Kokua 2015

Waikoloa Dryland Forest, January 2015

Waikoloa Dryland Forest, January 2015

Aloha kakou `Ohana,

Do you recognize Waikoloa Forest in the photo above?  All that green is the work of your hands.  Mahalo for all you have done – for the `aina, and for your Kumu Pa`a I Ka `Aina `Ohana – now, and in the future.  For those of you writing letters in support of Kumu Pa`a I Ka `Aina, I want you to know that your voice is joined by many others.  Some of those letters are below; enjoy, reminisce, be inspired, write!

Mahalo nui loa,


From Keren Bitan, ʻOhana 2013:

Dear Dean Lance Collins,

My name is Keren Bitan, and I am an alumna of the Kuma Pa’a Ika ‘Aina program (2013) through EES. It has been brought to my attention that funding may be withdrawn from the program. I am writing to tell you my experience, and hopefully illustrate for you and the department how important the Sustainability Semester program is for Cornell University.

I learned more in the 4 months I spent completing the Sustainability semester than I did in my previous 2.5 years at Cornell. I learned about earth systems, sustainability, cultural conflicts, communal living, and myself. We learned through experiences, and this method of teaching proved to be immensely valuable.

The Hawaiian islands provide a unique, rare classroom. As the islands are created over a hot spot and then gradually drift, we are able to see a microcosm of earth’s evolution through exploring the islands in succession. Hawai’i Island, the newest island, showcases ferns colonizing lifeless basalt, magma spewing from Kiluea, dryland forests struggling to persist. Experiencing Maui and Kaui’i in chronological order provided a clear picture of the colonization succession, erosion, and life cycle of our earth. The marine life is abundant and paints both a beautiful picture and bleak warning regarding the changes our ocean is experiencing. The courses I experienced through the Sustainability Semester were like no other, not only did we have the amazing opportunity to see with our own eyes what textbooks can only try to explain, our instructors are unparalleled.

Professors Moore, Harvell, Greene, Churchill, Derry and visiting lecturers Steve Kluge, Lehua and Noenoe Wong Wilson worked tirelessly to provide classes that could only be described as an art form.  The timing of each lecture, field trip, group discussion, melded together seamlessly to provide an experience that can barely be described- it was beautiful educational craftsmanship. I took many classes at Cornell, graduated Summa cum laude- I explored many different professors and took classes in a variety of subject areas, I would absolutely say the best courses I took were the ones taught by my professors in the Sustainability Semester.

The Sustainability Semester provided us the opportunity to learn from two native Hawaiian women, and become immersed in a culture that is struggling to survive. The Hawaiian culture is ancient, intricate, complex, and I felt extremely lucky to experience the parts I did. There is no other way I would have gotten the perspective, understanding, and deep appreciation for a culture as historical and unique without the Sustainability Semester. Through years of building relationships, Professor Moore has created a trusting bond between the program and the Hawaiians we work with, to understand each others cultures and build mutual respect. Part of building respect and living up to our name as the Sustainability Semester was engaging in hours of restoring native plants through planting thousands of trees, running wild pigs out of an enclosure, and starting seedlings in our garden for transplanting to endangered dryland forests. We truly lived the principle of ‘Malama ‘aina’ (take care of our land).

The semester was built upon core values derived from the Hawaiian language. The ones I resonated with most were, ‘Malama ‘aina’, ‘kuleana’ (respect) and ‘aloha’ (more than just hello, and love, this meant I see you, I recognize you are there and I am here and we are in this world together). We also were taught the phrase ‘malama pono’ or to take care of being righteous and just. The course did not just speak these words, rather we lived these principles. In our course work, in our community experiences, in our commitment to making the islands, our ‘ohana (family) and the earth more healthy because of our existence.

Three years after my experience in Hawai’i with the Sustainability Semester I still reflect on lessons I learned, places I saw, and people who have become like family to me. I cannot imagine my Cornell experience without the Sustainability Semester, as it was truly a pillar of what made my education great. Cornell is an amazing place because you allow programs like these to flourish, and by doing so you enable a new generation of aware, knowledgeable, kind individuals to go out into the world and make it a better place. Please do not remove the opportunity for future Cornellians to have the life changing experience I had. By funding this program you are not just providing for one institution, one group or place, but rather you are positively affecting millions of people, places, and interactions that will ripple out from Kumu Pa’a Ika ‘Aina.

I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this, and I hope if you have questions you will get in touch with me. I know with the continued support of people like yourself, Cornell will remain a place where students can come to grow into individuals who will change the world for the better. The Sustainability Semester will always remain a bedrock for my growth, and I am forever indebted to the insightful individuals who created the program, and support its existence.

Kind regards,

From Abby Kelly, `Ohana 2015:

Dear Dean Collins,

I am not a Cornell student, but I was lucky enough to participate in the Hawai`i Sustainability Semester run by Professor Alex Moore. It was an incredible educational experience, and I am shocked and horrified that Cornell is considering no longer supporting this exceptional program.

I came from Williams College, another top tier institution. I am a geoscience major with an interest in how ecosystems of Earth’s past have responded to climatic change. Professor Phoebe Cohen, an alum of both Cornell and the Hawai`i program, is my advisor at Williams and she recommended I look into the program. In her words, her experience in Hawai`i with Alex was what put her on the path to being the successful paleontologist and professor that she is today. I was the program’s very first grand-student!

The Hawai`i Program is worth your continued support for many, many reasons, and I hope to summarize the ones that were most important to me here. First and foremost, it is an extraordinary academic experience. Kumu Alex and the other professors that are part of the program do an incredible job blending field experience (especially valuable for students of the earth sciences) with lectures and volunteer learning. A typical day involves a field trip to somewhere interesting (e.g., hiking along fossilized sand dunes on Kaua`i, and WOW! seeing two monk seals, one of the most endangered marine mammal in the world! Pause here to get an impromptu lecture from a volunteer about their conservation efforts) and grouping up for the morning lecture (Kumu hands out binders filled with the “slide show” and we whip out our trusty rite-in-the-rain field notebooks. Today’s topic: fossil dunes! The shelly sand from past interglacial periods has been cemented together along the coast). Next, we take out our field equipment—GPS, Brunton compass, sunscreen—and collect data (measuring the tilt of the ancient dunes). After we return to home base, we’ll pool the data and work on the homework assignment (In this case, we used the tilt of the ancient dunes to reconstruct wind patterns, and from there, what the dominant weather systems were). I cannot stress enough how valuable this field experience is for students of earth science. Most graduate schools require field experience, and Williams, as a small school, does not offer a program. I was incredibly lucky to find out about the Hawai`i program, and incredibly lucky that it blended field experience with such academically rigorous course work.

Second, the program teaches Sustainability the real way, by living it. Cornell as an institution is aware of the importance of Sustainability: to quote from your website,

As one of the world’s leading universities, Cornell University has a pivotal role to play. We have a responsibility both to reduce our contribution to climate change and to generate solutions to address the mounting impacts on our planet.

Part of that solution, and probably the most important part, is educating future leaders. The Hawai`i program excels at this. The program itself is carbon neutral. Every molecule of carbon dioxide emitted as a result of the program, as students fly in from all over the world, eat food shipped from the mainland, and drive around the island every day, is accounted for. And every molecule is offset by planting native trees (double win here, as students help restore valuable and endangered ecosystems). Students are intimately involved with this process: we got our hands dirty with the actual tree planting, and also calculated our own carbon footprint and how much carbon was sequestered by the trees we planted. Throughout the program, we also met with people organizing sustainable solutions in other fields and learned about their work. The final month of the program provides an additional opportunity to get involved through an internship experience.

Third, the program gracefully weaves in a cultural understanding of Hawai`i. The history of Hawai`i was unfamiliar to me: I didn’t know that the United States illegally annexed this island nation. I didn’t know Native Hawaiians were punished for speaking their language until recently, or that many of their lands have been stolen, first by plantations, now by resorts. Just as in the rest of the United States (and the world), there is a rich history of oppression and colonialism. We learned about this history and current cultural issues of Hawai`i through an incredible network of people that Kumu Alex has met over the years. Kumu is an incredible science professor, but I think her greatest strength, and the greatest strength of the program, is how closely it is tied to people who live in Hawai`i, and whose families have lived in Hawai`i for generations. I think this is an accomplishment that many other study-abroad programs struggle with and have yet to achieve. I came out of the program with a much deeper understanding of conflicts between native cultures and western capitalism. This understanding is valuable for me as a person, but also for me as a scientist, for science often forgets these human interactions.

In summary, the Hawai`i program is a truly unique program that fully educates its students, both in science and in difficult social issues that are among important to understand and address in the modern world. Although I am not from Cornell, I believe your institution is incredibly lucky to have this program—I certainly was. It is more than worth your continued support. I wish you luck.


Abby Kelly

Williams College `16

From Catherine Kim, ʻOhana 2010 & PA 2013:

Dear Dean Collins,

I am saddened to hear that the College of Engineering is choosing to end support of the Hawai‘i Earth and Environmental Sustainability Semester (EES) Program.  As a former student in 2010, the learning experience I gained through this semester was the educational highlight of my Cornell degree.

Following graduation, I worked for Professor Drew Harvell managing her NSF Research Coordination Network grant in the Ecology of Infectious Marine Disease, and worked on associated research projects.  This instrumental period led me to my current position as a PhD student at the University of Queensland, Australia, in the world-renown Coral Reef Ecosystems laboratory under Professors Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Sophie Dove.  Additionally, I am a XL Catlin Oceans Scholar, as a part of the XL Catlin Seaview Survey taking photographic global baselines of coral reefs for research and the underwater ‘Google Streetview’ equivalent in Google Oceans.

Catherine Kim - surveying coral reefs on a scooter for the XL Catlin Seaview Survey Maldives expedition.

Catherine Kim – surveying coral reefs on a scooter for the XL Catlin Seaview Survey Maldives expedition.

I would not be where I am today without the experience I gained through the EES semester in Hawai‘i.  Snorkeling out on the reefs of Mau’u Mae and Puakō, I learned my first corals and conducted my first coral transects during the marine course with Professor Harvell.  I later conducted research on the prevalence and severity of coral disease and potential sewage pollution in Puakō through her laboratory, a study that has now been submitted for publication.  In 2013, I was fortunate enough to be an EES Program Assistant, where I assisted in teaching students field methods in marine and terrestrial environments.

The knowledge and skills I acquired were only a few of the benefits the program offers.  The daily interaction in both teaching and non-academic settings with Cornell professors was invaluable.  On campus the average class size is over 100 students and getting to know my EES professors on an intellectual and personal level, in the field, over meals, in the van, manifested itself in letters of recommendation that were no doubt influential in getting a competitive internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, small grants, employment at Cornell, and current graduate program.

The EES program changed the way I think about and view the world in a way that no other course on campus has even come close.  As an alumna, I see no point in financially contributing to a Cornell that does not maintain this program.  The community is small, but I am sure I am not alone in how valuable I feel this program has been to me.

Thank you for your time and I hope you will consider supporting the EES semester within the College of Engineering.


Catherine Kim

PhD Student | XL Catlin Oceans Scholar

From Nathan Greene, ʻOhana 2013 & PA 2015:

Dear Dean Collins,

My name is Nathan Greene. I am a 2015 graduate from Cornell University. Three years ago I participated in the Cornell EES Hawai‘i Field Program. Two years ago I returned to Hawai‘i to work with two local nonprofits (The Nature Conservancy and The Kohala Center) that frequently associate with the program. Finally, this past year, I served as a Program Assistant for the EES Program. To say that this program changed my life would be inadequate. It taught me to take control of my life. To say that it merely enriched my Cornell experience would be deeply ironic. It was my formative college experience. To say that it delivered anything less than educational excellence would be a travesty. It defined educational excellence, for me. The Cornell EES Field Program provided a more effective, more meaningful, and more rigorous academic environment than I ever experienced on campus, it taught me the value of a real education in a real world setting, and it gave me the intellectual tools to apply that education to my life. I implore you to protect this vital program.

