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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Plan II Costa Rica Maymester 2013


Land Use Issues in Rainforest Conservation

Course Description: The Plan II Honors Program offers this course, Land Use Issues in Rainforest Conservation, to students interested in understanding the complex issues surrounding rainforest conservation.  Costa Rica is renowned for its ecological diversity and extensive reserves.  However, the country faces serious economic and public policy issues in the conservation of its treasured rainforest.  Students will be challenged to consider the many different factors affecting land use in Costa Rica during a Spring one hour seminar course, four weeks of field work in Costa Rica, and through independent research.  The course provides hands-on experience as well as immersion into the context of the question. Students will interact with the local population and governmental agencies, as well as with visiting international students and researchers. The issue of sustainable conservation requires an understanding of biology, environmental science, business, political science, sociology, anthropology and economics, so this course is well-suited to students with interdisciplinary interests. For students wanting more, this course will lay the ground work for subsequent in-depth study abroad and for some of studentsʼ honors theses.

Activities: In Costa Rica, students will first stay in a tropical rainforest research station to gain an appreciation of the unique diversity and beauty there; students will learn about conservation issues and biological field research in a remote lowland rainforest environment. The middle portion of the course will be a bus trip to survey ecotourism and agricultural interests and to visit diverse habitats, from tropical dry forest to cloud forest to the Caribbean lowlands.  The final phase will be in-residence at a field station.  Students will interact with local stakeholders (who have differing priorities for land use) and will prepare an analysis of a specific local issue for presentation.  In addition, each student will write an independent summary report.

Throughout the course, students will keep a journal, prepare written abstracts, and give short oral presentations that address a series of questions regarding sustainable conservation in the juxtaposed ecotourism and agricultural economies of Costa Rica.  By the end of the course students should be able to describes points of view and economic interests of different stakeholders in land use and conservation, perform observations and ask questions, and explain their rationale for change.

Requirements: In Costa Rica the components of the grade are: 20% active participation in course activities; 20% field exercises, includes question-generating activities and practice gathering data; 40% group research project and presentation; and 20% individual write-up, summary of field notes, ideas about priorities and recommendations, and a final individual reflection.

Academic Credit: Plan II students who successfully complete the Program will earn four credit hours for a Plan II Junior Seminar (TC 357) and a one hour preparatory seminar (LA 119).  All students participating in the Costa Rica Maymester Program are requred to take LA 119 (Maymester Seminar: Costa Rica), which meets weekly for the first half of the spring 2013 semester (day/time TBA).  Note: Non-Plan II students will recieve four hours of academic credit for BIO 337 and LA 119.  Maymester courses are part of UT spring registration; courses must be taken for a letter grade and are factored into the official UT GPA.

Faculty: The Costa Rica Maymester Program is led by Professor Ruth Buskirk, UT School of Biological Sciences.  Dr. Buskirk has taught Plan II Biology for many years and is the 2012 recipient of the Plan II Chad Oliver Teaching Award.  In additon, Dr. Buskirk teaches Intro Biology (for natural science majors), Honors Genetics, and has extensive teaching and research experience in Costa Rica. 

Costs: 2013 program fee $4100; the fee includes the deposit, program activities, housing, most meals, and local transportation.  In addition students should budget for airfare (approx. $500-$700), required insurance ($100), and some meals/spending money ($250).  The total estimated cost for the program is $5100. 

Scholarships: All Plan II students who apply to the Costa Rica Maymester program should also apply for the Plan II Travel Grant during the Fall 2012 application period (deadline Oct. 31, 2012).  Additional funding sources for this study abroad program include the Liberal Arts Scholarships, the SAO Maymester Scholarship (deadline Dec. 3, 2012), the 25th Year Anniversary Scholarship (Maymester - deadline Nov. 1, 2012), the International Education Fee Scholarship (deadline Oct. 1, 2012) to name a few.  Visit the Funding Study Abroad section on the Study Abroad Office website for more fundraising ideas and detailed scholarship information.  We encourage students to apply for all scholarships/grants that they are eligible for.   Note: Many of these scholarships have early deadlines, you may apply for scholarships even if you are not yet sure if you have been accepted into the program. 

Maymester 2013 Program Dates: May 23, 2013 - June 24, 2013

Housing: Students stay in field station dormitories or in hostels while on the road.

Prerequisites: This Program is recommended for students who have completed either Plan II Biology (BIO 301E - Problems in Modern Biology) or BIO 311D (Introductory Biology II) prior to departure.  Completion of BIO 315H (Advanced Introduction to Genetics: Honors) is also acceptable in lieu of the classes listed above.  We welcome students with broad academic interests who can collaborate in group work and who are willing to walk on muddy trails and tolerate mosquitos, belligerent monkeys, and rain.  Students need not speak Spanish but will gain more from the experience with a knowledge of the language.

Why Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is known worldwide for its conservation efforts with more than 25% of its land under protection, thus safeguarding more than 5% of the entire world's biodiversity in an area about the size of West Virginia. This phenomenon has attracted millions of tourists to Costa Rica's parks and reserves, and tourism can strain the park system and the neighboring human communities. Agricultural practices are changing as Costa Ricans, on small farms as well as national and multi-national corporations, work to achieve economic growth and sustainable practices The overall socio-political issue is to find tenable land use plans that maintain the goals of conservation and sustainability. Costa Rica is a unique setting for biological field studies. The country has a long history of support for visiting scholars and students and for development of local scientists and agricultural experts. Costa Rica is a model for collaboration between governmental and private programs in conservation. As students will see, in this small country there is a unique juxtaposition of remote wilderness and developed areas, complete with the infrastructure for their instruction, transportation, services and safety.

History: The Plan II Costa Rica Maymester Program has a history of great success, the Program has been run twice prior in 2010 and 2011.  Visit Photo Gallery.

More Information: Costa Rica Maymester 2013 Course Website

Sirena Field Station at Corcovado National Park


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