Student Courses and Pathways

The Grand Challenges Program is an opportunity for students to actively shape our Vassar experience, to equip ourselves and future students to critically understand climate change and its accompanying injustices, and to use our distinct perspectives to collaboratively construct solutions. Discover resources for getting involved, such as professors who are integrating climate change into their work and teaching, classes that address environmental problems, ways to create your own programming, and more.

Professor Jan Cameron Reflects on a GC Intensive (Fall 2020)

Creating Communities That Care (CLCS175)
The Fall 2020 intensive Creating Communities That Care was a six-week course exploring the notion of community in science, and in particular, what it means to pursue diversity and inclusion in our scientific community. We studied the concept of inclusive excellence as part of the process of an institution’s development, and considered what inclusive excellence in science may look like here at Vassar. A series of lively discussions zeroed in on culture: What is an institution’s culture? How do we experience it, and how do we investigate it? How might it shape our perspectives, values, and learning experiences? What impact might this seemingly invisible force have on a student's success in math and science? Our work combined readings from the literature on diversity and multicultural organizational development with discussions and reflections on how these various notions may impact us as individuals, and our community more broadly.

Courses & Intensives


Foundations of Data Science
CMPU 144 / MATH 144
TR 0130PM-0245PM
F 0310PM-0510PM
Monika Hu and Jason Waterman

This course focuses on students' development and practice of computational thinking and inferential thinking. Students will learn the basics of the Python programming language to make generalizations based on limited data while accounting for uncertainty in the data collection process. Students will learn to write problems, generate images to visualize data, and work with real-world datasets, culminating in a final project centered around analyzing climate change data.

Introduction to Physics II (two sections)
PHYS 112
TR 1200PM-0115PM
T 0310PM-0610PM (51)
T 0700PM-1000PM (52)
Brian Daly

Fundamentals of electricity, magnetism, and optics. Not calculus-based. Pre-Health students and life science majors.

Racism, Waste, and Resistance
ENST 266/SOCI 266
MW 0900AM-1015AM
Pinar Batur

The 21st century will be defined in the dramatic consequences of the current events and movements regarding our waste: global climate change, pollution, resource depletion, contamination and extinction. One of the most striking and consistent observations is that racism plays a major role in placing waste in close proximity to those racially distinct, economically exploited and politically oppressed. This class examines the destructive global dynamics of environmental racism and resistance, as struggles against it.

Development Economics
ECON 273/INTL 273
TR 1030AM-1145AM
TR 1200PM-0115PM
Gisella Kagy

A survey of central issues in the field of development economics. Topics include economic growth, the role of institutions, trade, poverty, inequality, education, climate change, health, and conflict. Examples and case studies from Africa, Asia and Latin America provide the context for these topics

College Course: Creating Communities That Care (Intensive)
CLCS 175
Jodi Schwarz

Complex global challenges like climate change require collective action, with people coming together across many dimensions of difference. This intensive explores how to find one's own voice and build collaborative communities that create change. We begin with a close reading of All We Can Save, an anthology of essays by women scientists, artists, policymakers, and activists working at the forefront of the climate movement, and we will meet with the editor, Ayana Johnson, a marine scientist and climate activist, about how to build community across difference. Students will develop a project inspired by our readings and conversations.

Faculty Mentored Research
BIOL 395
Jodi Schwarz

Faculty Mentored Research experiences enable a small group of students to work with faculty on research projects.

Community-Engaged Learning

Experiential Pathways

Here is a list of organizations offering positions for Vassar students that would be appropriate projects to undertake through the Community Engaged Learning Program. Please contact the Office of Community Engaged Learning at for further details or visit their website.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby

A volunteer led organization that’s working to lobby congress to put a price on CO2 emissions, and give the money back to households, as the first most effective step in addressing climate change.

Position Description:

Reaching out to community leaders to explain, not just the overall carbon pricing protocol proposed in the bill, but how it specifically impacts them over the next ten years.

Poughkeepsie Farm Project

On their member-supported farm in the City of Poughkeepsie, PFP grows fresh vegetables and fruit for their CSA, train future farmers, provide hands-on educational programs, and improve access to healthy locally-grown food. Their mission is to cultivate a just and sustainable food system in the Mid-Hudson Valley.