While I was at Cornell, I studied a variety of subjects. When I studied engineering, I learned math; I solved problems, and joined project teams. When I studied psychology and statistics, I learned the scientific method; I was trained to observe human behavior and quantify thought. When I studied chemistry, communications, hospitality–subjects taught in all different colleges–I learned, and gained new knowledge. However, I rarely applied it. While I was a student, I was almost never given the opportunity to make an impact outside the Cornell Bubble to the people living and working on real problems, in real places. I was a student of numbers, words, books, rather than experience. The Cornell EES Hawai‘i Field Program changed that.

The EES Field Program integrates classes, work, and community into an immersive lifestyle where students can learn, contribute, and build relationships in the environment around them. In the first class (EAS 3400) students learn via in depth lectures and scientific study outdoors, in the field. Hawai‘i is home to the most diverse array of terrestrial biomes on the planet, and Professor Alex Moore takes students to unique lecture locations every day to take full advantage of the class’s setting. We learned about volcanic geology on volcanoes, about evolutionary biology in tropical rainforests, and about the water cycle in oceans. Our world was our classroom. The course culminates with an in depth ecological succession study that examines geological and biological data collected during class and from the 10+ years that Moore has been running the program. This gives students the opportunity to complete an intensive scientific study, and to make a meaningful contribution to future generations. However, in the EES Field Program, students don’t just learn in class. During the semester, they live together in a cooperative house where they cook, clean, and work as a team to foster sustainable living. We bought local and organic food to cut CO2 Emissions, grew vegetables our own garden, and planted trees to offset the overall programs Carbon Footprint. This structure provides students with the extraordinary opportunity to apply the principles they learn about in class to their everyday lives. Finally, the EES Field Program gives students unprecedented access to Hawaiian Culture. Professor Moore has built a large network of teachers, caretakers and Cultural Practitioners to bring students into contact with the cultural setting around them. We learned about native sovereignty from decorated Hawaiian scholars, we learned about Hawaiian food preparation in traditional farms and cooking areas, and we helped repair cultural landmarks when they were damaged by storms. This dynamic approach allows students to build a unique relationship with the people and the place they’re learning about.

The Cornell EES Field Program revolutionized the way I thought about education. It challenged me to think deeply–not just about what I was learning–but also about how it applied to my life. I was able to academically engage with diverse classes, interested peers, and a unique living environment all structured around the same theme. The Cornell EES Field Program taught me to synthesize my academic experiences. I was able to use my engineering skills to help design and repair an irrigation system; I used my Social Science skills to develop a millennial engagement plan for The Kohala Center; I used my ability to write to publish environmental articles with The Nature Conservancy. Most importantly, the Cornell EES Field Program welcomed me into a community where I could make meaningful contributions to a program that expands every year. A program that expands with new students–who benefit from the reputation built by their predecessors. A program that expands with new colleagues–scientists, cultural practitioners, and environmentalists–who work with, teach and learn from Cornell students. Finally, a program that expands with new knowledge–a decade long ecological succession project and other environmental data sets–that is used to inform class work, senior theses, and published scientific papers.

The Cornell EES Field Program was honored with the Hawaiian name Kumu Pa‘a I Ka Aina. This translates to ‘to learn and teach from the land’. The program was recognized in this way for its focus on environmentalism and sustainable practices, for its dedication to academic integrity and excellence, and for its contributions to the local community. Without your protection, Cornell will lose this vital resource.

I implore you to help.


Nathan Greene

From Jon Doty, ʻOhana 2013:

I am writing this in response to news I have heard, that Cornell Engineering wishes to end their support of the Hawai’i EES Field Program. This letter serves as my testament to the supreme multi-discipline learning environment that has been created, in the hopes that they reconsider, or that some other mutually beneficial relationship be created to help this program continue and grow.
Along my path throughout life and education there have been myriad twists and turns, bumpy patches, straightaways, and other road-based life metaphors. I encountered Alex Moore’s Earth and Environmental Systems Sustainability Semester during my last year of my undergraduate degree. Around then I was finally realizing that I wasn’t that interested in the art history degree towards which I was rapidly approaching, and that I was damn tired of living in Boston (as an aside, I did not attend Cornell, but rather Boston University). I sought advice from an earth science professor, who suggested the program, I did some cursory research, ran the financials (couldn’t afford it – what is the deal with college prices these days?) and one run-on sentence later was aboard a plane to Hawai’i, enjoying a complimentary Mai Tai.
What I got over the next four months was quite substantial.
College education these days seems to be mostly valued as vocational training. Speaking as a graduate of the humanities, my degree has so far earned me this question: “What do you plan to do [job-wise] with that?” While I agree that marketable skills and career-oriented education should be a focus of higher education, I detest the thought that it be the only focus. The job of college, in my opinion, supersedes ANY singular focus. Provide an environment where students are up to their neck in diversity (of people, activities, ideas, etc.), speech is free, hard work is valued, history has weight, and questions are equally important as answers.
Colleges that I have experienced attempt to force this diversity upon their students by requiring them to take a few classes outside of their major. While this elicits groans and bellyaching among students (myself included), I see real benefit in pressing students to “broaden their horizons.” College students are generally somewhere between 18-22 years old. Even if they think they know what they want to be/do/go, I promise you they do not. Comfort and ease seduce many into paths of least resistance, ignorance blindly takes some down the wrong path, day-to-day routines turn into habits turn into lifestyles. For me, by the time I realized I wasn’t quite sure about my degree choice, I was so far into college that the best choice was just to finish up and move on.
What I got from this program was just the quarter-life-crisis-style shake-up that I needed. I got real work experience in a field (figurative not literal) that I grew to love, and am currently finishing my advanced degree in. I lived with my peers – not in a dorm or some crummy off-campus apartment or fraternity house – truly lived. I saw the traits in them and myself that I valued, and those that evoked distaste and shame. Together, we analyzed the trajectory of the landscape and population of our island home through social and ecological histories. That more than anything I appreciated. Knowing the plants, animals, geology, climate, and stories of a place creates respect and passion for your home, and evokes true patriotism – not its jingoist doppleganger that is so common today. I worked WITH, not under, preeminent scientists conducting research projects that had actual impact. I worked with people to both erase the ecological and social scars that human interventions had caused upon Hawai’i and its people, and also to highlight the events and aspects of human intervention that had benefited the island. The raw and young island that we lived on is an ideal classroom to teach the art of decoding and understanding the natural environment: what processes have occurred to create the land, build the soils, populate the ecological communities?
I write this letter purely for selfish reasons. I want the next generation of professionals, policymakers, parents, and people to act with these skills. I want them to understand that humans leave a very recognizable footprint upon the world, and that through hard work and careful attention, that footprint need not be a negative one. I want them not to bury the mistakes of the past but to confront them. I want them to know and love their natural environment. I want them to value creativity and problem solving.
I want them to have the chance to attend this program and to gain elements and teachings that I may have missed while I was there.
-Jon Doty
From Christie Hilliard, ʻOhana 2014:

Dear Dean Collins,

With my deepest sincerity, I want to tell you a little bit about my time spent on the Hawaiian Islands with the EES Field Semester Program. Professor Alexandra Moore, or ‘Kumu’, as us students liked to call her after learning a bit of the Hawaiian language, broadened my horizons in a manner I never knew was possible before those four months we spent nestled in the heart of a place where science, nature, and culture all intersect.

Upon departing for my semester in the Pacific, I was beyond thrilled to experience this new place and excited to learn from the environment it sustains. Having had a class with Kumu Moore back on campus, I knew that my learning experience was sure to be vast and hands-on. This philosophy alone was the heart of the reason I chose to attend Cornell in the first place—to feed my desire to learn. The experience I was met with was that and so much more.

Of the countless scenarios that stay with me from this program, one in particular stands out and really emphasizes the profound impact this program had on me—the day we spent in the Pololu Valley. Our task was to complete a trail-mapping hike down to the shore, but my experience expanded far beyond that. The overlook of the northeastern coast was not only an astounding view, but also a great example of the diversity of the ʻāina (land). The environment really came alive for me this day. The trail carved steeply down the valley, reaching a black sand beach on the ocean with steep, cascading cliffs. Learning and doing in a place like this reminded me how connected I am to the Earth. To top the whole day off, I had my first experience hearing humpback whales singing underwater. As an animal science and marine biology student who has dedicated so much of myself to the study of marine mammals, it was absolutely amazing way to end a day in the field. All in all, this experience, as well as many others throughout the islands, has created in me a deeply rooted respect for the land.

The EES Field Program in Hawaii is the most treasured and beneficial experience I have had in my lifetime. “Kumu pa’a i ka ‘aina” is the Hawaiian name bestowed upon our program, a gift from a Hawaiian elder that shared her knowledge and passion with us while on our journey. It means, “knowledge and understanding that comes from the land.” Each and every day, around every corner, there was more to see and do. We learned to live at harmony with the land that taught us, planting trees and composting to counteract our carbon footprint. We learned about the culture of its people, deepening our understanding of every facet of the land. My time in the EES Field Program with my Hawaii ‘ohana (family) has changed me as a person- I stand stronger in my values, I have a greater passion for life than I have ever known, and my desire to learn has only grown. This experience really resonates with all the promise that Cornell fulfilled for me and so many other students. I am incredibly grateful that I was able to have this opportunity and I humbly ask you to do everything in your power to ensure that students for years to come have this same opportunity.

Thank you so much for your time.


Christie Hilliard

From Mary Reinthal, ʻOhana 2015:

Aloha Dean Collins!

As you may note, I am not a Cornell University student who is wishing you Aloha, but rather a student from the College of Wooster, one of the country’s premier undergraduate research institutes. I write Aloha, as it not only means hello but conveys also feelings of love. While I do not know much about Cornell University, I feel Aloha for a part of your University, and that is the EES field program (Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina). I wish you to know what a difference this program has made in my life.

I am a geology major at the College of Wooster. For several years, I have been fortunate to study pillow lavas and volcanacastics in a lab. I have presented my research at several conferences. But what a difference it makes to be in the field with Kumu (professor) Alexandra Moore! I have never before experienced geology with such vigor and insightfulness. Kumu Alex has so much knowledge and love to offer to every single student!  I was able to get hands-on learning for the first time, and was completely immersed in a program with students and faculty who shared similar passions. Don’t get me wrong, I have done field work, but this program is so much more than that. It solidified my desire to become a researcher because I was able to see not only the scientific nature of study, but also that there is an engaging and important cultural aspect. We need more programs like Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina! Can you imagine if all students (geology, Cornell, or otherwise) were able to attend this program? This would create some of the most intuitive and passionate researchers that could change the world. I do not mean this to sound lofty or fantasy-like. It is true. This program gives so much more than education: it gives back to the Earth and back to the people of Hawaii. My brother attends Brown University and because of my positive experience, he would also like to attend the program. It is contagious, this beauty and knowledge I was able to experience. I hope that there will be a future of others, just like me. Please consider my plea to support this program. It is one of the best experiences I have had.

Sincerely and aloha,

Mary Reinthal

Chris Hein, ʻOhana 2005 and Asst. Professor, Virginia Institute for Marine Science, and Katy Bland, ʻOhana 2013 and Natʻl Fish & Wildlife Service intern, at Plum Island, MA, summer 2015

Chris Hein, ʻOhana 2005 and Asst. Professor, Virginia Institute for Marine Science, and Katy Bland, ʻOhana 2013 and Natʻl Fish & Wildlife Service intern, at Plum Island, MA, summer 2015

From Bennett Kapili, ‘Ohana 2015:

Dear Dean Lance Collins,

My name is Bennett Kapili and I am a senior in CALS studying earth science. I had the privilege of participating in the 2015 Earth and Environmental Systems Sustainability Semester (EES) this past spring, and it breaks my heart to hear the College of Engineering is considering cutting the program’s funding. I want to tell you about my experience in the EES program and hope you will see why this program needs to be supported.

