide the occasional return to civilization.
Group living in 8-person cabins
Main building with classroom, lab, and study spaces