Sustainable Semester Bridge (Gap) Year Program

This program is on hold indefinitely due to COVID-19 and is not accepting applications.

Sustainable Semester Program Overview

Sustainable Learning, the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that runs Sustainable Summer, also operates Sustainable Semester ‘bridge year’ programs. Sustainable Semester is an environmental leadership program designed to give high school graduates real world experience solving sustainable development challenges prior to college. A “mini-Peace Corps,” our bridge year students will spend four months living, learning, and serving in Ecuador. Enrollment is limited to 15 students.

The program includes a month-long training and orientation with a small cohort of fellows, a 2-week leadership expedition, and a 2.5 month fellowship with an environmental NGO. Significant cultural immersion is integrated into the experience, such as home-stays and language courses.


Length: Four weeks During this segment of the program, the entire cohort of students lives together in a guesthouse outside Quito (Ecuador’s capitol). Students will be engaged in a variety of (largely) field-based coursework Mondays through Thursday for the first three weeks of the program, with short trips and excursions scheduled for most Thursdays through Sundays.

A typical day includes morning and afternoon Spanish language instruction, as well as intensive coursework in sustainable development.

A sample of course segments includes:

  • Food & agricultural sustainability
  • Natural building and sustainable architecture
  • Water & natural resource management
  • Development economics & public policy
  • Social entrepreneurship
  • Organizational theory
  • Principles of sustainable development
  • Design thinking
  • Urban sustainability
  • Globalization
  • Spanish language
  • Leadership

Weekend excursions offer opportunities to explore, as a group, other regions of the country (for instance, to the Sierra highlands, the Amazon region, and the coast).

The final week of orientation is a homestay placement, where fellows will get a feel for the independence that will follow later in the program.


Length: Two weeks During orientation, fellows will plan an expedition, working together to manage financial, risk management, and logistical considerations. The expedition could take the group deep into the Amazon, to the summit of Cotopaxi, to the Galapagos or perhaps even over the border into Peru, depending on the group’s preferences and ability to work within the project parameters.


Length: Ten weeks

Students are placed in a fellowship with an environmental NGO. Placements are made based on student interest in the following broad areas: agriculture, energy & mining, water, conservation & research, law & policy, social finance & entrepreneurship, sustainable tourism, environmental education.

We work primarily with local organizations that meet the following criteria: a track record of successful stewardship; demonstrable financial resources and operational history that indicates the partner’s long-term viability; yet not so large or established that they have access to international donor networks or that our fellows will end up lost in a bureaucratic maze. In short, our fellows help under-resourced organizations that materially benefit from their contributions, and our fellows are provided with significant hands-on, real world experience working on development problems.

Students typically live in homestays during their fellowships, although some students may be placed at a scientific research station or other form of accommodation more appropriate to the region and type of work they are completing. Generally speaking, fellows live separately from each other, although we place groups of fellows in the same town or micro-region.

During this stage of the program, all participants also complete an independent capstone project. The project takes an in-depth look at a development issue, advocates a position, and establishes a later course of action the participant will take to create a positive outcome for both people and planet. The project can be either journalistic (using digital storytelling techniques); follow the format of a more traditional academic research paper; or be a proposal for a new social venture (business or non-governmental). Our goal is to shepherd every project to a successful next stage. Media projects will find a publisher; research projects will be published a peer-reviewed academic journal; and social ventures will receive seed funding.

Sustainable Semester Support and Mentorship

Students will be supported throughout the program by our in-country director who monitors each student’s progress at regular intervals. After the initial month-long orientation and training, the entire cohort will meet-up every 3 weeks for a 72-hour collaborative session.

Sustainable Semester Bridge Year Program Outcomes

This experience is highly valuable to the student as they consider future college and career plans. Through the lens of sustainability, students gain understanding of the powerful global economic and political forces reshaping the environment and the people that depend on it. Students learn the potential that organizations have to amplify social and environmental change, and also their limitations. Students also develop perspective, confidence, and purpose, and are better prepared to make smart choices and be life-long environmental stewards.

Sustainable Semester Bridge Year Tuition

The program is offered on a sliding tuition scale, meaning tuition is based on each family’s unique financial circumstances, similar to college tuition. The net average tuition is $9995, not including airfare. Please contact us if you’re interested in learning more about our Sustainable Semester programs.