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Development Challenge

Student interns teach local Tanzania children about environment
On Mafia Island, Tanzania, Development Challenge interns teach local children about the environment. (Photo: Katie LeRow/Diana Lam)

The Sustainable Development Challenge (Development Challenge) connects biodiversity conservation and sustainable resource management with a mission to improve human livelihoods. Nowhere is the challenge greater than in Africa where development has been erratic, tempered by corruption, lacking in true capacity building, and pursued without concern for preserving the continent’s wildlife and store of natural resources.

The Development Challenge encourages faculty, researchers, and students from the natural, social, and engineering sciences as well as the humanities to meld their different perspectives to better understand how sustainable development plans can be implemented across the African continent.


Development Challenge research projects include several continuing projects that identify water as the essential natural resource shaping the African landscape. Working side by side in the field, teams of Princeton ecologists, anthropologists, and hydrologists document the linkages between water, wildlife, and human populations in East African dry lands and contribute scholarship concerning the role of vegetation in the hydrological cycle and in the preservation of landscapes and wildlife habitats. more >>

Mpala Research Centre

The Development Challenge has expanded capacity at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya to serve as a secure host site for Princeton faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate and undergraduate students with research and teaching interests involving wildlife, human populations, hydrology, land use, poverty, population growth, and health in the region. Operated as a partnership involving Princeton, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the National Museum of Kenya, and the Smithsonian, the Mpala facility has recently been upgraded with dormitory-styled accommodations and improved research and communications capabilities. more >>


Each semester, the Development Challenge offers students a suite of courses that underscore natural resource management as the keystone of sustainable development. These courses provide students with the technical, scientific, policy, and human perspectives to contribute to sustainable solutions for Africa. Many of these courses are new and incorporate Development Challenge research outcomes as integral components of course pedagogy.  more>>

Semester in Kenya

The Semester in Kenya program, offered by the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in collaboration with the School of Engineering, the Program in African Studies, and Columbia University provides interested and qualified undergraduate students with the opportunity to study sustainable development issues as part of a twelve-week long immersion experience. The program is open to students in their junior year. The four courses taught during the spring semester include: Ecology and Conservation on African Landscapes, Natural History of Mammals, Field Ecohydrology, Tropical Agriculture, and Biology of African Animals and Ecosystems.


Innovations in academic programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels are shaping a transformative educational experience and preparing Princeton students to address important ecological and social problems. The Development Challenge offers Princeton undergraduates a unique opportunity to complement their academic interests in sustainable development with hands-on, engaging, internship opportunities including independent research and project experiences through the summer months. more >>

Senior Thesis Research Support

The Development Challenge provides generous funding to support independent field research pursued as preparation for students’ senior theses with connections to energy and climate themes. Applications for Grand Challenges senior thesis research support are coordinated through the funding portal located on the Dean of the College’s website with Grand Challenges awards made during both spring and fall award cycles. more >>

Outreach and Collaboration

Educational outreach and capacity building are important elements of the Development Challenge’s strategy to advance sustainable solutions and improve human livelihoods in Africa. At the community level, faculty, researchers, and students work with and through local pastoral communities to raise awareness of environmental challenges and to demonstrate sustainable practices for land management and resource conservation. Faculty members supported by the Development Challenge to foster connections with universities and non-governmental organizations in the region in an effort to engage and empower African scientists and scholars. more >>

Development Challenge Faculty

Sponsorship and Administration

The Development Challenge is sponsored and administered by the Princeton Environmental Institute.