Costa Rica Symposium

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

Undergraduates continue to share their Costa Rican research experiences.

 

The 2013 Costa Rica Program at UC Irvine hosted a research symposium regarding the group’s recent travels to Costa Rica on Tuesday, May 14 in the Student Center’s Pacific Ballroom D. The evening showcased the work of 15 undergraduate students who spent their spring break conducting extensive research, learning about global sustainability and immersing themselves in Costa Rican culture.

Before traveling to Costa Rica over this past spring break, participants spent an entire quarter preparing for the trip and planning their research projects. After applying during fall quarter of 2012 and interviewing for the program, those selected took a class during winter quarter to figure out their research, learn more about the culture of Costa Rica, brush up on their Spanish and go over trip logistics. At the end of the quarter, they set off to Costa Rica to take what they learned in the classroom and apply it to their surroundings.

“We all found our place there and learned more about ourselves, each other and the environment than we could have ever imagined,” Baani Behniwal, a fourth-year cognitive science major and political science minor, said when reflecting on the trip.

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

The group spent ten days in the rural farm town of Mastatal and the coastal community of Playa Palo Seco. They learned about sustainable farming at a local cocoa farm called Iguana Chocolate, engaged in community service projects and spent two nights with home-stay families, amongst other things. Participants combined hands-on learning about sustainability with complete immersion in another culture, all the while working on their unique and individual research projects.

The program consisted of students from a variety of majors — their fields of study ranged from biology and earth system science to anthropology. Because their interests were so diverse, there was an array of different research projects that took place.

Emily McVey, the program’s Student Coordinator and a third-year earth and environmental science major, conducted her research on transformational learning. She wanted to see how the Costa Rica program transformed the group, and what about the program provided the space for this transformation to happen.

“I believe that it will take personal transformational experiences to move towards a sustainable world,” McVey said.

“Though those experiences vary for each person, I wanted to see how this trip provided the space for people’s perspectives about things, including sustainability and culture and global issues, could change. That is something that is deeply important to me.”

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

McVey studied how each group member personally transformed and shared some of the highlights during her talk at the event. One student changed his major from biological sciences to anthropology; one student realized that being aware of sustainability issues is both a blessing and a curse — while it is good to not be ignorant, seeing the reality about climate issues can be difficult; and another student realized that she had been addicted to technology and saw that she could be just as happy without it.

“Even though I’m only speaking about a few of these people, each of these amazing students had their own personal transformations that deeply affected them, and many of them are very similar to the ones I already mentioned,” McVey said.

Once some of the members of the group finished speaking about their trip and learning outcomes, the program organizers thanked sponsors and contributors who helped make this adventure possible. The many stakeholders included members from Student Affairs, The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) and UCI Student Housing.

Afterwards, the rest of the event comprised of displays of all the students’ research projects set up around the room. Attendants were then given the opportunity to speak with each student about their research while sampling Costa Rica-inspired hors d’oeuvres served by UCI Dining.

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

The project topics ranged from a study about the women in Costa Rica, to research about sustainable design and how it impacts the lifestyles of Costa Ricans in comparison to the United States.

This event was just one opportunity for the participants to share their research and experiences on the trip. Each group member has a goal to share with 500 people individually about their experiences, so many of them have been speaking to campus groups and/or posting to different social media sites to spread the word about their endeavors.

“The opportunity to really challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone was something for them that was really important,” Program Director Jennifer Gamble said when speaking about the values and lessons learned from the participants.

“I’m awfully proud of this group …  it’s been a fantastic year with them.”