From the academic perspective, the EES program provides unparalleled field experience for a Science of Earth Systems student like myself. The Hawaiian Islands serve as the world’s premier natural laboratory, of which the EES program makes excellent use. Through the program, I was finally able to study the Earth rather than a textbook. To study volcanism dynamics and morphology, we visited Kīlauea; to study the temporal evolution of forest ecosystems we traveled between Hawai`i Island, Maui, and Kaua`i; to study coral reef ecology we snorkeled at numerous coral reefs and developed our own research projects. The EES program encouraged us to learn by doing and not just reading. It is no surprise that the program is also named “Kumu Pa`a i ka `Aina,” which loosely translates to “learn from the land.” I strongly believe the program’s endorsement of active education enormously increased the quality and breadth of my skillset as an aspiring scientist.

During class hikes, I recorded questions that randomly popped into my head, such as, why does this plant grow in this pattern? Or, my favorite, how can the growth of this desiccation-resistant, UV-tolerant lichen be used as an analog for identifying potential life on Mars? Under Professor Moore, I learned how to observe. As simple a skill it may be, it had eluded me until the EES program; no course on campus had taught me how to actually observe like a scientist. The EES program put us outdoors to learn from our environment, to learn by seeing, touching, smelling, listening, doing. And that experience is irreplaceable.

From the cultural perspective, Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina presents a highly unique, highly immersive opportunity to explore the foundations of culture. Native Hawaiian lecturers taught our Hawaiian culture course, which brought first-hand perspectives to the course material. They challenged us to define what makes a culture and how a culture defines a people. Their teachings resonated with me more than I had expected.

As an individual who is half Filipino and a combination of German and Native American, my friends often identify me solely as Filipino. Two weeks prior to my semester in Hawai`i, I visited family in the Philippines for the first time since 1998; my Filipino cousins did not identify me as Filipino, instead they exclusively dubbed me “The American.” I left the Philippines confused about “what I was.”

Through coursework, I explored the definition of culture for the first time. Readings related to the basis of culture helped me understand where others stood on the issue; essay assignments helped me articulate where I stood on the issue. One particular prompt required us to research our family history, and through that assignment, I saw my family tree for the first time. I was able to address my cousins’ questioning and I became more comfortable having a multiethnic background that spanned many seas. To me, our class on Hawaiian culture was much more than a class; it truly stimulated self-discovery.

In addition to introspective assignments, we learned a dizzying amount of Hawaiian practices: we learned traditional cooking techniques, lei-making, chanting, and hula. In the program’s culminating event, we held a hula performance for the friends and mentors we had made during the program. I will not forget the energy, emotion, and above all, the pride that I felt when we finished our performance and saw our guests and friends beaming back at us.  They no longer viewed us as students from the mainland, but rather we were part of their community. The EES program integrated raw, immersive Hawaiian culture into the program, and we became integrated into the local community in return.

And if the academic and cultural elements were not enough, the EES program is a carbon neutral program. We recorded and offset all of our program’s carbon emissions from air and car travel, food consumption, and electricity and gas usage. To offset emissions, we outplanted thousands (yes, actually thousands) of native Hawaiian trees and shrubs. Through an internship I held on the Island, I was able to help the Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project on a three-day outplanting excursion. During those three days, we planted over 2,000 trees and shrubs. I am incredibly proud to say I helped uphold Cornell’s recent pledge to champion environmental stewardship.

To me, the Sustainability Semester was much more than an academic program. As an undergraduate studying earth science, it was the field experience my education desperately needed. As an individual with a multiethnic background, it was the opportunity for me to ask what defines culture and how a culture defines me. As one of the countless young individuals who will be tasked with solving tomorrow’s environmental crisis, it was the opportunity for me to lead an eco-conscious lifestyle. I am not alone when I say this program shattered every expectation I had. The Sustainability Semester will undoubtedly be my most meaningful Cornell experience.

When I look back on my time at Cornell, of course I will think of the memories I made on the hill; but I will equally think of the three months I spent on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by some of the best professors and students I knew.

I will remember my nervousness upon arrival. I will remember the wonder of watching the sunrise from near the peak of Haleakalā and the beautiful silence of a bustling coral reef. I will remember the thrill of leading “A Hilo Au” during our hula. I will remember the difficult goodbyes and the van ride to the airport and not wanting to leave. All of this I will undoubtedly remember. I can only hope future students will have the chance to say the same.

Thank you,

Bennett Kapili
Cornell University ’16

From Mary Rutz, ʻOhana 2010, PA 2013:

Dear Dean Lance Collins,

Happy Fall Semester!

I trust that this is a very busy time for you, but I ask that you please take just a few moments to read this letter entirely. This is important!

My name is Mary Rutz and I’m writing to strongly encourage you to continue to support the Earth and Environmental Systems Sustainability Semester in Hawai’i. I’m a Cornell University alumna (2012) with a degree in Natural Resources and a minor in Marine Biology. I am an alumna of the EES field program (2010), and was the Program Assistant for the 2013 EES semester in Hawai’i. Like many of our alumni, I have stayed deeply rooted in this program and its ever-growing community, and remain invested in its success.

There is no doubt from anyone who has connected with this program that it is unique, exceptional, and a truly invaluable opportunity that Cornell provides for its students. We believe that it is indispensable.

Please allow me to tell you why, in the hope that you will become verklempt with inspiration and find motivation to do everything in your power to ensure the longevity of the EES program. : )

This program offers outstanding, rich education. Structured around projects, research, and internships, ideas are bolstered and solidified by experiential learning. To call it hands-on would be an understatement. Text-book, classroom material is integrated into in-the-field observation, experimentation, data collection, and cultural study. Indigenous knowledge is studied alongside modern scientific practice. Ideas don’t just stick, they permeate.

It’s like cross-fit training, except for the brain, and the senses, and the imagination. Bam!

Students develop lasting, fruitful relationships with professors, mentors, and locals. The smaller student-to-professor ratio fosters connections that continue to build back on campus. After studying with these professors in Hawai’i, I worked in their lab for the next two years, managed their lab aquarium, and worked with them on independent research. They also fought to get me a full scholarship to participate in a continuing education semester with the Sea Education Association, and they all continue to advocate on my behalf.

All of them.I am not an exception. My fellow students also continue to benefit from these extraordinary educators.

Thinking back on my Cornell college tour, it occurs to me that these were the kind of relationships I had hoped to form in college. I did, but I found them only through this program.

Not only are students immersed in accelerated learning through diverse media, but they live, study, work and play as a community; this is a rewarding but challenging environment. Students learn to balance very busy schedules: exhausting field-work, often camping or traveling, long days spent working on short and long term, group, and independent school work—all at the same time! Among the many lessons learned, time management looms large.Students, faculty, and staff collectively assume the responsibilities of group living. How many college programs, on- or off-campus, engage students in cooking for thirty, cleaning up after others, gardening, learning to make music together, dancing hula (push those comfort zones!), and making sure everyone is getting out the door by 6:30 a.m. with lunches, field gear, and sunscreen? This program teaches its students how to be engaged and helpful while participating in all aspects of community living.

Have I convinced you yet? Wait! There’s more.

It’s clear that this semester is invaluable to a group of students, but its impact reaches far beyond this student body. Throughout the semester students discover the immense importance of reciprocity, an idea emphasized in Hawaiian culture. As a program, tremendous effort is made to volunteer in several capacities:

We volunteer island-wide through organizations, schools, community groups, and Hawaiian families;
-we restore native forests through outplanting, removal of invasive weeds, nursery care, seed collection, etc.;
-we remove marine debris from coral reefs and beaches;
-we care for and perpetuate some of the world’s rarest plants;
-we set dams to mitigate erosion in order to restore and protect watersheds;
-we help build and maintain a traditional voyaging canoe to help preserve native Hawaiian culture;
-we educate tourists about minimizing their impact.

The list goes on. We’re talking about THOUSANDS of hours of volunteer work here, which many non-profit organizations rely on. Here are just some of the groups that we collaborate with:

Forest restoration: Ka`upulehu Dryland Forest, North Kona Dryland Forest Working Group, Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative, Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
Cultural enrichment: Makali`i voyaging canoe, Na Kalai Wa`a Moku o Hawai`i
Watershed management: Pelekane Bay Watershed, Kohala Watershed Partnership
Invasive species control: Koke`e State Park, Koke`e Resource Conservation Program, Hui o Laka
Reef conservation and education: Kahalu`u Bay, ReefTeach and Citizen Science

The EES field program is named the Sustainability Semester because we are the only carbon-neutral field program in the country and the only carbon-neutral program of any kind at Cornell.  As a signatory to the University Presidents Climate Commitment, President Skorton committed Cornell to a leadership role in greenhouse gas reductions and climate neutrality.  For us this commitment isn’t just words; we live it every day, and spend a considerable amount of our time ensuring that we are carbon-neutral.  We quantify our carbon footprint, we reduce CO2 emissions wherever possible (e.g., by composting/recycling 75% of our waste, sourcing ~50% of our food from organic and/or local growers), and the emissions we cannot eliminate we offset through reforestation of native Hawaiian ecosystems.

At the same time that we, a group of college kids, zero out our carbon emissions, we work to pull species back from the brink of extinction.


Through this experience, students observe what can be done as global citizens, how to change their own lives, and how to be mindful, productive, and responsible in a time when global behavior needs to change. What other program acknowledges and lives up to the responsibility we all have as individuals and as a global community to actively steward the earth and its occupants?

I don’t doubt that other exchange and study abroad programs have powerful effects on their students, but we leave with more than a photo album, more than a few friends we’ll keep in touch with every once in a while. We are building a growing family: a skillful, knowledgeable, experienced, task force of stewards.

My Sustainability Semester was my greatest Cornell experience. The following two years on campus were absolutely influenced by my time spent in Hawai’i. The EES program was the reason I chose to focus on marine sciences, and influenced the trajectory I’m on now. The program connected me to the ocean, revealed to me the need for marine research, facilitated my introduction to research at sea, linked me to the network of research vessels, and led me to licensing needed to work for NOAA’s research vessel fleet.

With so many of Cornell’s institutional priorities incorporated into our curriculum–carbon neutrality, outreach and service learning, sustainability, and diversity among others–it seems to me that program costs are returned on many levels, many times over. Our program delivers sustainability, but it is unsustainable without the support of those whose decisions make or break student and research opportunities.

How many programs on or off campus, compare to this?

Aren’t you saying to yourself, “I wish I could do that”? Well, maybe we can work something out to accommodate you 😉 But in the mean time, you CAN make it possible for future students to enrich their college experience and education by keeping this program available. Commit to excellence, commit to this program.

I am very grateful for your attention to this matter, and I thank you for your time. Please let me know if I can answer any questions, or help in any way to move forward with this.


Mary Rutz

EES Program Assistant 2013
B.S. Natural Resources 2012
EES `Ohana 2010

From Caroline Prybyl, ʻOhana 2015

Mr. Lance Collins,

It has come to my attention that the College of Engineering does not wish to support the EES Field Program any longer. This news comes as shock, especially to me and the others who just participated in the program last Spring.

I think that this program can be challenging to understand if you don’t actually experience it yourself. Whenever someone says “Hawaii” we automatically associate it with white sand beaches, getting a tan, and lazily sipping a drink out of a coconut. I had this mindset not that long ago, before I discovered the hidden gem that is the ESS Field Program.

This program gave me a semester I couldn’t have gotten any other way, literally. It was my last chance to have an experience outside of the typical classroom setting that is offered on campus. After changing my major, it seemed unlikely that I’d ever have time to get the “abroad” experience. The ESS Program, however, was approved for my major and every second there would count towards furthering my degree. This can’t be said for many of other off campus programs.

