Sustainable Summer at Cornell

Sustainable Summer

Beautiful gorges, a stunning campus, and vibrant community make for an unforgettable summer at Cornell where sustainability courses through the built environment, faculty research, and student life.
July 7 - July 19, 2024 Accepting Applications

Environmental Leadership & Innovation
at Cornell

Program Details

Sustainable Summer at Cornell University is ideal for high school students with a strong interest in environmental sustainability, and is particularly well suited to students interested in

  • social entrepreneurship,
  • environmental policy,
  • community activism
  • and non-profit ventures.

The program is designed to help students develop an advanced understanding of the interrelated challenges of sustainable development, climate change, and biodiversity loss through project-based learning and the real-world application of knowledge to a specific environmental problem.

Understand The Problem. Develop Innovative Solutions.

You likely know that human-generated carbon emissions are driving global warming. The Earth’s average temperature has already increased 1° Celsius since the industrial revolution and we are on a path to an additional 3 or more degrees of warming by the end of the century. This has dire implications for the planet and its inhabitants. You already understand the broad strokes of this story. What you don’t know, or at least don’t fully understand, are the details and – more importantly – what needs to happen (and how) so that we have a climate future that is safe for people and the planet.

Sustainable Summer at Cornell is a fun and hands-on way to expand your understanding of sustainability while making friends from all over the world who share your passion for the environment. This is an intensive two-week program designed to develop students’ knowledge of sustainability concepts, problem-solving and leadership skills and a deeper understanding of self.

Sustainable Summer at Cornell

Summer at Cornell

There are few college campuses that can rival Cornell’s as a place to get a taste for college living. Picture yourself working with a team of your peers to develop a pitch for a newly conceived “triple bottom line” business over coffee in the student center. Or hiking to one of the area's famous waterfalls. You’ll get to experience campus life, but also get to enjoy some of the incredible natural beauty nearby that has yielded the phrase "Ithaca is Gorges." We want to get out and about exploring sustainability on campus and in the surrounding natural world. Days feature a combination of project-based learning, culture or outdoors activities, and quality time enjoying the amazing community of students from all over the world that participate in a Sustainable Summer program.

PLEASE NOTE: Cornell University does not operate Sustainable Summer.

Program Goals

We focus on developing three pillars of environmental leadership in our students. What is environmental leadership?


Taking action starts with building knowledge. Participants through discussions, workshops, site visits, and projects will investigate important concepts in the field of sustainability.


We emphasize the application of knowledge to practical, real world problems through a project-based approach.


A Sustainable Summer program is an authentic space for students to explore their own value structures, professional and intellectual interests, and how their beliefs inform their environmental ethic and activism.

The Experience

With a cohort of intellectually curious youth from all over the world, our programs emphasize dynamic project-based learning, personal growth, and discovery.

This is NOT a "take notes and study for the test" type of program. This IS an "I'm all in, let's get our hands dirty and have fun while doing it" type of program.

Check out what past students have to say about our programs at Cornell.

Sustainable Summer at Cornell

What You'll Be Doing

Module I - Changing the Status Quo

The first week of the program explores the philosophy and mindset of innovators and changemakers; stimulates thinking about environmental problems and solutions to those problems; and helps students understand the most important considerations for operationalizing an idea into an initiative that creates positive environmental outcomes while being financially sustainable.

This module examines topics including:

  • the responsibilities that governments, businesses and individuals have towards the planet and society;
  • the main principles of sustainable development;
  • the fundamentals of climate science;
  • energy sources and uses;
  • the primary solutions, or pathways, that will enable urgent emissions reductions and a climate future that is safe for people and the planet;
  • and how organizations of all types and sizes can take action to advance positive sustainability outcomes.

Learning activities include case studies, climate simulations, group presentations, and other project-based activities. Guest speakers and lots of fun co-curriculars designed to connect students to nature and each other round out the week.

Module II - Putting Ideas Into Action

With a solid understanding of the fundamentals in place, we can then begin planning for action. That is what this program is all about. Using principles of human-centered design, students - working in small groups - will brainstorm and then develop either a market-based, policy-based, or community-based solution to a clearly articulated problem. This can be a a business concept, a white paper policy proposal, or a new non-profit organization or local environmental action campaign.

