Our History



The School for Field Studies Begins

Following the first Earth Day celebration and the creation of environmental studies curricula at some of the nation's top universities, there was a growing acknowledgement of the critical need to manage sustainably the development of the world's remaining natural resources. To some, it was becoming increasingly clear that the ranks of conservationists charged with the future stewardship of our planet must include not only scientists, but also informed and concerned individuals in all professions worldwide. However, there were few organized efforts to address widespread environmental illiteracy among young people and to prepare the next generation of environmental leaders.

A small group of people met in Boston on October 23, 1980 to establish an educational organization to address these needs. In the summer of 1981 The School for Field Studies sent the first 75 students into the field. Over the years programs operated in a total of 20 countries and 15 states and semester-length programs were introduced; by 1995 the School had transitioned entirely to Center-based programs with a strong commitment to local communities.

Today SFS is known throughout the United States as the premier environmental study abroad program for undergraduates. Over 80 colleges and universities are affiliated with SFS and more than 15,000 students from the US and abroad have participated in our programs. SFS now has permanent, fully-staffed field stations in Australia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Tanzania, Panama, and the Turks & Caicos Islands. Our faculty and directors maintain close research relationships with the communities in which we are located. Although world conditions have changed, the core values of SFS remain the same and are reflected in our current Vision and Mission Statements.

Notable Events in SFS History

1980 SFS Founded on October 23

1981 First Summer Expeditions take place in Galapagos, Belize, Kenya, Mexico, Iceland, Cayman Islands, Alaska, Montana, Virginia

1982 First January Expeditions are offered

1983 SFS is accredited by Northeastern University

1985 The SFS Center for Wildlife Management Studies opens in Kenya

The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies opens in St. John, USVI

1987 The SFS Center for Rainforest Studies opens in Queensland, Australia

SFS launches efforts to build college and university membership in an Affiliation Program

1989 The SFS Center for Marine Mammal Studies opens in Hawaii.

SFS Alumni numbers reach 3,000

SFS shifts from primarily ecology-focused programming to a more comprehensive resource management focus

1990 The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies relocates to Turks & Caicos Islands

The SFS Center for Marine Mammal Studies moves to La Paz, Mexico where it operates until 1995.

1991 The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies opens in Costa Rica

1993 SFS completes the transition to a case-study based curriculum.

1994 Boston University accredits SFS programs

1995 First SFS Safety Director is hired

The SFS Center for Coastal Rainforest & Fisheries Studies opens on Vancouver Island where it operates until 2003

SFS moves to a fully center-based operation

1997 The SFS Center for Coastal Studies opens in Mexico where it operates until 2011.

SFS founding president, Jim Elder, resigns

1999 The SFS Center for Wildlife Management Studies opens Kilimanjaro Bush Camp in a Maasai community in Southern Kenya

2001 The SFS Center for Wildlife Management Studies expands to Nairobi National Park Camp which operates until 2010

Paul Houlihan appointed president of SFS

2002 SFS institutes five-year research planning process at each center

2003 SFS Alumni Numbers exceed 10,000

First Five Year Research Plans for Centers begin

2005 SFS celebrates 25 years of environmental education and leadership

2007 SFS and Boston University School of Public Health begin a Field Practicum in Public Health and Environment based at Kilimanjaro Bush Camp

The SFS Center for Rainforest Studies introduces sequential summer courses: Techniques in Rainforest Research and Tropical Rainforest Studies in Australia and New Zealand

2008 SFS president Paul Houlihan retires after 11 years of service. SFS welcomes Bonnie R. Clendenning as the new SFS president.

SFS expands Wildlife Management program to Tanzania

2009 Second set of Five Year Research Plans created

2010 SFS establishes a permanent field station for Wildlife Management Studies in Tanzania and expands the Wildlife Management Studies semester program as a two-country swap between Kenya and Tanzania

In the Kingdom of Bhutan SFS creates a six week summer program, "Himalayan Forests, Watersheds, and Rural Livelihoods," partnering with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment

2011 SFS welcomes Interim President John "Jack" Waggett

The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies in Costa Rica becomes a Rainforest Alliance Certified sustainable farm

2012 SFS launches new semester program in Panama, "Tropical Island Biodiversity and Conservation Studies"

SFS Headquarters moves from Salem, MA to the neighboring town of Beverly

SFS welcomes fourth President James A. Cramer

2013 SFS launches new programs: "Biodiversity and Development in the Amazon" in Peru and "The Living Mekong" in Cambodia & Vietnam

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities becomes SFS's School of Record