This is the reason why I chose to attend the program, but this is not the reason that I passionately write this letter to you today. Although the academic credits are valuable (and you earn every single one of them, believe me), the knowledge I gained about nature, the world we live in, and ultimately myself was more rewarding than any grade or credit could be. The following are a few pictures from my experience. Between planting trees in threatened habitats to getting hands on experience in our classes, this is just a small sample of our day to day life on the big island.

Every day I was mentally, physically, and maybe even emotionally challenged. This semester was more than I could have ever expected out of any semester at Cornell. I was put to the test in ways that I could have never predicted, but that was part of what made this semester unique and exciting. The things I learned and the memories I made during this program will always be will me. So for these reasons, from the bottom of my heart, I ask you to consider all that will be lost if the support to the EES program does not continue.


Caroline Prybyl, Cornell University Class of 2016

From Alexandra Simpson, ʻOhana 2012, PA ʻ2014:

Dean Collins,

I am a Coastal & Ocean Engineering graduate student at Oregon State University, studying in one of the most well-respected Ocean Renewable Energy degree programs in the world. I owe the majority of my success to the rigor, professionalism, and diversity of the Cornell engineering department, from which I graduated in 2013. For this, I want to sincerely thank you for carrying on the academic tradition.

However, it would be incomplete to thank the engineering department without mentioning one crucial component: the EES Field Semester in Hawai’i, fondly a.k.a. Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina (Learning That Comes From the Land). This semester was, more certain than F=ma, the most formative 6 months of my life. It is rare to find a university that hosts such an academic experience, one capable of single handedly forming a student’s academic foundations, professional goals, and personal strengths. This is why I was confused and saddened to learn it is losing support from Cornell’s administration. In this letter I would like to summarize the tangible strengths Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina has given me. I put time into writing this letter because I believe in the power of the program to change lives, and I hope you will consider the possibility of allowing the program to continue to do so.

Academic Opportunities

As a student of Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina, I was given an incredible number of opportunities to grow as an engineer and scientist. The instructors Dr. Alexandra Moore and Dr. Lou Derry host a range of experimental learning that, as I’m finding in my furthered studies, was closer to the level of graduate degree curriculum than undergraduate. Alex and Lou put an incredible amount of time and thought into finding every learning opportunity on the islands of Hawaii, Maui and Kauai. For example, they have scouted nearly every geologic outcrop on major highways such that even the drive to our field site had learning opportunity pit stops. The diversity of field experiments on the islands is vast, and Lou and Alex cover in-depth topics ranging from volcanoes to coral reefs (Mauka to Makai as we say in Hawaiian). Many of the lessons the islands have to teach cannot be read in a textbook. For example, how is a student supposed to truly understand the biogeochemical processes of lava turning into soil without feeling the materials, taking samples, and doing their own lab experiments? How is a student supposed to learn to identify (and protect) hundreds of endangered species from upstate New York? How is a student supposed to become an environmental steward without planting the trees and removing the invasives with their own hands?

Professional Opportunities

Immediately upon graduating from Cornell I was hired as an entry-level Engineer for Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC), the first group to put tidal energy onto the grid in the US.  I was told a few months into the job that the reason I was hired was because on top of my engineering degree, I had interest and education in physical oceanography, and concern for environmental impacts. These are vital traits in the emerging field of ocean renewable energy, and rarely taught in traditional engineering coursework. I am so grateful to Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina for not only teaching these strongly practical lessons, but also for rooting in me the passion I have for such globally important subjects. Throughout my job at ORPC I was asked frequently to perform field work because my boss knew I had the necessary experience. Specifically, during our Oceanography course in Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina, we collected acoustic recordings using a hydrophone on a zodiac boat. At ORPC, I was fully prepared when asked to lead a boat full of lobstermen in collecting a similar type of acoustic data. I would not have felt confident, a 22-year-old, recently graduated female engineer, in working with a group of experienced and salty fishermen had I not been predisposed to the science and engineering principles.

Personal Opportunities

One of the requirements of other schools within the university (I’m thinking of CALS specifically) is a “cultural studies” type of course. I don’t mean to argue that this should be a requirement of engineering students, as we have plenty of other courses to fill up our time, but the personal-growth benefit to taking a course in humanities is vast. The typical age of a college student is, say, 18-22: the years I believe one calibrates the moral compass that will guide them through their personal AND professional lives. There is no better way to learn about morals, ethics, and altogether human compassion than through the Hawaiian culture. Textbooks can provide stories of these lessons, and we did read from many of them. However the true path to understanding another culture is through human connection. In Hawaii, the path is through the sharing of aloha. There are lifetimes worth of knowledge to learn from native Hawaiians. However, not many people are blessed enough to be taught them. The relationship Alex Moore has cultivated with the Kohala center and many native Hawaiians across the island is to be treasured. As a student, we were often told “even locals don’t get to do this.” And, it’s true. Visiting other parts of the island, you realize that Alex Moore has created an environment of immense trust, and her students are given an extremely rare inlet to the hearts of some very powerful and immensely special native Hawaiians. The lessons they have taught me have directed my moral compass towards strength, compassion, integrity, humbleness, and pure aloha. This is a true gift; the best I may have ever been given and I will work my entire life to deserve it.

Mahalo nui loa (thank you so, so much) for reading my words. I hope that you can do something to help our beloved Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina!

Alexandra Simpson

College of Engineering, class of ‘13

Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina, class of ‘12

Program Assistant for Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina ’14

Alex Simpson, Oregon State University, evaluates deployment sites for Wave Energy Converters (WECs)

Alex Simpson, Oregon State University, evaluates deployment sites for Wave Energy Converters (WECs)

From Talia Chorover, ʻOhana 2012:

Dear Dean Collins,

I am heartbroken to hear that the EES program may lose its funding from the Cornell College of Engineering. I am writing to tell of my personal experience with this program, Kumu Pa’a I Ka ‘Aina, and to ask you to please reconsider your decision to end your support for this program.
I graduated with degrees in geology and environmental studies from Oberlin College. Although Oberlin provided me with a fantastic education in a number of ways, our geology and environmental studies departments did not have many on- or off-campus field study opportunities. I was extremely fortunate to discover and attend Cornell’s EES program for its world-class experiential education — an education that I could not have found at my own school (or, in my opinion, anywhere else on the planet).
In short, the EES program is a beautiful model not only for environmental education, but for interdisciplinary sustainable living. The program fluidly intertwines cultural, place-based identity with environmental stewardship. It builds connections between human systems and ecosystems, between communities and science. It teaches its students how to create comprehensive worldviews. It serves as a microcosmic model for a sustainable future.
I am sure that Kumu Pa’a I Ka ‘Aina is one of the only programs of its kind. I am forever grateful to Alex Moore, to Cornell University, and to Hawai’i and its many teachers for the depth of knowledge that I gained from this program.
I currently work for the National Park Service as a biological science technician, conducting climate change research on lakes and wetland ecosystems. I can fully claim that without Kumu Pa’a I Ka ‘Aina, I would not be where I am now.
This program means so much to me, and it will mean just as much to those afforded an opportunity to attend in the future. When considering your support for the EES program, please consider its role in shaping compassionate leaders, holistic policy-makers, universal thinkers.
With love,
Talia Chorover
Talia Chorover, Natʻl Park Service, collects high altitude water samples in Miter Basin, Sequoia NP, CA

Talia Chorover, Natʻl Park Service, collects high altitude water samples in Miter Basin, Sequoia NP, CA

From Aubrey Coon, ʻOhana 2015:

Dear Mr. Collins,

Let me introduce myself. My name is Aubrey Coon and I am a senior geoscience major at Hamilton College as well as an alum of Cornell’s Hawai’i Program. I was given limited details on the current state of the program so I will focus on what the program meant to me—why I’m writing this letter instead of revising my thesis proposal that’s due tomorrow on a long bus ride after a hot day of varsity field hockey scrimmages when I could be hanging out with my team or watching the movie that’s blaring in front of me.

I chose and began this program under the same few misconceptions that quickly arise when you tell someone you will be spending the next four months getting college credit in Hawai’i. We occasionally went to the beach during the week—in hiking boots to do field work. We spent a lot of time under the sun—getting out of bed before it rose and returning to home base in time to catch the beautiful sunsets. I learned a lot about the inefficiencies of America’s food system when we had to head to the store after a long day in the field to cook dinner for 20 people. If the islands did not have a ridiculously long c.v. of scientific attractions, there would be strong reason to think they only chose the locale because it’s the only place you can persuade people that days like this might be kind of enjoyable. Difficult, but enjoyable—because of the time, place, people I spent it with as well as the concentration of knowledge I attained in such a short time.

As you probably know, the program’s X-factor is its allowance of in situ learning. We could go outside and experience the subject of all of our lectures. It is learning in context. I understood the implications of this better upon my return to Hamilton this Fall when I felt I could comprehend the first three scientific articles I picked up and more confidence in my answers during class. I did not have to review answers; I reviewed memories.

But more importantly, I returned to Hamilton with much more gusto than that which I left with. I am working with more purpose—more passion—because when you believe in something, such as Kumu Alex Moore so strongly exemplifies, you pursue it with every fiber of your body…and of course, aloha. No career—no matter what area of study your undergrad was in—was ever worked happily without this key piece. I found mine sometime in the four months I spent in this program. It is my hope that you recognize the volume of effort and enthusiasm this program currently floats on, as well as the rarity of knowing a person that enables it to run so smoothly.

I am available for further comment on the program should it be necessary. I greatly appreciate your time and consideration.


Aubrey Coon

From Cansu Culha, ʻOhana 2014:

Dear Dean Lance Collins, Laura Brown, and Marina Markot,

I am Cansu, a PhD Candidate at Stanford University. I wanted to take this time to tell you about Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina, the Hawai’i semester program at Cornell University, and the role the program had on me. I would like to start off by stating that although this is my point of view of the program, I am quite certain it is not unique to me. I believe there are many students who had similar gains through this program, so I am confident that I am speaking for a large group of students.

I am an unconventional student for this program. I did my undergraduate at University of California, Berkeley. I heard about this program through my friends at Cornell University and I knew I had to apply. Going into the program, I was very hesitant. I did not know if it would be the right choice for someone who wanted to continue in academia, but you will see in this letter that it not only was a wonderful learning experience, but it also helped me get to the position I am today: a NSF geophysics fellow at Stanford University. My research is  in modeling Kilauea Iki’s magma chamber using geochemistry and multiphase fluid dynamics. If you let me, I would like to analyze this program in detail to explain how exactly it helped me and is still aiding me today. I learned how to be: confident, critical and creative, resourceful, loving, well rounded, and a professional. I really hope future students will also have the opportunity to gain these skills during their precious time at any university. However, most of these skills are not taught in class, which is unfortunate.

One would imagine students from top universities would not have confidence issue. Some students, like myself, can do well in classes and extracurriculars, yet lack confidence. I did not notice how unconfident I was until after the program in Hawai’i. Prior to Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina, I was afraid to ask questions and I would quickly get lost in lectures. I was afraid to tell my peers I needed help with concepts because I worried about how I would appear (unintelligent). I thought my silly questions were not worthy of their time. Curved classes and exams would make me hate learning and hate the teachers that would put me through them. Whenever someone helped me with anything, I would feel indebted to him/her. In Hawai’i, that all changed. By living with a group of wonderful students and teachers, I became more honest about my abilities. I realized I had certain skills that were unique to me. I asked questions that coincidentally others were thinking as well and when I asked “bad” questions, I realized why they were bad without feeling embarrassed. I brought this confidence back to Berkeley with me. I stopped complaining about my classes and my professors became my role models instead of enemies. I worked harder because I knew what was making me confused in classes and I learned how to use my resources. I started asking questions and most importantly in any field: I started asking good questions. My professors started recommending me to other institutes and professors, and soon I was getting requests to apply to PhD programs at MIT, Harvard, and Brown. I am not saying any of this to brag, rather to prove the importance of confidence, which I acquired during the semester program. Above all, I am mostly excited by the fact that I can now speak with professor without being too nervous and present my knowledge in an elegant manner.