Position Description:

PFP’s education internship program offers people passionate about food justice and edible education the opportunity to gain experience with PFP’s innovative programming at their urban farm, in their Discovery Gardens, at school gardens, and elsewhere in the community. Interns work closely with PFP’s Education Manager to set goals and create a positive and exciting environment for students to learn. Specific duties and responsibilities include leading farm tours, garden projects, cooking workshops, seed-saving activities, and lessons about plants and sustainable agriculture. Other responsibilities include garden building and maintenance, recordkeeping, communications, and community outreach.

Hudson River Sloop Clearwater

Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. (Clearwater) has been working for almost 50 years to preserve and protect the ecology of the Hudson River and the well-being of everyone living in its watershed — and to create the next generation of environmental leaders. Additionally, they operate land-based education programs and environmental action initiatives to complement their river based programs.

Position Description:

Clearwater tries to tailor their internships to allow the student’s skills/interests to help promote Clearwater’s goals.

They look for help with communications and tabling at festivals and events. As well as, have interns focus on the following Hudson River and global environmental issues:

  • Safe decommissioning of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which is due to close in 2020-21, and ensuring a just transition for plant workers
  • Climate Change Solutions and Resilience, including:
    1. Understanding and commenting on the Army Corps of Engineers Proposed Storm Surge Barriers
    2. Drawdown Climate Solutions
    3. Preventing the construction of a proposed year-round, gas fired power plant at Danskammer in Town of Newburgh
  • Hudson River PCB Remediation
  • Promoting Sustainable Energy practices and the rapid transition to a renewable energy economy with storage and efficiency.

Their Environmental Education Program is also working on:

  • Aquatic Invasive Species
  • Microplastics

Vassar Environmental Coop

The Environmental Cooperative brings together regional environmental organizations, community groups, educators, the Vassar College community, and residents to increase their impact and expand conservation efforts in the Hudson Valley. They aim to actively create and maintain natural areas to help people connect with the outdoors and their neighbors and to foster a community mindset of environmental stewardship.

Position Description:

Communication/Outreach Intern for City of Poughkeepsie Green Spaces:

  • Assist in creating and maintaining promotional material and a social media presence for several community groups that are collaborating with The Environmental Cooperative.
  • College Hill Park Intern
  • Assist with coordinating volunteers and participating in garden maintenance. Position also includes promotion of the Pollinator Garden and Park, and recruitment of volunteers through creation of flyers, social media and tabling at local events.


EMMA brings together organizations and individuals centered in the Hudson Valley region to protect ecological systems and develop sustainable land management practices. They aim to address urgent threats to ecosystem health in the Hudson Valley, which include climate change, deer browse, habitat loss and fragmentation and invasive species, on a regional scale.

Position Description:

EMMA’s ongoing phenology monitoring project:

Students learn about the life histories of native and invasive species on the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, and gain valuable field experience. In addition to phenology monitoring, students will do one of the following:

  • Develop species phenophase identification profiles for EMMA’s target phenology species in collaboration with the New York Phenology Project.
  • Create an open-source phenology calendar showing the start and end of phenophases for EMMA’s target phenology species.
  • Develop an annotated bibliography which includes citation and abstract for the most current and local examples of phenological asynchrony.
  • Choose a set of emerging invasive species to monitor and develop an open-source calendar to notify land managers of critical phenophases.

Hudson Highlands Land Trust

Fresh Air Fund

Hudson Highlands Land Trust is a nonprofit land conservation organization that protects and preserves the natural resources and scenic beauty of the Hudson Highlands region of NY.

The Fresh Air Fund is an independent, nonprofit agency that provides thousands of NYC children with unforgettable summer experiences that unlock their limitless potential.

Position Description:

Hudson Highlands Land Trust (HHLT) and The Fresh Air Fund (FAF) seek to fund two Invasive Species Management and Education Internships for summer 2019. The interns will perform invasive species inventories, assessment, monitoring, and control on the FAF Sharpe Reservation (2,000 acres) and the HHLT Granite Mountain Preserve (398 acres). They will also create short educational videos to share their work with the public.

