Why SFS?

The SFS Model

The World is our Classroom.

The SFS model offers students a comprehensive and balanced education, firmly grounded in both research and real-world application. Our centers have established a long-term presence in the countries where we operate, fostering meaningful relationships with our communities and enabling us to study diverse ecosystems over extended periods. Our interdisciplinary curriculum reflects the intricate and multifaceted nature of the environmental issues that we investigate. Substantial time spent in the field affords students the opportunity to directly experience the topics they are studying and cultivate practical skills in both natural and social sciences.

Furthermore, our model strives to create a supportive and nurturing environment that enables students to learn, explore, and flourish. With a shared aspiration to learn about the environment and their role in preserving it, students from diverse backgrounds live, work, and study together as a community on SFS programs. As a result, they are able to leave behind meaningful research, while also acquiring valuable practical skills and forging lifelong friendships. Our programs empower, validate, and inspire students to become the next generation of environmental leaders.

Foundational and Interdisciplinary Curriculum

Environmental issues are complex. To effectively address these issues, the SFS curriculum is intentionally interdisciplinary and encourages students to observe, discuss, question, reflect, and experience the implications of the issues around them. Each program combines theory learned in the classroom with field-based applications. Time in the classroom is structured to give students a solid understanding of environmental history, theory, and conservation techniques before deploying their knowledge or specific techniques in the field. Classroom sessions may include lectures, debates, discussions, and presentations, all designed to give students the confidence to tackle environmental issues – both in the field and wherever their next adventure takes them.

In addition to natural and environmental science courses, all SFS programs include a social science course, tackling topics such as environmental ethics and justice, policy, and economics. Classroom lectures and field excursions incorporate multiple perspectives and emphasize indigenous voices. Woven throughout all SFS courses are themes of anthropogenic environmental change and the sociocultural context behind current issues. This challenges students to reflect on their own roles in environmental change and identify opportunities for action.

Focus on Field Work

SFS creates transformative study abroad experiences through field-based learning and research. Our educational programs explore the social and ecological dimensions of the complex environmental problems faced by our local partners, contributing to sustainable solutions in the places where we live and work. The SFS community is part of a growing network of individuals and institutions committed to environmental stewardship.

Place-based centers

SFS operates permanent field stations, located in areas especially suited for academic study and community engagement, to provide a context for students seeking to understand complex environmental issues on a global scale. SFS centers are fixtures in communities; home to faculty, staff, and students; and anchor the long-term research upon which our mission is based. Students have the opportunity to engage in meaningful community outreach that strengthens both SFS’ ties to the community and the student’s own sense of place and belonging while abroad.

Program Time

In addition to regular coursework, students participate in outreach activities such as tree plantings, stream clean ups, and youth swim classes, and present research findings to interested stakeholders and members of the community at the end of the term. These opportunities create meaningful connections between coursework and the surrounding environment, and enable students to contribute to host communities. Students in Australia live with host families for a weekend, and in Cambodia they stay with a family in a floating village for a night, while other programs offer daystays, all of which deepen students’ understanding of local cultures and ways of life.

Non-program Time

On their own time, students are encouraged to attend cultural events, travel to and explore nearby towns, try local cuisines, and develop community ties outside of SFS. Many of our centers are well-known in their host communities and these opportunities can enhance the student’s sense of belonging beyond that of a conventional tourist.

Student Cohort Structure

On SFS programs, students spend much of their time together – living, working, and studying as a group. Academic and social learning opportunities are facilitated throughout the program by the Center Director, faculty, and trained Student Affairs Managers (SAMs) and by motivated student leaders. SAMs maintain safe and supportive environments in all student activities through extensive risk management planning. Recently facilitated initiatives include:

  • The primary function is to teach undergraduate students about local environmental issues based on a challenging, problem-based, interdisciplinary curriculum. The teaching at SFS should be high-quality, innovative, and experiential. You are not only teaching in your discipline, but you are teaching students about the process of scientific inquiry and research.
  • You are also doing research. SFS instructors design research projects that are linked to the Center or program’s Strategic Research Plan. These projects should be designed in a way that undergraduate students, under your guidance, can conduct the research in an ethical and rigorous manner.
  • The third core function is service—to actively foster good community relations, lead community outreach projects with students, and engage in residential life on campus. The relative emphasis on each area is perhaps different from university positions, and your engagement in each area may vary over the course of your tenure at SFS.

A Diverse team

Our interdisciplinary structure is complemented by our diverse faculty members, representing both natural and social science perspectives as well as a wide array of identities and backgrounds. Most of our faculty hold terminal degrees, and about half are women – almost double the nationwide representation of women in STEM jobs. Many SFS faculty and staff are host country nationals. We strive to cultivate an increasingly diverse student body, too:

We recognize that solving today’s greatest environmental challenges requires that all people have a seat at the table, and SFS strives to cultivate inclusive communities; encouraging student cohorts that represent human diversity across the globe. We believe diversity in all forms fosters greater open-mindedness, expands learning opportunities, and contributes to a positive environment in which to live and learn.

Read our Statement on Diversity and Inclusion

Commitment to the Environment

SFS programs exist to address environmental issues. Our research agenda emphasizes the interests of local stakeholders and directly addresses regional environmental issues. SFS students are passionate about and committed to the environment, and are often drawn to SFS because of our research and environmental focus. Many students bond over similar academic interests, career-related goals, and core values, and can feel supported and appreciated by their peers as they explore their passions. Although students come from very different backgrounds, they are brought together on SFS programs by a strong desire to learn about the environment and contribute to its protection.

Building a Legacy

Students may enter the program feeling like an outsider in a foreign place, but leave as part of the global SFS family, having formed lifelong friendships and lasting connections to their host community. Students take with them a deeper understanding of environmental issues and the ability to critically analyze their own biases and assumptions about the world. Each cohort leaves behind meaningful research for future students to build upon, contributing to the SFS legacy of scientific knowledge and impactful change.