Critical and creative thinking:
We were put in multiple circumstances to think critically. This is a very valuable skill for many scientists and engineers because 1. there are no textbook answers to problems and 2. every story is not true in the real world. I was thinking very critically when I was learning about the history of Hawaiian culture. I was also trying to be creative when solving field geology problems. One of the main focuses of the program is living a sustainable life. This requires a lot of critical thinking and creativity. It begs to question how much one can sacrifice to live sustainably when life has become so easy. This brings up ideas like “risk management” (ex. How do I impact myself versus our planet when I eat meat? Is it worth it?) and morals (ex. Is it right to support a company that sells non-grass fed meat?). For me these concepts are very crucial when making big decisions (like who do I accept my funds from? and how does it govern my research?) and also doing hazard assessment research.

There is not a single field or major that could possibly stand on its own. As a scientist, I collaborate with engineers because my work would be insignificant without their help. I need journalists and writers to effectively communicate my work to the public. These may be tasks that I can do on my own, but a task is completed more efficiently and effectively when I create a community. I learned this in the program, because there were students from various backgrounds! I was talking and learning from marine biologists, engineers, writers, artists, and so many more characters. I learned how to form a community that could help me and I could contribute to as well. Now I can effectively communicate with various people from various backgrounds.
Along with that, I learned how to solve my own problems with the resources I had and learned how to obtain more resources. Each resource, each person, and each class opened many doors for me. During this program, I took my first geochemistry and volcanoes classes. Today, my PhD topic is on the geochemistry of Kilauea Iki, a volcano we visited during the program. Today, my presentations include pictures that I took back then!
I learned that I wanted to close certain doors too. This helped me decide what I wanted to focus on for my higher education. When I was in Hawai’i, I started working for a professor. It was during this internship that I learned I did not want to do a certain type of science. Today, I am working on a topic I feel I am good at and enjoy exploring.

One of my biggest worries about graduation was entering academia and not having enough time for my hobbies. In Waimea, a quiet town on an island, during a very time intensive program, I was able to continue one of my favorite hobbies: dancing. I did not sign up for a class or speak to other dancers in the area, rather Alex Moore introduced us to Uncle Keoki and Aunty Yvonne. I found out they were interested in arts and music. I asked if they would be interested in letting me dance to their music. We ended up creating a wonderful bond and developing a beautiful project together, which we performed at a local restaurant. This encouraged me to continue having a well-rounded life and focusing on the activities I love to do.

Loving is a harder idea to learn and describe. Prior to the program, I made a lot of my decisions based on academic success. Deciding to go on the program was a leap of faith for me: I did not know how this decision would alter my academic career. By taking part in this adventure and making this very large decision, I felt life spark in me. I realized I can be successful in physics while respecting myself- by loving myself, my hobbies, and my friends/family. In the end, this helped me grow into a happier person and a more driven person. This was mainly a result of the community that Alex Moore created in Hawai’i: she spent years establishing a haven for us. We were in a safe loving environment. We were encouraged to make our own friends and take part in activities that we enjoyed: wether it be sailing, dancing, making music, cultural interactions or playing sports. She introduced us to those who would inspire and challenge us. I still e-mail, call, and message the friends I made in Hawai’i. I have a family there waiting for me. Also, not only a family in Hawai’i but one in New York, Maryland, Australia, etc. A family who cares about what I am doing with my life and a family who supports me. And this family makes me love me even more. They help me believe in myself and set higher standards for myself. They make me feel proud. I am proud that they are part of my Ohana.

Overall, these skills and characteristics are crucial for a professional to have. I would not have been prepared as a phd student had I not gained these valuable skills. These are not skills one learns in class. These skills are unique to the program.

This is my overview of the program and why I found it worthwhile. Thank you for your time.
Cansu Culha

From Val Pietsch, ʻOhana 2014:

Dear Dean Collins,

My name is Valerie Pietsch, and I am a member of Cornell’s graduating Class of 2015. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering, and a minor in the Science of Earth Systems. I am also a member of the Kumu Pa’a I Ka ‘Aina 2014 ‘Ohana, having spent my junior spring semester in the EES Sustainability Semester in Hawaii. I am writing this letter to you in support of the Hawaii Field Studies program, as I am highly concerned that the College of Engineering is considering revoking its support of the program. My semester-long experience in Hawaii was the single most defining and significant experience of my undergraduate career, quite possibly of my life so far.

Prior to my experience in Hawaii, I felt like an insignificant student lost in a sea of enormous introductory engineering courses. I had forgotten why I chose to study the environment and was going through the motions of classes, motivated by grades rather than learning. My semester in Hawaii changed that.

     I became a part of a family: I have never met a more diverse group of people with such common interests. We constantly learned from each other, both inside of and outside of the classroom. We worked together, whether it was on a tree height survey, a biogeochemistry problem set, or even making dinner in our cook teams. I have never been so close with my classmates, but I have especially never felt so close to my professors. Prior to my time in Hawaii, I don’t think I had ever spoken to one of my professors, past a couple of homework questions during office hours. Here, I had access to an incredible group of mentors who have helped me navigate through the transition of graduating college and figuring out my future plans. They inspired me to move forward in continuing to study environmental issues and helped me to hone in on my specific place in this field.

The world became my classroom: I learned to be more observant of my surroundings. By the end of the semester, I could name almost every plant I saw by common name and Latin name, something I cannot even do with the plants in my backyard at home. I did not simply learn about the issues of invasive species, but went outside with clippers and herbicide and actively removed them, replacing them with native species. I swam in the ocean with my goggles and flippers and surveyed the damage of coral reefs caused by runoff and ocean acidification, comparing my data to that of years past. I was able to explore a wide array of ecosystems simply by travelling across the Big Island. I learned to scuba dive, and with that skill removed bottles, fishing wire, and even tires from the ocean floor during group clean-ups. I was able to study first-hand the effects and aftermath of a volcanic eruption, surveying more recent lava flows on Hawaii, then moving across the natural time gradient of the Hawaiian islands all the way to the most ancient lava flows, on Kauai. I felt more connected to the land than ever before and thus

     I lived sustainably: It was an awe-striking moment for me to realize that I had never prepared a meal from start to finish before, beginning with harvesting the crops. In our end of the semester celebration, we did exactly this, in the form of a traditional Hawaiian meal for all those who had helped us throughout our studies there. In Wai’aka house, we attempted to reduce our waste and carbon footprint as much as possible. When grocery shopping for the week, we searched for local and organic products, recording our food miles after every trip. We diverted waste by recycling and composting as much as possible, and worked in our backyard garden as well as using vegetables from our CSA box. A weekly rotation of chores allowed us to keep trash of how much waste we produced, how much of our waste was diverted from landfills, how much electricity we used, our gas usage in the class vans, and even the carbon footprint we generated by flying all the way to Hawaii. Finally, we took responsibility for these impacts on the environment by offsetting our carbon footprint through planting trees, which absorb carbon. At the end of the semester, we achieved carbon negativity, something very few people can say they have done and something which made me appreciate the difficulties of living in a consumer-based society while trying to preserve the environment.

The EES Field Study Semester is an incredible learning experience and community that I cannot imagine not having had. It allowed me to actually live the sustainable lifestyle that I have been learning about for years. It revived my love for learning and allowed me to become close with my professors for the first time. It inspired me to make a real change and got me to where I am now, studying climate change as a graduate student at Columbia University in the Climate and Society MA program. I strongly encourage you to consider the educational benefits of this program and why it should be supported by the College of Engineering.

Thank you for your consideration,

Valerie Pietsch

From Michael Walsh, ʻOhana 2013:

Dear Dean Collins,

I write to you today to express my gratitude that, as an engineering student at Cornell University, I was permitted to experience Professor Alex Moore’s EES Program based out of Waimea, HI, for my spring semester junior year. I believe this was truly a unique opportunity, unlike any offered elsewhere in the U.S., and that it had a profound and lasting impact on my personal and academic development. I understand that the program has had recurring issues with University / COE support so I wanted to describe my experience and what I gained from the semester.

As a high school student applying to colleges, Cornell’s engineering college stuck out as one with a variety of experiences to offer such as study abroad programs and many project teams. These types of opportunities – as a prospective student – lure students such as myself. I was, and have remained, very interested in renewable energy and sustainability – to that extent I worked with project teams such as CUSD and applied to the EES Program to explore the vast applications of environmental science, sustainability, and renewable technologies available to study in Hawaii.

Once I embarked on the journey to Hawaii, and worked through the rigorous 19-credit field study program, I experienced subjects of study and methods of analysis that I never would have on campus. Liberal studies courses were interesting in Ithaca, but pale in comparison with immersing oneself in native Hawaiian culture, on-site oceanography lectures and reef surveying, taking notes for biogeochemistry lectures at 4,000 feet, and spending four months in an entirely new and trying environment. The internship experience that was set up through the course was also incredibly gratifying. Another student and I worked with a research foundation tracking humpback whales and deploying semi-autonomous water vehicles to do so. We created an algorithm to utilize hydrophone data, triangulate whale locations, and chart the course of a single whale!

Looking back at the semester as a whole, as I often do, I understand that one of the greatest outcomes of the program was gaining an understanding of the entire environmental system on Hawaii and how a student can use this island as a model to extrapolate it’s study to the real world. After this semester, I became interested in this systems approach and have just graduated from Systems Engineering – also at Cornell – and to a greater extent I attribute this to my semester in Hawaii. As an engineer, or student in general, it’s often hard to keep in mind the greater picture of how your work can be incorporated into the larger team / picture / company etc. and this semester facilitated this understanding.

As a final note, I hope that this program will continue to be funded, as it was amazing opportunity run by a truly inspiring group of professors. Moreover, I hope that the EES Program will be promoted to more engineering students so that more can grow as I have. Had I not done this semester, I would have graduated early and missed out on the program as well as the extra year I spent in Systems Engineering – an incredible loss.


Michael Walsh

Cornell MechE ‘14

Cornell SysEng ‘15

Proud EES Program Alum

From Emma Reed, ʻOhana 2013:

Dear Dean Collins,

I recently learned that the College of Engineering is considering pulling funding from the EES field program in Hawai’i.  I am a 2013 alumna of this program, and I hope the volume and enthusiasm of letters you have been receiving leads the College to reconsider its decision.  I joined the EES program to fulfill my field requirements for the Science of Earth Systems major, but checking off a box on the path to graduation was the least of the benefits I received.

This program introduced me to the ocean, an experience that has permanently shaped my academic path.  By taking courses in the field rather than the classroom, we contributed useful data for ongoing research and conservation in Hawai’i.  We performed reef health assessments and tested autonomous bioacoustic monitors as part of our Conservation Oceanography course. We contributed on our own time by volunteering with reef clean-ups and invasive species removal efforts.  The program concludes with an internship with a local organization, and I chose to volunteer with ReefTeach, educating visitors on reef ecology and conservation.  These experiences led me to graduate Cornell with a double major and a marine biology minor, to study marine paleoclimate at a top-tier geoscience university, and to develop a hands-on ocean science curriculum for underprivileged middle schoolers.  I credit these successes to the Hawai’i program.

I have heard horror stories of field programs showing insensitivity for local culture and traditions, and I’m proud that the EES program falls on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Over the past decade, this program has cooperated with local organizations ranging from Ka’upulehu Dryland Forest conservation and heritage site to restoring Makali’i, a voyaging canoe that has helped Hawaiians reconnect with their ancient seafaring culture.  Through such efforts, students not only learn Hawaiian culture and history, but also become a part of it.  I learned to make field work a two-way dialogue between locals and researchers, to take responsibility for the implications of my research, and to put data to good use.  When I did research at Makauwahi Cave, Kaua’i, for my honors thesis, I put these lessons into practice.  As I excavated fossils of native flora and fauna, I worked to conserve their living counterparts.  The snails I studied—cryptic and long thought extinct—have been recently rediscovered on Kaua’i, and my data will aid in their conservation.  The EES program provided a gold standard for fieldwork, and I have strived to follow its model since.