During an intensive three-day “innovation” bootcamp participants are guided through the process of finding an environmental problem worth solving and converting abstract ideas into real initiatives. Regardless of the type of venture, students will take their ideas to the community for feedback, refine their solution and then launch it with the goal of engaging people, inspiring action, and creating positive change.

What initiatives do students create? Here are some examples from the past two years:

  • a repurposed outdoor gear outfitter
  • a sugarcane-based bioplastic for eco-conscious snack packaging
  • a school-based, low-tech, on-site paper recycling system
  • a cockroach-based food waste processing system that will convert restaurant food waste into livestock feed and organic fertilizer
  • a stormwater management plan for a school
  • refillable cosmetics dispensed in bulk
  • biodegradable fishing tackle
  • a neighborhood composting initiative
  • seaweed livestock feed additive that reduces methane emissions

Have a look at our Program Guide for information about the program calendar, accommodations, academics, activities, guest speakers and other program details.


We use a tiered tuition model that leads to more socioeconomic diversity in our cohorts.


Our standard course fee, which represents the actual cost of operating our programs, including the administrative costs that are necessary to sustain our organization in the long-term. This is the suggested rate for families living in high cost of living areas with household net assets of greater than $650,000 and/or annual household income of greater than $180,000.

Tuition Assistance

Participants at this tuition rate cover only their direct participation costs, including lodging, meals, activities, and other programming. Participation at this level is based on the honor system. It is available to all families - no documentation required. We simply ask families to honestly consider their financial resources and ability to pay the full tuition rate.


Scholarship funding is available for students that are unable to participate at either of the other rates. Scholarship participants receive up to 100% of the program tuition in financial assistance. A parent statement of financial circumstances and a recent tax return are required.

Program Details

Have a look at our Program Guide for information about the program calendar, a typical day, accommodations, academics, activities, guest speakers and other program details.

What's Included


in either single or double rooms in a North Campus residence hall, near the dining, classrooms, and other centers of campus life.


Students will be provided with a full meal plan through Cornell's dining services. Dietary preferences or restrictions are no problem.


Activities, from the adventurous to the cultural, are a regular part of the program.

Dynamic Learning Opportunities

Project-based. Interactive. Fun. This is an applied sustainability program. We focus on the application of ideas to practical problems.


Guest speakers from the Cornell community talk about local sustainability issues.

Residential Staff

Our professional facilitators live in the residence hall with the group.

Pre-Program Materials and Support

Students and parents receive comprehensive and prompt pre-program support.

Not Included

Tuition does not include transportation to/from campus, or personal expenses such as laundry, snacks, souvenirs, and other incidentals. There is an additional housing fee for any student requesting a single room.


Maybe, but that depends significantly on a number of factors. See this article on college admissions for more info.

No. Our position on college credit for pre-college enrichment programs is that, in most cases, it drives up the cost of participation without adding much value to the experience. It’s unlikely that admissions officers will weight the fact that a course was taken “for credit” any greater than one that is not in admissions decisions. Furthermore, competitive universities do not typically allow pre-college credits to transfer. Typically to be eligible for credit transfer, a course must be offered by accredited four year degree granting institutions as part of an undergraduate degree program, be at least three weeks long and meet for a minimum of 30 contact hours, and/or course enrollment must be by a majority of current college students. The vast majority of pre-college courses, even those offered by colleges themselves, don’t meet these requirements. This is probably why large pre-college programs run by universities like Columbia don’t confer credit. They know it’s not going to transfer.

That isn’t a possibility through our program, but, even if you’re not already familiar with the concept of sustainability, we encourage you take a few minutes to look through the information here and contact us with any questions. The program is geared towards students with an interest in environmental studies, but this is a broad field that overlaps with a number of other disciplines, such as business, public policy, economics, and the sciences. We are also more focused on developing transferable skills (eg; critical thinking and problem solving), than developing deep content knowledge. Students will certainly acquire lots of newfound information about sustainability, but learning is circular and we are primarily focused on building skill-sets that will help students be successful in a variety of academic disciplines when they matriculate to college.

