An Inside Look Into the Costa Rica Field Course
by YU FEI HUANG & SAMMY LOWE
Interested in learning all about tropical ecology? What if I told you Augustana offers a chance for you to do research in Costa Rica? We interviewed fourth-year biology student, Evan Whitfield, about his experience of the program. It consists of two courses, AUBIO 350 (Conservation Theory and Biodiversity in Tropical Systems) and AUBIO 459 (Field Studies in Tropical Ecology and Conservation). Students are required to take these courses in consecutive semesters.
The program allows students to research about bats, bugs or plants, depending on individual interests. The first class, AUBIO 350, teaches the process of making experimental design, including research relevant background information and writing a research proposal. The second class, AUBIO 459, allows you the chance to turn your learning into actions by conducting research over a period of 13 days in Costa Rica. The fun part of the course is “cross-pollination”, which means everyone has to help out with each other’s projects for a greater breadth of experience.
Evan’s project was done on how vegetation affected bats distribution. He sampled his experiment subject from 6 pm to 10 pm approximately. Every student had different daily schedules for observation; students with plants as subject sample throughout the day while the ones studying bugs had to sample both day and night! They spent a total of 9 days sampling in Costa Rica, using their research station as a home base.
The research station situated in Osa Peninsula, was around 30-35 °C when they went during February. For those of you who rely heavily on technologies, there is wifi available in the research station. The station is equipped with a main kitchen, research shed and sleeping area with bug nets.
While you are in Costa Rica, you get to tour a little bit, too! Evan and his group members spent their first night in San Jose, touring Osa peninsula, waterfall gardens and volcanoes. Evan particularly enjoyed seeing the cultural difference in Costa Rica. The richness of the culture even fueled his desire to learn new languages.
As Augustana is progressing towards the new academic schedule, Evan said it would be challenging, yet interesting to see how the program will pan out. He estimates that the traveling part of the program will take place in the 3-week semester. If so, there will be more time to plan for the trip without distractions from other courses. However, he also argues that the shortened period of time could hinders students’ ability to evaluate and reflect on the experience.
This program is about teaching you how to design, undertake and present a research project. You get the chance to present at SAC, the student academic conference, and show off your wonderful findings. More importantly, the different learning experience allows the exploration of a new city and cultural diversity. And hey, you can even enjoy the tropical warmth for two weeks while your friends are complaining about the cold winter in Canada.
Image courtesy of Evan Whitfield.