These benefits of the EES field program in Hawai’i cannot be easily tested, or quantified, or conveyed in a textbook.  But, if your goal as an educator is to create Cornellians who are not only knowledgeable, but also conscientious and passionate contributors to their communities, I can think of no better way of doing so than through the EES program.

Thank you,

Emma Reed
Kumu Pa’a i ka ‘Aina Class of 2013

From Alli Webster, ʻOhana 2015:

Aloha Dean Collins,
My name is Alli Webster.  I am a recent graduate of Cornell with a Bachelor’s degree in Science of Earth Systems, and I am a proud member of the most recent EES Sustainability Semester ‘Ohana (family).  I am writing to you in the hopes that I can further your understanding of our program. I am fighting for the continuation of the unique experience that completely changed who I am as a student, as a scientist and as a person.
My first semester at Cornell left me feeling lost and confused.  I had little direction in my academic career, and I felt forgotten and unsupported by the school that I had dreamed of attending for years.  Second semester, I took Bruce Monger’s Introductory Oceanography class and found my purpose, my direction. I discovered the small, intimate Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department and was immediately met with support from staff and classmates.  Finding a community like this is, in my opinion, crucial to success at such a large and prestigious institution.
Even so, I did not feel as though I found a home at Cornell until my very last semester, when I participated in the EES Field Program, known to us as Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina.  This home rests on the gentle slope of Kohala Mountain in the small town of Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii. A house that, for four months out of the year, is jam-packed with a crew of awesome, intelligent and curious Cornell students and their brilliant professors.  Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina means “knowledge and understanding that comes from the land”, and that is truly what this program is about.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to put into words what Professor Alex Moore has created through this program.  I have found it almost painful trying to explain to my friends what I did in those four months when all they can imagine is sandy beaches and sunny days while they freeze in Ithaca.  Even so, I will do my best to prove to you the unrivaled importance and beauty of Kumu Pa’a i ka ‘Aina.
The EES Field Program was a four month, nonstop learning experience.  It began in January, when on day one I got out of the car at our house and within twenty minutes Lou, our biogeochemistry professor, pulled me aside and taught me the names and ages of the five volcanoes that make up the Big Island, and it continued even once I got on the plane in May to leave and spoke to a local Hawaiian who owns a farm in Kona. It was a daily learning experience that started before class every morning, asking the professor (who was driving the van) questions about lava tubes and local vegetation, and didn’t end at night until after a 9pm ukulele practice during which we played Hawaiian favorites like “Surf”, “‘Opae E” and “Island Style”.  Even on weekends we frequently couldn’t stop as we were presented with endless opportunities to volunteer a little extra, explore a little extra, and learn a little extra.
Did you know that the Big Island, at 4,000 square miles, is home to 4 of the 5 major climate zones? That it is the only US state with a rain forest? Did you know that Mauna Kea is, at over 33,000 ft above the ocean floor, the tallest mountain in the world, and Mauna Loa the most massive?  That when a lava flow travels down a volcano, it absolutely destroys the vegetation in its path, leaving nothing but solid black rock to be recolonized?  That Hawaii is home to more than 10,000 native species, 90% of which aren’t found anywhere else in the world?  That there are roughly 400,000 acres of coral reef in the state of Hawaii?  That between 1778 and 1920, when faced with Western contact, the population of native Hawaiians rapidly declined from over 1 million to 22,000, and that (in addition to most of its people) Hawaii nearly lost its language and its culture? Did you know that Hawaii just enacted the nation’s first 100% renewable energy standard, setting a long due precedent to the rest of the country, and the rest of the world?  I challenge you to show me a land better suited to teach us geology, ecology, biodiversity, oceanography, sustainability, culture, and the complex systems that closely connect these subjects.
We learned observational skills as we recorded every detail of every experience in our field notebooks. We learned valuable field and research techniques such as plant identification, water chemistry testing, reef surveying, invasive vegetation control, and so much more. We learned through many volunteer projects the strong and lasting effects of hard work in community service.  We learned to thrive without the distractions of television and we spent the majority of our days with minimal phone service–a rare college experience in and of itself!  We learned to love each other and live together, we learned to raise chickens and grow vegetables, we learned to hula and to chant in Hawaiian.  We learned the importance of community and culture in environmental preservation and restoration, and we learned through practice the meaning of sustainability.
One of the most incredible things that I noticed when I was in Hawaii is the immense respect that our program has gained through its time on the Big Island. In a land where locals are hesitant to trust and respect outsiders, the EES program has earned those things in excess through environmental stewardship and cultural curiosity and understanding.  We work with forest preserves to protect and restore native forests, and we intern with a wide variety of organizations in an effort to give back to the land we learn from.  Alex Moore has gracefully weaved our program into the Hawaiian community, and “The Cornell Group!” is welcomed with open arms across the island.  I highly doubt that any other abroad program offered by Cornell provides half as much positive representation for the university.
Another aspect of the program I believe to be extremely important to understand is that, at a university that has committed to leadership in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the EES Field Program is the only carbon-neutral program of any kind at Cornell.  Cornell claims to be a “premier hub for sustainability”, but actions speak louder than words and our actions are shouting to be recognized and embodied across the Ithaca campus, not ignored and cut out of the university budget.
As I move on into the next chapter of my life, I have realized that the values instilled in me in Hawaii influence my every action.  I am passionate about conservation and sustainability. I am curious about local culture and spirituality. I strive to learn more about my own family and about the people around me because I feel so much more connected to my ancestors, my educators and my peers.  I live every day with respect and aloha for the land that supports me, and I have entered my job search with passion and drive that I could not have imagined having a year ago.
I understand that this situation is not easy for you.  I am sure you take no pleasure in cutting our program, and you cannot wave a magic wand to make it all work out (but how great would that be!?). Your job is full of hard decisions, and you are in a difficult position to determine the value and viability of programs like ours.  I am hopeful that you will try to understand the significance of Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina to the values of Cornell and to the students who have been fortunate enough to experience it. Alex Moore has carefully and lovingly crafted a program that, for eleven years, has turned amateur, sheltered college students into experienced, passionate scientists who are acutely aware of the physical and cultural world around them. It would be a true shame to deprive future students of that honor.
I could go on and on about my love for this program, but I am confident that you have many testimonies from my ‘ohana to read through, so I will leave it at that.
Thank you so much for your time and your consideration.
Allison Webster
College of Arts & Sciences ’15
Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina ’15
From Carl Talsma, ʻOhana 2014:

To Whom it May Concern,

It has reached my attention that the Cornell Earth and Environmental Science field semester in Hawai’i program is facing some sort of funding cut by the College of Engineering.  I’m not sure on the details or financials but I was asked to write a letter demonstrating the value of the Hawai’i program and will attempt my best to do so.  The Hawai’i program was the single most enriching aspect of my Cornell experience and should be celebrated by the College of Engineering

I graduated this past spring with a B.S. in Environmental Engineering and participated in the Hawai’i program in the spring semester of 2014.   There are many things about the program I could speak on which formed my thinking as a student and as a professional: the academics, the culture, the intimate relationships formed with faculty and students alike.  But, I think the most important part of the program and the reason it should be touted by the University as an example of Cornell’s values is the public service, which the program provides.

The amount of volunteer work that the program provides to local conservation organizations is unparalleled to anything I experienced at Cornell.  Even my involvement in the Aguaclara project team paled in comparison to the direct impact the program made in local efforts to thwart invasive species and preserve Hawai’i’s native habitat.  Throughout the semester we engaged in public service planting native species, removing invasive species, and learning about the impact that human’s have had on the landscape.  Participating in this service work taught me more about how society interacts with the environment and how climate change is impacting the world around us than I ever learned in a classroom in Ithaca.  The number of volunteer hours that the program has committed, the number of trees planted, the number of invasives removed is unconscionable (and also painstakingly recorded by Alex Moore).  We even spent an entire week dedicated to public service for the people and organizations that are kind enough to allow us to learn from their work and from the land that they manage.

If there were any program more in lined with the Engaged Cornell initiative, I would struggle to find it.  You’d think that the racial, cultural, and economic tension found in Hawai’i would alienate a bunch of Ivy League academic types, but the Hawai’i program manages to create lasting community connections that have made it revered across the entire island.  I spent the end of my semester at an Internship at the Pu’u Wa’awa’a Hawai’i State Forest Reserve (a mouthful, I know) where I conducted a survey on endangered species, helped to build a habitat sanctuary on the side of a volcano, interacted with plants that are now extinct in the wild, and spent around 240 hours of my time helping them in their goals of conserving what little native habitat is left in Hawai’i.

I’ll finish in saying that the Hawai’i field semester could not better epitomize the language used in Cornell’s founding and in the Engaged Cornell mantra of “knowledge with a public purpose”.  The program has shown me the value in public service and has shown me my own value that I can present to the world outside of Cornell.  I hope that this letter will advise you in your decision making for the future and that the program will be able to operate as an example in Cornell’s goals in becoming a public service leader.


Carl Talsma ‘15

From Kelsey Kingsbury, ʻOhana 2014:


I hope this finds you well. My name is Kelsey Kingsbury and I graduated from CALS this past May. My degree is in Science of Earth Systems with a concentration in Ocean Science, and a minor in Climate Change. I am also a member of the 2014 Cornell’s Field Program in Earth and Environmental Systems in Hawai’i (Kumu Pa’a i Ka `aina). I am writing to you because I want to share what this program meant, and continues to mean, to me, and what it would mean for current and future students if they were to have such an extraordinary opportunity taken from them.

I learned things in Hawai’i that never would have been possible to learn in Ithaca. Because my major, particularly the ocean science aspect of it, is so hands-on, and because Ithaca is land-locked, it would have been impossible to achieve a full and complete education without a field component. In fact, having a field work experience is necessary in order to graduate from the Science of Earth Systems major! Cornell-affiliated options include the Hawai’i program, Shoals Marine Lab, and the newly-formed Cornell Ocean Research Apprenticeship for Lynch Scholars at Friday Harbor Labs (which I also participated in), but this only accepts six students per year. There is also the option to venture out of Cornell programs, and find a suitable field program through another university of a private organization. The problem with this lies in the fact that such programs are less regulated, and Cornell cannot control what materials are being taught. In the Hawai’i program, every student takes the same courses, and has the same professors. This insures that the majority of students that graduate from the Science of Earth Systems major all have the same high-level field work experience. One such portion of the Hawai’i experience, and one that is unique to this program, is the completion of an internship. We are responsible for looking for internships, researching them, and applying for them, which is a great learning experience. In the end, we gave tree presentations, one to each other, one to our extended `ohana of more than 100 people, and one in the form of a poster session, on what we researched, what we learned, and where to go from there. The research that I did during my internship benefited me so much, that I presented it at a research symposium the following semester.

During my department’s graduation ceremony this past May, every student that participated in the Hawai’i program received a lei, a Hawaiian flower necklace. Nearly every single person who walked across that stage was wearing a lei. My heart swelled with pride, nearly to the point of tears, at seeing such a unity, such a bond, that ties us all together, even if we participated in the program in different years. I know they shared similar experiences to me, I know they battled the giant cockroaches in the bathroom in the middle of the night, and I know that the program changed them as well.

