In Kenya, the survival of human and wildlife populations alike hinges on the availability of water and other critical resources. Spend your semester in the world-famous national parks and stunning landscapes of Kenya, studying the country’s diverse wildlife – from colossal elephants to the endangered black rhinoceros – and approaches to conservation. Here, in the heart of the Great Rift Valley, climate change and land use changes are negatively affecting Kenya’s ecosystems and those living in them. Research the root causes of these changes and how different conservation strategies can benefit both humans and wildlife.
On a multi-day camping trip, explore Amboseli National Park – widely regarded as the best place in the world to get close to free-ranging elephants
Spend the day with a local Maasai family and learn about their culture, history, daily life, and relationship with nature
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 Kenya! Move into bandas (cabins), meet your roommates and SFS staff, and attend program orientation. Visit to a traditional Maasai boma (homestead). Lectures begin with an introduction to the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem (ATE) and regional wildlife species, the history of land use and wildlife management practices, and water availability. Learn wildlife observation skills and begin Swahili language lessons.
Week 2: Continue Swahili lessons. Head into a local village for a bird monitoring activity. Learn how to track wildlife movement through footprints and other signs. Lectures on elephant conservation, ecology of the ATE, and community wildlife sanctuaries. Workshops on scientific writing and social survey techniques (PLA methodology). Visit area ranches to learn about land use and water availability.
Week 3: 4-day camping expedition in Amboseli National Park: Learn about lion ecology and conservation, elephant populations, human-wildlife conflict, and birds as an indicator for climate change. Practice wildlife census techniques and vegetation sampling techniques. Discuss the role of tourism in Kenya and the impacts of wildlife poaching. Continue Swahili lessons..
Week 4: Spend the night with a local Maasai family. Lectures on climate impacts on food security, environmental changes to rivers, springs, and wetlands, and land rights issues. Take a game drive to observe wildlife patterns and conduct habitat surveys. Continue Swahili lessons.
Week 5: Lectures on large herbivore impacts on vegetation, zoonotic diseases in the ATE, water resource management, and traditional plant use. Conduct a water quality assessment exercise in the field. Week-long camping expedition to Chyulu Hills-Tsavo Conservation Area. Guest lecture from Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (orphan elephant rescue/rehabilitation). Field lectures on watershed ecosystems and hydrological threats. Wrap up Swahili lessons.
Week 6: Expedition continues with lectures on protected areas management, human-elephant conflicts, wildlife conservation, and tourism activities. Conduct road transect surveys, classify wildlife habitats, and analyze data with SPSS software. Visit the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary to learn about endangered species management of the black rhino. Return to the SFS Center. Intro to primate research. Learn about Maasai pastoral practices and undertake wildlife crime scene investigation and mammal counts in Kimana Sanctuary.
Week 7: Head to a livestock market to observe Maasai trade practices. Discuss the economic impacts of tourism in Kenya and East Africa. Community activity at a local school. Directed Research (DR) course begins with a lecture on qualitative and quantitative research methods.
Week 8: Learn how to use the wildlife monitoring tool CyberTracker and attend a lecture on elephant social systems. Field exercises on elephant behavior and animal counts. Learn about lion conservation.
Week 9: Field lectures on cheetah ecology, conservation models, and tourism impacts. Field exercise on identifying area reptile species and practicing sampling methods.
Week 10: Lectures on scientific writing, research ethics, biometry and statistical tools, and effective scientific communication. Final exams for Wildlife Ecology, Techniques in Natural Resource Management, and Human Dimensions of Conservation. DR project proposals due.
Week 11: Lectures on risk management and spatial analysis. Community engagement activity. Spend the rest of the week in the field collecting data for DR project.
Week 12: Full week of data collection in the field for DR project.
Week 13: DR data analysis: organize, analyze, and write up your results in a scientific paper.
Week 14: DR final papers due. Create a presentation and poster based on your research findings. Present to students, staff, and community members at a research symposium.
Week 15: Re-entry exercises and room cleanup. Closing activities. 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 Kenya. Read more about the SFS program model.
Major academic themes include:
Climate change resilience
Wildlife ecology and behavior
Community governance of protected areas
National parks management
On the Wildlife, Water, and Climate Resilience program, you will take three 4-credit disciplinary courses, one 2-credit language and culture course, 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 a syllabus.
SFS 2060 Introduction to Swahili Language and East African Culture - Kenya (2 credits)
This course contains two distinct but integrated modules. The Swahili language module offers listening, oral, and written practice of the Swahili language, at a basic level of proficiency, to increase students’ communication and comprehension skills. Much of the Maasai population does not speak Swahili, but it is the national language in Kenya; this phenomenon will be explained in the second course module. The sociocultural aspects of Kenyan tribes module emphasizes understanding of, and direct contact and interaction with, the native communities with which SFS works, primarily the Maasai. This exposure to culture and language is reviewed and processed through lectures, field exercises, and classroom discussion. The sociocultural module is designed to help students engage in the culture and be therefore more adept at working effectively in their Directed Research efforts.
SFS 3071 Human Dimensions of Conservation (4 credits)
This course exposes students to the methods and strategies within the social sciences to understand the complex nexus between people and the environment and sets the context to understand what factors influence people to conserve natural resources or not. Stakeholders in Kenya’s conservation effort are varied. We will identify the key players in the effort to compare and contrast their multifarious objectives. The Maasai people’s relationship with the environment will be a particular focus of discovery as we examine their belief systems and perspectives on the world and understand how their traditional livelihoods are threatened due to ever-changing natural conditions and the continuous march of modernity.
This course provides students with the information and conceptual background necessary to understand the underlying ecological and evolutionary principles of the Kenya steppe ecosystems. We focus on the processes and interrelationships between the biotic and abiotic environment with special attention paid to the effects of changing water regimes and climate disruption on species. Students examine aspects of population biology and behavioral ecology as well as competition and predation of characteristic fauna and understand the distribution and diversity of floral assemblages. The ecology of livestock, an important structural feature of the steppe landscape will also be examined.
SFS 3751 Techniques in Natural Resource Management (4 credits)
This course presents students with the principles and tools to understand the complexities of managing natural resources in the Kenya Maasai Steppe which is under increasing pressures from natural perturbations and human demographic shifts. Land and fresh water management is a particular focus as we discover how park authorities, conservancies, and private property owners balance the needs of selves and community with wild and domestic species. The course introduces various practical field techniques and analyses to monitor changes in land and water resources and introduces students to management and planning principles involved in eco-tourism – a major economic driver in the region.
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, wildlife census techniques, natural resource valuation, water quality assessment, basic Swahili language skills, interview and survey methods, research design and implementation, quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, and research presentation.
You will visit different ecosystems and communities which may include: the vast savannas at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, national parks and wildlife management areas in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, ranches and farms, rural villages, acacia forests, a rhino sanctuary, Indigenous communities, the rugged wilderness and peaks of the Chyulu Hills, and wildlife migratory corridors.
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.
The Center lies in the heart of Kenya’s Rift Valley, nestled between three world-famous national parks. The snow-capped peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro towers over miles of savanna, replete with a diversity of wildlife. Students and staff live on a sprawling, grassy campus made up of traditional thatched bandas (cabins) and a central chumba (main building), just down the road from the small town of Kimana.
Dorm living with 4-person bandas
Chumba contains classroom, computer lab, and study spaces
Kitchen and dining hall, on-site cooking staff
Campus offers amazing views of Mt. Kilimanjaro
One-mile running trail on campus
Volleyball, soccer, Frisbee, and fire pit
Click on the icons below to learn more about our Center in Kenya.