Lower Hudson PRISM / NY/NJ Trail Conference

The mission of the Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (LH-PRISM) is to protect the rich biodiversity and ecosystems of the Lower Hudson region through partnerships and collaborations that focus on controlling the introduction, spread, and harmful impact of invasive species. LH-PRISM is hosted by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, a volunteer-powered organization that builds, maintains, and protects public trails. One of the primary goals of the Trail Conference is to ensure that the trails and natural areas we share are sustainable and accessible for all to enjoy for generations to come.

Position Description:

  1. GIS Intern: The Trail Conference runs multiple volunteer programs that collect data on invasive species as part of their efforts to prevent the spread of invasive plants in forested parklands of New York State and northern New Jersey. GIS interns will work with existing and incoming data as well as assist with digitizing and geo-locating historical data using ESRI ArcMap 10.6 or ArcPro.
  2. EcoQuest Volunteer Intern: Lower Hudson PRISM EcoQuest interns will help to survey and manage a new citizen science-based survey program launched this year to track invasive species in the greater Lower Hudson PRISM region. The scavenger hunt-style survey technique utilizes the mobile app, iNaturalist, to photograph and monitor the distribution/spread of a monthly focal invasive species.
  3. Invasives Strike Force Volunteer Intern: The Trail Conference’s Invasives Strike Force (ISF) began in 2011 as a way to survey, design and implement best management practices to control the spread of invasive plants in forested parklands of New York State and northern New Jersey. ISF interns will help to collect information about what species of invasive plants exist in natural areas managed by the NYNJTC and assess their abundance along our trails. This information will be used to identify and target areas where removal of invasive species will help prevent further spread throughout the parks system.

Peach Hill Tree

In 2000 a group of private citizens became concerned about the need to maintain Peach Hill’s unique features in the face of rapidly growing pressures for housing and commercial development.

The Friends of Peach Hill was organized as a not-for-profit volunteer organization whose primary mission is to make Peach Hill available for public enjoyment. Since 2004 the top priority of the Friends has been to protect the site and to open up more and more portions of Peach Hill for public use. The Friends have laid out several miles of hiking trails, constructed interpretative overlooks and picnic areas, kept trails and meadows mowed, battled invasive species, and pruned key sections of the orchard.

Position Description:

  • Park interpretive development.
  • Park landscape enhancement.
  • Coordinating events and fundraising, spreading the word, working on trees, vines and invasives removal, pruning, and clearing trails/lookouts.

Sustainable Hudson Valley

This is a small non profit committed for over 15 years for raising the bar on sustainability, clean energy, global warming preparedness, etc. They work closely with government and other non profits as well as community businesses.

Position Description:

The goal is to identify the leading businesses and organizations that have committed to sustainability and their best practices, as well as the strategies for engaging them that have been most effective. Do they have a sustainability plan, have they embraced energy savings, do they have “buy local” commitments, etc.? This information will be used to create greater peer awareness of how much is being done and how to expand on their examples.

The intern(s) will help define the research, get it done, organize the presentations and media releases, and help get the word out.


Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the Hudson River and its tributaries, and safeguard the drinking water of 9 million New Yorkers.

Position Description:

The intern will work closely with Riverkeeper’s program team of scientists, communications team, advocates, and lawyers.

They will work in the Riverkeeper office and develop an understanding about the Hudson River Estuary, pollution threats, environmental policies, and local governmental agencies. They will assist in maintaining contact lists for public officials, and assist in tracking and drafting memos and testimony on budget priorities, legislation, and regulations. Interns will also develop campaign materials such as fact sheets, powerpoint presentations, and social media/email/text message platform communications.

Dutchess County Transportation Council

The Dutchess County Transportation Council (DCTC) serves as the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Dutchess County. Federal statutes require that urbanized areas with over 50,000 people be represented by an MPO. The main duty of an MPO is to ensure that federal transportation funds are committed through a locally driven, comprehensive planning process. Since 1982, we have provided a forum for state and local government to solve transportation issues and reach consensus on federally-supported transportation plans and projects in Dutchess County. The Dutchess County Transportation Council (DCTC) develops three core products: a Metropolitan Transportation Plan, a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), and a Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP).

