State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

A New Spring Course: Bangladesh: Life on a Tectonically Active Delta

By: Deborah Sachare

The Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is providing a unique opportunity for students in a new Capstone Workshop to explore the challenges and opportunities for development in Bangladesh, the home of the world’s largest delta.

Offered for the first time this spring, the exciting course examines the interaction of riverine processes, hydrology, geology, climate change, culture, and sustainable development in the region. Many of these issues intersect in Bangladesh where a large and growing population lives in one of the most dynamic and sensitive environments on Earth, subject to multiple natural disasters and threatened by climate change.  CC student Rebecca Rohrer reflects on the class at this point in the semester: “The great thing about taking this course as a senior is that I get to draw together what I have learned through the sustainable development program. I get to apply what I have learned from a variety of disciplines to a case study of the unique challenges Bangladesh faces.  This immersive experience and educational exchange will be incredibly valuable to all of our perspectives on development and international collaboration.”

The course is taught by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Research Professor, Michael Steckler, who has studied the region for many years.  “Bangladesh is a fascinating country that is progressing despite facing numerous natural disasters,” says Steckler.  “The class is a great group of students who are really interested in learning and applying their sustainable development training.”  In undoubtedly one of the highlights of the course, all thirteen students will travel to Bangladesh during spring break, where they will have the opportunity to work closely with students from Dhaka and Vanderbilt Universities. Specific highlights of the trip will include visits to the Jamuna (Brahmaputra) River to study river dynamics, bank erosion, and the ‘river gypsies’ that live on the seasonally-inundated islands, and to the Sundarbans mangrove forest to study tidal channel processes, effects of tropical cyclones, and sea level rise and coastal land loss.  In anticipation of their departure next week, Steckler says, “It will be great to take them there and have them actually see what they are spending the semester learning about.  I am looking forward to seeing their reactions as they experience Bangladesh and a developing country for the first time.”

The Program in Sustainable Development allows students to gain the necessary skills they need to address the fundamental issues of sustainability. Whether it be navigating through complex public health situations or using analytical skills to develop solutions to water management problems, the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development enables students to look at progress in human well-being without causing harm to our environmental and the planet. The program benefits from the groundbreaking work of the faculty and researchers at the Earth Institute who collaborate with students in addressing fundamental sustainable development issues.

To learn more about the Undergraduate Major and Special Concentration in Sustainable Development, or for more information about and to register for our upcoming “Brown Bag” events hosted by the Undergraduate Program, please visit our website or contact Program Coordinator, Jessica Crespo, at

Deborah Sachare is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute. She is a student at Barnard College and will graduate in 2014 with a degree in Environmental Policy.

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11 years ago

[…] a required component of the sustainable development program and this year an additional workshop, Bangladesh:  Life on a Tectonically Active Delta, was piloted to fulfill the requirement. The course, made possible through government funding to […]