Students will reside in either single or double in a residence hall on Cornell’s North Campus.

We gender segregate by hall with students in double rooms. Singles are available by request for an additional fee, although most students prefer to have a roommate. Roommate assignments are based on a housing questionnaire. Pods of two doubles and one single share a bathroom with shower, toilet, and two sinks. A common area with TV and kitchen are available to students. The residence hall is air-conditioned. Linens are provided.

Our staff can treat basic medical situations on-site within the limits of their certifications and training. Participants with more serious needs will be transported to an emergency medical facility or urgent care.

Essential Eligibility Criteria

The mission of Sustainable Summer is to cultivate the next generation of environmental leaders. Each student must be fully committed to and capable of working hard, taking responsibility for him or her self, and working effectively in the group to achieve the goals of the program. The following Essential Eligibility Criteria state expectations of each participant.

Each participant must…

  • Act reliably around hazards to minimize risk even when not directly supervised.
  • Independently perceive, understand, and follow directions and instructions given by others to be able to successfully execute appropriate and perhaps unfamiliar, techniques to avoid hazards and/or manage risks. These directions may be given before the hazard or risk is encountered or may need to be given during exposure to the hazard/risk and out of necessity and practicality are often given orally.
  • Be able to stay alert and to focus attention for up to several hours at a time while traveling in wilderness terrain, attending classes, or receiving instructions.
  • If taking prescription medications, be able to maintain proper dosage by self-medicating without assistance from instructors or others (except possibly in emergency situations).
  • Work effectively as a member of a team. This may require problem solving on an interpersonal or group level as well as a willingness to accept differences.
  • Contribute to a safe learning environment—no verbal or physical inappropriate behavior of others is tolerated for any reason.

Sustainable Summer Red Rules

Violation of the following “red rules” will result in immediate dismissal from a program:

  • NO engaging in activities that break US or local laws
  • NO sexual contact or exclusive relationships
  • NO sleeping in a room other than the one to which you have been assigned
  • NO body alteration, including piercing and tattoos
  • NO riding in motorized vehicles, unless authorized to do so by program staff
  • NO behavior that physically or emotionally endangers yourself or others, including 
specifically the use of recreational drugs or alcohol

Sustainable Summer Bullying and Inclusivity Statement

Sustainable Summer defines bullying as harassment, intimidation, or any act intended to exclude or harm another person physically or psychologically. We believe that any form, type, or level of bullying or discrimination is unacceptable and we have a zero tolerance policy on bullying and reserve the right to dismiss any student who bullies or discriminates against others.


No. Cornell University does not operate Sustainable Summer. Sustainable Summer is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. We receive support from a number of different organizations, including the federal government. Cornell University is not a supporter, sponsor, or co-sponsor of this program and the words “Cornell” and “Cornell University” are used here only to describe (i) the program’s location and facilities and (ii) the experience of program staff who are employed or otherwise officially affiliated with Cornell. Sustainable Summer does have academic sponsorship from Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment, as required by Cornell University to operate our program on Cornell’s campus in Ithaca, NY.


Yes. Students can apply to multiple sessions and, if accepted, participate in consecutive sessions, either concurrently or not.

Program Staff

Curious about our program staff?

Cornell Program Testimonials

Admissions Process

  • Step 1

    Apply online. Your application will include a Letter of Recommendation from a teacher or mentor, a personal statement, and two short (500 words or less) responses to open-ended questions about sustainability. There is a $35 application fee (waived for scholarship applicants).
  • Step 2

    Admissions decision, based principally on the applicant's ability to demonstrate interest in sustainability issues and to contribute positively to our community of students. Students and parents are notified via email and provided enrollment instructions. This is also a good time for parents to be in contact with our office to review any questions about the program.
  • Step 3

    A non-refundable deposit secures enrollment in the program. Enrollment deposits are made online by credit card and the enrollment form must be completed by a parent.

Partners and Supporters

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Silicon Vally Community Trust Logo
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