State of the Planet

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Making Global Climate Connections as a Pre-College Student

Smiling girl in front of a volcano
Ava Luke, author of the Navagations blog, in Iceland for the Columbia Climate Corps program.

Ava Luke, a high school student in the Columbia Climate School Pre-College Program, traveled to Chile, Argentina and Iceland in one of the historic offerings from Columbia Climate School in partnership with Putney Student Travel. From tsunami preparation to earthquake response, Luke learned unforgettable lessons from the unique communities and environments around her and from the connections with her professors and classmates—all of which she shares in a blog called Navagations, which chronicles her time in the program.

The Climate School’s Pre-College Programs are specifically designed to amplify high school students’ knowledge in an applied context and motivate action based on sound science, experiential learning and diverse perspectives. These climate-focused pre-college initiatives allow high school students to learn about specific climate change themes through place-based field opportunities. Students produce a climate action plan based on their experiences, new knowledge and acquired skills. 

In the post below, Luke shares the transformative impact these programs have had on her climate-activism journey.  

”Often, the climate crisis can feel intense and unmanageable, especially for younger generations. I was always interested in global climate conditions, but any sizable steps felt meaningless against the big problem. However, during my experiences in the Columbia Climate Corps Iceland 2022 program and the Chile and Argentina 2023 program, I realized that change on a small scale was possible. The Iceland program was about carbon capture with new technology, while Argentina and Chile focused on disaster risks. Seeing solutions to these challenges in real time made change feel possible.

Group of students on a beach with the sun in the background
Students in the Columbia Climate Corps Chile and Argentina program learn about the importance of dunes for coastal resilience and the developmental threats they face, while visiting the Dunas De Concón in Chile.

Our education was never restricted to the classroom; we shared conversations over delicious dinners, breathtaking views and spaces with locals. Once, we visited the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the Navy in Valparaiso and observed how they track and prepare for tsunamis. Another memorable experience was when we spoke to Argentinian farmers about how neighboring mines are draining water resources needed for day-to-day life and farming. There was nothing like learning from experts and people directly impacted.  

In addition to our lessons, we had many unforgettable moments of fun. In Iceland, we kayaked, rode horses, had lunch at a sustainable tomato farm, visited geysers and stopped to see hidden waterfalls. In Chile and Argentina, hiking 10 miles on the Inca Trail, having nightly meetings under a sky full of stars, sandboarding and experiencing different towns and foods were unforgettable.  

The Icelandic landscape is like no other! Often referred to as the land of fire and ice, Iceland is home to volcanoes, glaciers and numerous waterfalls.

As someone who is externally motivated, the friendships I built with like-minded peers inspired me not only academically but also emotionally. During the opening meeting, we expressed our shared values and goals for the program, establishing a safe environment that remained throughout the program. The programs value local learning, building relationships, and remaining present throughout our travels. Therefore, we were all required to participate in a technology fast, which felt refreshing and fostered more meaningful connections.   

In both programs, we had Columbia Climate School experts accompany us to translate complex concepts, drive group discussions about our field observations, share examples about real-world climate actions and guide us in developing our action project. Because of the Columbia network, we were also able to spend time with a volcanologist in Iceland who taught us about earthquakes, and professors in Chile who shared research on (un)natural disasters. Interestingly, the day I left Iceland, there was a series of 5+ magnitude earthquakes that led to the eruption of Fagradalsfjall. As concerning as the earthquakes felt, I knew exactly what was happening after learning from Columbia and local experts about Iceland’s unique geologic landscape. Hearing different perspectives and uniting through a shared passion was a special experience for which I am forever grateful.  

People running toward the sun
Chasing the midnight sun in Iceland.

The program’s final projects allowed us to apply our new knowledge into a plan to implement in our towns, an informative piece or a possible solution for the future. Hearing about the climate action initiatives my friends were taking all around the world opened my eyes to the impact every little action can have. Collaborating not only on our final projects but also on passion projects at home was a dream and allowed us to work toward goals together. Spending time near the gorgeous mountains and waterfalls inspired my final project for Iceland, which was a video about harnessing hydroelectricity from waterfalls. After the Chile and Argentina program, my friend Majo designed a bilingual children’s book to educate children about coral reefs, and I decided to write this blog post to inspire other people to take small steps to engage with climate change. Both these programs inspired me and my new lifelong friends to take the passion we developed and turn it into something we could do to care for the planet.”  

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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