NVC Students Participate in Costa Rica Adventure Science Field School

Eight Environmental Studies/Science students participated in Northwest Vista College’s first field study program in Costa Rica. Previously the field school was conducted in Morocco, but this year a partnership between the Alamo Colleges’ Office of International Programs and NVC’s Geography and Environmental Studies Department was awarded seed money from the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund to let students study closer to home, which is less expensive.

The grant paid for some of the students’ travel while the students earned scholarships to fund the rest of their studies. Next summer the program will be partially funded through a gift from the Microsoft Community Empowerment Fund.

Students who participated in NVC’s spring 2022 Environmental Science I course visited three Costa Rican research stations in May. They started at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve where, while conducting a bird census, they spotted a Resplendent Quetzal. Quetzals are very rare. Only six percent of visitors ever see one.

Billie Alkema, who graduated in May with an environmental science pre-major, spotted the Quetzal. She said, “at first I only saw its tail, then it quickly flew and perched on a branch before flying into its nest.”

After leaving the mountain environment students travelled to Cabo Blanco Absolute Reserve, Costa Rica’s first protected area, to conduct a Hawksbill Sea Turtle study with Reserve biologists. Maddie Orquiz, Thomas Richardson, and Liz Godsey snorkeled out to help set up a 100-meter turtle net. Within moments they caught a highly endangered turtle and the biologists brought it in for study.

“It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Northeast Lakeview freshman Tanya Campbell who videorecorded the whole event. NVC freshman Alexa Soni said she was surprised how quickly they caught a turtle. She helped measure the shell and determine its sex while another student took photos of all sides of the turtle’s head for later visual identification.

Only three higher education institutions are afforded the opportunity to study at Cabo Blanco’s San Miguel Biological Research Station. NVC’s Adventure Science students, the only foreign students with access to the station, were privileged to work with world renowned sea turtle biologists Daniel Arauz and Jeffry Madrigal Mesen.

Two days later, the Adventure Science students hiked and drove down the Pacific Coast to Reserva Playa Tortuga to participate in several other studies. They started with a nighttime crocodile count, wading through the river, and winding their way through the nocturnal jungle. The next day students participated in a coral restoration project, setting cameral traps, searching for monkeys, and looking for tent bats that make their home under large jungle leaves. Karla Aguirre and Tanya Campbell spotted several bats but were not able to find any monkeys.

Karla and Maddie led the team in a microplastics study on Playa Tortuga, as they had learned from studying microplastics at Cabo Blanco. The whole group did a service component by picking up beach trash while participating in Send a Bag, Pick Up a Bag on Instagram.

Tanya said, “The opportunity to participate in so many research projects was an amazing privilege and I hope to be able to expand upon what I have learned.”

Student Thomas Richardson also wrote a letter to Alamo Colleges Chancellor Dr. Mike Flores about his experience:

“Dear Dr. Flores,

My name is Thomas Richardson, I am one of the eight students that had the privilege of traveling with Dr. Scott Walker down to Costa Rica this month. I am writing to personally thank you for making programs such as this available to us at the Alamo Colleges.

I have traveled abroad before many times in my life and even participated in a study abroad program to Europe while I was still in high school. With the end of this Costa Rica trip I have now finished my time with the Alamo Colleges, and I am saddened by it. You see Dr. Walker is an amazing professor and he made this Costa Rica trip the best educational experience I have ever had, hands down. The acedemic level of field work and immersion into research based education that this trip provided was of the highest quality. I am sad because now I have to leave that behind and finish my undergraduate degree at UTSA at which I am now an active student. Unfortunately the Study Abroad program that UTSA offers in my major is quite low in quality by comparison. It lacks the field research applications and is narrow in its overall scope of topics discussed. UTSA also only offers just one Study Abroad for my major. On the other hand with the Alamo Colleges, Dr. Walker already conducts two great Study Abroad programs to Costa Rica and Morocco. He has also said that he is in the process of expanding it into other countries as well such as Peru. These wonderful programs are available only at the Alamo Colleges and by Dr. Walker himself.

I want to again thank and congratulate you on helping Dr. Walker provide these excellent learning experiences for the Alamo Colleges. You all do a much better job at education than at UTSA I must say, and you all deserve great credit for making the Alamo colleges such a wonderful place to gain a truly higher level of education.”