Ramapo for Children- Sustainability Intern

Ramapo’s mission is to keep young people from being relegated to the margins of their schools, programs, families, or communities because of challenging behaviors, cognitive disabilities, or other differences. Through direct service programs and tailored professional development, Ramapo for Children helps adults create environments that support learning and success for all young people.

Position Description:

Working with Ramapo’s Rhinebeck campus Green Committee, the Sustainability Coordinator will help continue the Green Committee’s assessment of the campus sustainability systems, develop structures to reduce waste through improved recycling and composting systems, research and resolve logistics issues, and serve as a resource and for Ramapo program staff.

Chabad house- Net Zero intern

Chabad on Fulton is a Jewish space that is open and available to all Jewish students and faculty at Vassar College. We have established the Chabad House as a place where Jews of all backgrounds and degrees of observance can enjoy exploring their Jewish heritage in a warm, welcoming and accepting environment. Their mission is to serve as a conduit to engage Jewish students, strengthen identity and ensure continuity.

Position Description:

Interns will work closely with their energy consultant in designing their building envelope, insulation levels, southern glazing, PV (solar panel) systems and mechanical systems. Interns will research different options and helping to decide which option is most cost effective. Work with a Net Zero certification agency to ensure the organization is meeting standards and approval, as well as, researching different funding opportunities for the project.

One Nature LLC

One Nature is an environmentalist company that creates, restores, and preserves ecocentric landscapes for the betterment of the planet. They work at all scales, from large watershed studies to small residential gardens. Their projects are united by an adherence to place-based solutions and a commitment to environmental ethics.

Position Description:

Students will work on existing projects at One Nature and may have the opportunity to develop their own projects.

For an example of the work done by a student last semester, please see:

Cornell Cooperative Extension

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Dutchess County’s (CCEDC) mission is to put knowledge to work in pursuit of economic vitality, ecological sustainability and social well-being. They bring local experience and research based solutions together, helping New York State families and communities thrive in our rapidly changing world. CCEDC programs are developed in direct response to community input, and are based on the most current information available from Cornell and other Land Grant universities from across the nation.

Position Description:

The intern will work on various projects related to the protection of natural resources and the environment in Dutchess County for Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County (CCEDC) Environment Program. This will include work with CCEDC staff and the Dutchess County Environmental Management Council on updating the 2012 Dutchess County State of the Environment Report.

BQ Energy, LLC

BQ Energy was created in 2002 specifically to develop wind energy facilities on brownfield sites. BQ Energy was among the first to realize this new market and has successfully developed projects such as the Steel Winds facility in Lackawanna, NY and others. In 2008, BQ Energy expanded its work to develop solar photovoltaic projects, which have been focused mostly on brownfields and community landfills.

Cary Institute

The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies is one of the world’s leading independent environmental research organizations. Areas of expertise include disease ecology, forest and freshwater health, climate change, urban ecology, and invasive species.

Studies by their scientists have been instrumental in informing the Clean Air Act, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and environmental management practices throughout the Northeast, including the Hudson River, New York’s Catskill and Adirondack forests, and the watershed of Baltimore, Maryland.


Do you think you might be interested in engaging in experiential Independent Work with faculty in the lab, the field, or in the community? The Grand Challenges Program can help connect you with faculty whose area of expertise and interests are connected to yours. The GC program can also help fund your project (funding is available through an application process). For more information on how to identify faculty to work with, or for funding details, please contact

Leadership Opportunities

Interested in helping foster an inclusive and equitable community in the sciences and math at Vassar? Consider joining the student Catalyst group to pursue work that helps make Vassar a place where all can thrive. Consider participating in one of our Catalyst programs to support students in science and math classes, such as our Catalytic Cafe program that brings faculty and students together outside the classroom to talk about their experiences at Vassar and in life. Or our Science Fellows program that supports students taking Chemistry 121 and Calculus 121. Or join the Student Teacher Engaged Pedagogical Partnership (STEPP) program jointly organized with EPI, a semester-long partnership between a professor and a student centered on teaching and learning. If you are interested in joining, please contact or