Brown Environmental Leadership Lab: Florida Keys

Explore tropical marine ecology, the impacts of climate change, and environmental action and conservation.

BELL Florida students observing marine life.The Brown Environmental Leadership Lab (BELL) combines concepts in environmental studies, ecology, and leadership, with a mission of developing socially responsible leaders. At BELL, you’ll embark on a journey of learning and reflection while building community with the fellow student environmentalists in your program.

This one-week course will take you to picturesque Key Largo, Florida, one hour south of Miami. Your home base will be MarineLab, an environmental education center located on Adams Cut between Blackwater Sound and Largo Sound—convenient to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in Florida Bay. From there, you’ll take a deep dive into tropical marine ecology and conservation, looking at sustainable restoration of coral reefs and studying mangrove ecology. You’ll assess the collective impacts of global climate change, human interaction, and extreme weather events while learning about socially responsible leadership.

In addition to studying the diverse ecosystems of the Florida Keys, you will learn about the complex native history of South Florida with a visit to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. During some parts of your course, you will also have the opportunity to participate in service projects like coral reef restoration and ocean debris cleanup.

Over the course of your BELL experience, you’ll identify a pressing issue that you’re passionate about. With support from instructors and peers, you’ll formulate an Action Plan to apply your new leadership knowledge to this issue when you return home. (Wondering what this looks like? Check out past examples.)

Program Snapshot

Who

Students completing grades 9–12, ages 15–18 by June 19, 2022

What

1-week course

When

Choose one session:

  • Thursday, July 7 – Thursday, July 14
  • Saturday, July 16 – Saturday, July 23
  • Monday, July 25 – Monday, August 1

Where

MarineLab, Key Largo, Florida

Why

  • Join a community of young scholars who are passionate about the environment while experiencing a new part of the country or world.
  • Develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to impact environmental issues facing your local community and the planet as a whole.
  • Explore some spectacular landscapes by studying, listening and observing.
  • Concentrate on learning without the pressure of formal grades.
  • Receive a Course Performance Report and Certificate of Completion when you finish.

Experience

For the first night of the program, you will stay in a hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, FL near the airport to allow for an easier arrival experience. You will be sleeping on bunk beds in dormitory-style rooms separated by gender identity at the MarineLab, which is a gated facility. The MarineLab also has indoor classrooms and labs, a recreation center, indoor bathrooms, a cafeteria, and areas to relax or play games during free time. The classrooms, cafeteria, and dormitories are all air-conditioned.

Program staff live on-site and are available 24 hours a day to provide support and supervision.

You can expect three simple meals each day, primarily served in the cafeteria at the MarineLab. 

Note: All food is ordered in advance, so program staff must be notified of any dietary restrictions or allergies by April 13.

  • Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum: The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is located on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, and offers visitors indoor and outdoor exhibits and experiences about the indigenous communities of South Florida.
  • Rodriguez Key Wildlife Management Area: Rodriguez Key is just offshore of Key Largo and features an interesting bottom community that is based on the coralline algae Neogoniolithon. Students snorkel the area and instructors collect large chunks of the Neogoniolithon.
  • A Coral Restoration Foundation coral nursery and restoration site: Coral Restoration Foundation™ (CRF) is the world's largest non-profit marine-conservation organization dedicated to restoring coral reefs to a healthy state globally.

BELL students are expected to reduce their cell phone use, allowing them to fully engage with the community and beautiful surroundings. By breaking ties to these technologies, you will be able to be more mindful of the natural environment and build more intentional friendships. On-site staff will review more details about the expectations surrounding cell phone use for students once they are on site. While this may be an unfamiliar experience for many students, it is often an aspect of the trip students appreciate most.

  • Summer weather in Florida can vary. Please check the weather forecast for Key Largo, FL, before departure and pack accordingly.
  • A specific packing list will be provided for accepted students. 
  • You’ll spend at least one hour on a boat almost every day. You don’t need to be a skilled swimmer to participate, but you must be comfortable wearing a life jacket and eager to swim and snorkel.

A Typical Day

Each day is different but typically includes lab work, field observations, classroom discussions, leadership workshops, and time for team-building, recreation, and reflection. Sample schedule:

8:00 – 8:30 am Breakfast
9:00 – 11:45 am Morning session (Example: Marine debris lesson and beach clean-up)
12:30 – 1:00 pm Lunch
1:00 – 1:30pm Solo time
2:00 – 5:00pm Afternoon session (Example: Seagrass ecology lesson and snorkeling)
6:30 – 7:00 pm Dinner
7:00 – 9:00 pm Evening session (Example: Leadership styles workshop)
9:00 – 10:00 pm Free time
10:00 pm Well-deserved rest

Program Director

  • Photo of Jane B. Diener

    Jane Diener

    Associate Director, Pre-College Programs & Environmental Studies