Most of all, Hawai’i gave me a family. A group to live with, to explore with, to eat with, to learn with. Nothing brings a group closer together than sharing mutual experiences and perspectives. Some of my fondest memories are of the other 15 students and I sitting around the living room in Wai`aka House – some on the couch, others on the floor, a few under the tables – and learning together. It could have been a lesson on marine bioacoustics, led by Dr. Adam Frankel of the Hawai’i Marine Mammal Consortium, or an in-depth look at the changing Hawaiian coral reef ecosystems by our very own Dr. Drew Harvell. Or it may have been 2AM on a Tuesday, smoothie in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, bouncing ideas off of each other, desperately trying to finish our essays for the Hawaiian Culture course.

I love every single one of the people from the Hawai’i experience, with a love that I know will keep us in touch for the rest of our lives, and I can’t imagine an opportunity such as this being taken from future students. These connections that I made, both personal and academic, will continue to benefit me long down the road.

Now that I have barely scratched the surface of that this program means to me, I implore to you think about what I have said, about what countless others are feeling, and realize what a tragedy it would be to lose this opportunity. The loss of this program would be akin to losing a faculty member, an intelligent, fun, easily-accessible, wonderful, constant, creative, life-altering faculty member. You have the power, and the responsibility, to keep this alive.

I thank you very much for you time,

Kelsey Kingsbury ‘15

Kelsey Kingsbury goes mauka at Friday Harbor Marine Lab.

Kelsey Kingsbury goes mauka at Friday Harbor Marine Lab.

From Victoria Nadile, ʻOhana 2014:

Dear Dean Collins,

My name is Victoria Nadile and I am a proud alumna of the Cornell Sustainability Semester, class of 2014. When I was informed of the College of Engineering’s decision to cease support for this program due to the college’s belief that the cost of supporting it outweighed the benefits to participating students, I felt compelled to share my experience with you so that you might better understand why it is so invaluable and should therefore be open to the entire Cornell community.
In my junior spring, I was fortunate to be selected as one of 16 students to participate in this program. Having that experience, where I lived and worked in such an intimate climate with professors and fellow students, allowed me to remember what college was all about; not only being able to explore intellectual pursuits and enjoy the experience of academic growth in the Cornell community, but also realizing the real world application of that knowledge. Never in my time at Cornell had I been totally immersed in such a community. I had never taken a class where my textbook was the environs around me. So, too, had I never been able to wake up and engage my professors—who were distinguished, exceptionally bright leaders in their respective fields— in intellectually stimulating conversations (or just a casual chat) while I ate breakfast with them.

Not only were the professors truly brilliant instructors, I learned an incredible deal from the students around me. As a student at Cornell, I pursued and received a social sciences degree, premedical requisites, and a minor in Science of Earth Systems. I was anticipating the majority of the program would comprise students that were pursuing Science of Earth Systems degrees, leaving me intellectually—and perhaps as a result socially—isolated. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the program represented like-minded, friendly people from all across the University studying environmental engineering to biology. This diversity in majors and life experiences was hugely significant in contributing a deep richness to my time there, and I do believe such time would have been markedly less meaningful if it were not for this varied composition in student background. This allowed for wonderfully productive collaboration and team work that was required for activities such as soil sampling, repopulating forests with native plant species, and working in huis (groups) on large-scale studies on plant colonization patterns across the islands. So, too, did we work together in the kitchen to prepare meals, tend our garden, and perform household chores. Participating in these tasks and projects with my peers left me feeling so very fortunate to get to know, work with, and learn from these people.

The common goal of promoting—or more appropriately embodying—tenets of sustainability that is at the program’s core extends into its every aspect. One could argue that the sustainable experience in Hawaiʻi could be realized on Cornell’s campus. President Skorton’s signing of a Climate Commitment in 2007 to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the university and his subsequent establishment of a Sustainable Campus Committee shortly after suggest such efforts are pursued with similar gusto. However, the semester I spent in Hawaiʻi is unparalleled to any semester I’ve spent on campus with respect to an all-encompassing sustainability credo.

The program’s mission to be carbon neutral required us to log our gas miles, food miles, electricity usage, weight of refuse (compost, trash, recycling), among countless of other measures that reflected our progress towards that goal. Our visits to ocean thermal energy conversion operations and algae bioreactors encouraged us to critically think about alternatives to our current energy paradigm: finite natural resources upon which we heavily rely. And our trips to Mauna Loa observatory (where we learned—and were alarmed by— the staggering amount of CO2 in the atmosphere) as well as the field work in the oceans that we performed in order to collect data on the extent of coral death urgently reminded us of the imperative to invest our energies in these creative technologies.

Before participating in this program, I really didn’t have a conception of how many people on our globe live in and depend on such fragile ecosystems. Similarly, I failed to realize that various resources, which have made my life very comfortable, are not available to everyone, and those of us who live in the developed parts of the world are in danger of over-relying on those resources. No other university or college on the planet but Cornell offers the experience that I had with 15 other peers on Hawaiʻi Island, and it was my time in Hawaiʻi that gave me an acute sensitivity to our over-dependence on finite natural resources. I realized that the islands themselves could serve as a microcosm for what is going on in the rest of the world.

Ultimately, it was this realization—which the program afforded me—that inspired me to write my senior honors thesis. My work analyzed the history of Hawaiʻi’s indigenous food provisioning systems in order to think critically about some sustainable techniques that could be introduced on the islands today to increase their food self-sufficiency. If we are to survive as a species, we are going to have to be a lot more creative and a lot more conservative of our natural resources, taking special care not to exhaust them. The experiences I was fortunate to have as part of this program made me realize that we have to come up with a better rate of return for our planet, and we need to make this more of a priority. As a result of this program, I completely re-evaluated the trajectory of my intended course as a student and as a professional. I am now seriously considering pursuing a doctorate or masters in sustainability studies.

The time I spent in Hawaiʻi was truly like no other during my four years at Cornell. I grew as a student, as a person, and as an intellectual. My time on Hawaiʻi, probably most importantly, taught me that trying to come up with all of the right answers is nowhere near as important as having a sense of confidence that I was at least asking the right questions for our planet. This is something that I felt was too often not stressed enough in many of my classes back on campus. I learned to consider some really challenging and extremely important issues on climate change, indigenous identity, and natural resource conservation, just to name a few examples, that I had little exposure to in Ithaca’s classroom environment. I also underwent a great deal of personal development through this program. I have become confident in my ability to contribute meaningfully to thoughtful discussions, learned the importance of collaborating with others to reach a desired result, and have gradually begun to understand more about where my passions lie and those things that I truly want to pursue.

I sincerely wish that every Cornell student is fortunate enough to have an experience that so fundamentally shapes them on such a personal and intellectual level. I know that I did. And I know with certainty that the sustainability program on Hawaiʻi Island is such an experience.

I really do hope you carefully consider your decision to withdraw your support for this program for those reasons stated above. Thank you for your time in considering this message.

Kindest regards,

Victoria Nadile

Cornell College of Arts and Sciences ’15

Kumu Paʻa i Ka ʻAina   ’14

From Sara Coffey, ʻOhana 2012:

Aloha Dean Collins,

My name is Sara Coffey and I am a 2013 graduate of the College of Engineering. I am currently a graduate student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in the 3rd ranked Oceanography program in the nation.  I thoroughly love what I do and the direction my life has taken, and there is no way I would be where I am today without my Cornell Engineering education coupled with the Earth and Environmental Sustainability (EES) Semester in Hawai’i, known to us as Kumu Pa’a i Ka ‘Aina.
I was fortunate to have had many opportunities during my tenure at Cornell, but without a doubt my participation in the 2012 EES field program was the highlight of my time on the hill. Given the location of Cornell University and my upbringing in Syracuse, New York, I never would have realized I have a passion for studying the ocean had I remained in Ithaca. Throughout the program’s  Conservation Oceanography class and internship with Reef Teach (an organization that educates thousands of tourists a year on ocean and reef conservation in Kahalu’u Bay), I was able to realize my passion and learn more than I ever could from a textbook. Every day that I snorkeled I would find new fishes, corals, and other creatures and rush home to look them up in order to learn more about them. This was one of the first times in my education I was inspired to continue learning outside of the classroom, and this is just one of many conservation projects that Cornell’s name is associated with in Hawaii.
I recently read the following on Cornell’s College of Engineering website:
At Cornell Engineering we are learning to change the world. Here, great science and an exceptional academic program are not enough. We aspire to make discoveries and educate leaders who will have a lasting impact. We are problem finders, not just problem solvers.
I believe the EES program exemplifies this statement perfectly. During our time on the Big Island we learned to change the world; we contributed to the restoration of reefs and the restoration of native forests, in some cases working with species represented in the wild by a single remaining organism. We lived and learned in an environment with 11 of the 13 ecozones represented, soaked up knowledge from native Hawaiians that hold more traditional knowledge of the land than any textbook could teach me, and had daily hands-on learning experiences.  We conducted original experiments and completed field work allowing us to find answers and discover more problems that plague out planet. Most importantly, this program empowered each and every one of us to truly respect our environment and fight to protect it. President Obama recently stated that “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” So many members of my `Ohana, or family, from this program have already done incredible things to fight for our planet through volunteering, graduate school, and careers  and I am eager to continue to see their hard work unfold.
I cannot even begin to stress the benefits of this field program and the unique and hands-on educational opportunity it provides. During my time with Cornell Engineering, I found myself constantly stressed out about median grades, curves, standard deviations, and exams.  Taking classes where three exams determined my overall  grade stressed me out to the point where I had panic attacks before and during exams; I even had to retake a class because I vomited during a test.  It was nearly impossible for me to learn and do well under such stressful conditions – conditions that would have been the same had I chosen a non-field-based off-campus experience.  I sought help during my sophomore year, but taking part in the EES Sustainability Semester the following year was exactly what I needed to get back on track. I was suddenly put in an environment where instead of fighting  each other for higher grades, my classmates and I worked together to collect data and conserve rare species. Three tests no longer determined my grades- but my active participation, daily notes, reports, and papers showed that I was succeeding in learning the material. This kind of collaborative environment is much more representative  of the real world and work place as I have learned through my internship with an Environmental Consulting firm and graduate career.  Priceless too is the `Ohana – family – that I am now part of, where we lived together rather than in isolation, learned collaboratively rather than competitively, and continue to support each other now and in the future.
My Cornell Engineering education truly captured Ezra Cornell’s “…any person … any study” vision. I cannot think of any other bachelor’s degree that could have better nurtured the skills I now require for my current research thesis including computer programming, laboratory work, analytical thinking, field work, community outreach, and sustainability analysis. Some of these skills I developed in classrooms on the Engineering Quad; however, the majority of them were developed during the EES Hawai‘i semester.  This program changed my life and shaped the person I am today more than any other experience during my time at Cornell. I hope my personal experience as an engineering undergrad will persuade you to consider supporting the EES program and make it available to future Cornell students.
Sara Coffey
Cornell Engineering 2013
Sara Coffey, University of Hawaii`i, deploys a buoy to monitor CO2 in Kāneʻohe Bay.

Sara Coffey, University of Hawaii`i, deploys a buoy to monitor CO2 in Kāneʻohe Bay.

From Katy Bland, ʻOhana 2013:
Dear Dean Collins,

From other letters regarding the EES Sustainability Semester you surely understand the program’s coursework, dedication of professors, and living laboratory style of teaching – so I will forego repetition and only share my individual enlightenment from and passion for the EES Sustainability Semester. If this letter were assigned a genre, it would be a ‘love story.’ Love for my peers, my professors, the collaborative demeanor and academic rigor of the program, the opportunities I was given, and the future of everyone that engaged with the EES Sustainability Semester. I have full confidence that the EES Sustainability Semester has helped to set my classmates on a path to a bright future.When I transferred to Cornell, I was lost. I was in my hometown, but I couldn’t find my place on campus. With a few exceptions, I felt surrounded by people that were trying to outcompete me for their own betterment and resented the idea of collaborative, practical learning. I could feel my own demeanor shifting to fit this new standard. Upon arriving in Hawai’i, the construct of elitism that I felt surrounded by at Cornell vanished. Instead of being competitors, we were collaborators. I soon understood that working as a team and an ‘ohana could bring me to places that the “A” of typical higher education could never reach.   My time in Hawai’i will forever mark a turning point in my life.

By learning in a living laboratory, I was able to directly apply my education to my surroundings – a relict of true education that I believe is often lost when pursuing higher education. For my culminating internship at the tail of the EES Sustainability Semester, I had the opportunity to work with The Nature Conservancy and The Harvell Lab to explore how human waste is affecting coastal ecosystems. Along with two other students and the PA, I established protocols for sampling Enterococcus sp. to understand how and when it was draining into and affecting the fragile coral reefs. When we gave our final presentation, we weren’t just speaking to classmates and professors; we were speaking to various stakeholders – homeowners, The Nature Conservancy directors, and community leaders.  My research had tangible implications, and it inspired me to further my understanding of how humans affect their environment.

I am now a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Intern at Plum Island National Wildlife Refuge and I work daily on coastal research and connecting the public to the benefits of healthy ecosystems. I think about the people I interact with and the projects I help to carry out, and can attribute my skill and aptitude to my time spent in Hawai’i. Just two days ago I was shaking hands with the Secretary of the Department of Interior, Sally Jewell, and celebrating what she termed an “epic collaboration” to save a species from extinction.  I believe the creative and resourceful attitudes that are needed for the epic collaboration she speaks of are forged in programs like the EES Sustainability Semester, and if Cornell wants to be a part of creating innovative environmental researchers and leaders, it will continue hosting the EES Sustainability Semester.



Kumu Pa’a I Ka ‘Aina, Class of 2013

CALS Science of Earth Systems, Class of 2014

From Sophie Fruchter, ʻOhana 2015:

Dear Dean Collins,

My name is Sophie Rose Fruchter, I am a senior at Cornell University in the college of Arts and Sciences and an alumna of the 2015 Cornell EES Hawai‘i Field Program. I know you must have read all about the program by now and I am sure I will repeat what other program alumni have already stated, but please bear with me.

When I finished my Fall semester on the Ithaca campus I was exhausted and exasperated by the type of education I was receiving at Cornell; I was ready to graduate and stay as far away from academia as I possibly could. I was tired of solving problems and writing essays, the value of which I could not understand. I was tired of reaching out to professors that were jaded by too many years of college teaching. The Cornell EES Hawai‘i Field Program saved my education by offering me the best that Cornell could give me. For the first time I truly felt satisfied with my education, for the first time I received what was promised to me by Cornell. I finally understood what certain hot topics that are frequently mentioned at institutions such as our own truly mean: engagement with the community, personalized instruction, creative thinking, true racial, religious, historical and cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding, intellectual curiosity and finally, teaching excellence. But maybe most importantly of all the program forced me to be far outside my comfort zone by making me interact with and understand a culture and people so different from myself, an experience that simply cannot be reproduced in a classroom.

I hope you believe me when I say that this program enhanced my education, but also my life. I hope it can continue to do the same for other students in the future.


Sophie Rose Fruchter

Check this out – Keiki (Harry) and Makua (Richard) Podolsky truly are ʻOhana!  Mahalo nui:
From Richard Podolsky, ʻOhana Makuakane 2013:
Dr. Lance Collins, Dean of the College of Engineering,
Dr. Laura Brown, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
Dr. Marina Markot, Director, Cornell Abroad
Dear Dean Collins, Provost Brown, and Director Markot:
As a parent of a recent Cornell graduate (Harry William Podolsky class of 2013) and 2013 participant in the EES Field Program in Hawaii – I am writing to strongly urge the Cornell College of Engineering to not just continue to support this program but to expand their support of the program.
Here is why I feel this way:
  1. Hawaii represents the best “natural laboratory” in the world for students to experience the conflicts that flow directly from the demands put upon a finite resource base.  The challenges that Hawaii faces today are the challenges that the rest of world faces tomorrow.
  2. More than any one thing, the EES Field Program provided my son Harry and the other participants was deep immersion into the very real fact that only through a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving will we have a chance to structure human systems so that they sustain natural and cultural systems.  
  3. It is my opinion that engineering is a key discipline that sits at the very core of this multidisciplinary approach.  As such, it is essential that non-engineering students be exposed to the perspectives of engineers.  Conversely, engineers need to experience the real-world challenges facing Hawaii from the perspective of other natural and cultural scientists.
  4. Because of this vital cross-fertilization, it is my feeling that the Cornell College of Engineering ought to increase their support of this program by sending more students and faculty to participate in the EES Field Program in Hawaii.
Since graduating Harry has gone on to a great career-launching full-time job at the Island Institute on a team that brings sustainable energy systems to the 16 Maine islands that have year-round communities.  If not for the lessons Harry learned while rubbing shoulders with fellow Cornell students and faculties from an array of disciplines including engineers while in Hawaii on the ESS Field Program, Harry might not have developed the focus and the passion that now fuels his career.
Please strive to assure that all future Cornell students can similarly benefit from the EES Field Program in Hawaii by continuing the program and strengthening its multidisciplinary character.
Richard Podolsky
From Harry Podolsky, ʻOhana 2013:

Dean Collins,

I hope this note finds you well.  My name is Harry Podolsky. I am a 2013 graduate of Cornell, and alumna of the 2013 Kumu Pa’a Ika ‘Aina program in EES. I am writing to say that the Field Semester in Hawai’i led by Alexandra Moore is an undergraduate field program like no other in the world, and that it embodies the values of community service, sustainability, and scholarship held dear by the Engineering College and the University as a whole.  It must be considered for further support as an academic program in line with the very highest tenets that we strive for at Cornell, one that builds not just nuanced thinkers, but devoted global citizens with a passion for repairing the world.

The Cornell Engineering College Mission and Goals webpage states the following as an abbreviated Mission Statement: “Provide students with a broad and exceptional education that prepares them to excel in their professions and to become creative leaders and mentors in an increasingly complex world.”

As a model of an increasingly complex world, Hawai’i is unparalleled; limited resources, widespread ecological shifts, a long history of racial strife and disenfranchisement of the Hawaiian People, rich cultural heritage, uncertain future.  Creativity, interdiscipinary learning and research, and patient service regardless of conditions are prerequisites for engaging with and beginning to heal these islands, as they ought to be globablly.  Just as these values align directly with the Engineering college’s mission, so are they intrinsic to the fabric of the EES Field Semester in Hawai’i. With respect, stripping support from this work flies in the face of the laudable mission put forward for the Cornell Engineering College.

On a personal note, Professor Moore’s mentorship, as well as the high quality of instruction received from Professors Louis Derry, Drew Harvell, and Charles Greene, among others, spurred me to new realms of academic interest and an enduring interest in the study of and service to island systems. I continue to deepen these passions each day as a Community Energy Associate with the Island Institute in Rockland, Maine. The empathy and patience learned while working with Hawaiian leaders, distinguished faculty, my program peers, and many others is a central pillar of support, as I know it is for each of the eleven generations of EES Hawai’I alumni, a group that numbers well over 100.  It is urgent that the program be allowed to continue, both to maintain and continue to shore up the thousands of acres of degraded and restored landscape it has touched, and more importantly, to continue the training and inspiration of generations of concerned citizens – those who have seen the damage wrought by unchecked expansion, and have the wherewithal to shoulder their load and get to work.

Dean Collins, I ask that you urge the Associate Deans and other leadership – if they question the efficacy of the program as a vehicle for upholding the College of Engineering mission – to reread and reflect on its words and the stated goal of the school. In an increasingly complex world, we need increasingly compassionate, multidisciplinary, and patient leaders. We need to reaffirm our bonds to the notion ofTikkun Olam, or Malama ‘Aina,  or healing for the world. Kumu Pa’a Ika ‘Aina has embodied this responsibility from the first. It has earned the right to continue.

Thank you for your time,


Harry Podolsky

CALS ‘13

From Virginia Winkler, ʻOhana 2013, PA 2015:

Dear Dean Collins,

I am writing in support of the Hawaii Sustainability Semester in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, also known as Kumu Pa’a i ka ‘Aina. I understand the program may be ended and am writing to ask you to do everything you can to ensure that it continues to run.

As a junior at Cornell, I participated in the Hawai’i program. Those four months I spent in Hawai’i were the most formative of my time at Cornell, and I can say with confidence that most of my classmates feel the same. I hope that future Cornell students will be able to experience this.

I came into the program with a unique perspective on what field-based study abroad programs were like, as I had participated in one the semester before in New Zealand, run by the University of New Hampshire. By the end of the first day, I could tell that the Hawai’i program was far more than other study abroad programs. It was more academically rigorous in the sense that we were treated as scientists in training more than students; the work we did was not only great training for careers as scientists, but was also used and valued by local conservation organizations. I am certain that it was my field experience and letters of recommendations from this program that set me apart from other job competitors when applying to field technician positions.

Every single day we were taught to be critical, to observe, to be thoughtful, to be confident, to teach ourselves, to push ourselves, to be adults, to be open-minded, and to be part of a community.

Professor Alex Moore brilliantly wove together lessons, field trips, and cultural experiences in a way that amplified and gave deeper meaning to everything we learned. I have never had a professor come close to being the teacher and mentor that she is to me, and I am so grateful for her.

I believe that what makes Cornell stand apart as a great school is not as much on-campus classes, but more the opportunities and experiences that Cornell provides. Cutting out the Hawai’i Field Semester would be robbing future students of an invaluable opportunity to become scientists, leaders, and community members that is to my knowledge, not replicated anywhere else.

My growth in competence, sense of purpose, and environmental stewardship are all a direct result of by my experiences in Hawai’i. Not a day goes by that I don’t have some sort of interaction or task, which makes me think of how thankful I am that I participated in the Hawai’i program.

Again, please do everything you can to support the Hawai’i Field Semester Program.

Best Wishes,

Virginia Winkler

Student 2013

Program Assistant 2015

From Jake Henry, ʻOhana 2012:

Hi Professor Collins,

I am writing you today to show my support for the Hawaii Field Semester run by Alex Moore. I know that the College of Engineering wishes to end their support of the program, and I hope this decision will be reconsidered. I wanted to share with you my personal experience of the program, and I why I believe it is crucial to continue supporting it.
I graduated from the College of Engineering in 2014 with a degree in Science of Earth Systems. Part of the major requires some sort of field study, and I chose this program. And when I say chose, I want to convey that my financial status limited my options because many field study programs are not offered during the academic year, and can be very costly. This program has received very helpful financial assistance from the university, and without it I would not have been able to attend.
When I entered the College of Engineering, I had very little idea of what kind of career I wanted to pursue. I chose Science of Earth Systems because of my interest in natural systems, but the Hawaii Field semester solidified my desire to work in this field. While I was in the program, I found the practice of natural resource conservation to not only be extremely important to our ecosystems, but also to be a passion of mine I would not have discovered if not for this program. This allowed me to fully take advantage of the remainder of my time at Cornell and all the university has to offer.
Perhaps a more motivating idea to continue support for this program is where it has actually gotten me today. I currently work for The Nature Conservancy in Illinois as a Restoration Technician, and I love my job. I work on prairie restoration, and have assisted with the re-introduction of wild bison (the first time there have been wild bison east of the Mississippi River in over 200 years). I really can’t stress enough how rewarding my current job is and, truthfully, that I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for the Hawaii Field Semester.
This program was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and it saddens me to think that students after myself might not be able to gain so much from the program like I did. This program teaches and inspires and motivates students to realize their potential and truly make a difference in the world.
I truly hope you will continue funding this program, as it is one of the most incredible and beneficial programs at Cornell University.
Best wishes,
Jake Henry
P.S. A picture of me with the bison.
Jake Henry, The Nature Conservancy, with the first bison east of the MS!

Jake Henry, The Nature Conservancy, with the first bison east of the MS!


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