Have Course, Will Travel: Biology Students Travel to Costa Rica

by William Edwards '17 | Apr 07, 2015


Fourteen students enrolled in a biennial field biology course traveled to Costa Rica this past winter break to study the country’s diverse and distinctive ecosystems.

The course was taught by Dr. Joseph Colosi, associate professor in the division of healthcare and natural sciences, who, throughout the fall semester, focused the course on Costa Rica’s defining features, from its climate and geology to its native species and healthcare system.

While in Costa Rica, the group traversed the country’s vast tropical rainforests and multiple volcanoes and stayed overnight at field stations throughout the country, including The Soltis Center of Texas A&M University, the University of Georgia at Monteverdi, and the Organization for Tropical Studies in both Paulo Verde National Park and La Selva.

Before their exploits students were educated on the backgrounds of the stations where they stayed, and most days during the trip included scheduled early morning, daytime, and night hikes, as well as free time for self-guided exploring. In addition to hiking, the class engaged in workshops and lectures from scientists on topics like crocodile hibernation, bat migration, iguana behavior, and local birds, plants, and insects.

“The biggest thing is for them to experience a totally different ecosystem than they’ve ever seen before, and we did,” said Colosi, who has led 11 field biology trips to locations including Hawaii, Texas, and Florida. “The tropical rainforest is a magical place, and everybody felt it. You can just feel the diversity around you. It’s hard to describe.”

Colosi also said he hoped the experience would make the students more in tune with and conscious of their environment in Pennsylvania. Sophomore biology major Angeline Lonardi was one of the fourteen on the trip and said seeing the country’s diverse habitats first-hand couldn’t be duplicated.

“There’s only so much you can do in a laboratory on campus. If you want to learn about an ecosystem, you have to go and get right in the middle of it, and that’s exactly what we did—we were in the middle of the rainforest for two weeks, and it was awesome,” said Lonardi, who said the trip also allowed her to become closer with new classmates, remarked. “We talked about Costa Rica the whole semester, but in the classroom, nobody really grasped the understanding that they had after the trip. You have to go, you have to see it, and you have to be there to understand everything that goes on ecologically in a region.”

Despite being a biology class, the trip was focused on more than ecological studies, as various cultural activities were on the itinerary. Students milked cows, cooked and ate with a local family in their home, toured a banana plantation, took dance lessons, and saw cultural sites in the country’s capital, San Jose.

Colosi wanted the trip to encourage students to think about important life questions as well, as the group saw a high level of poverty.

“A majority of the houses were very modest—they tended to have tin roofs, it wasn’t hard to find one where you could see openings in it,” Colosi said. “So even though Costa Rica is one of the most stable, secure countries in Central America—life expectancy is the same as Pennsylvania, most people have jobs—it clearly is a less-wealthy place than here. Yet all of the people we came across were happy. It’s an important lesson.”

Colosi plans on taking the fall 2016 field biology class to the Galapagos Islands to study evolution. This year’s class was one of many courses at the University that include an abroad component. Trips are partially subsidized by the University.

“On the course evaluation students wrote about the trip, and one of the students said they think this sets DeSales apart because very few schools give that kind of support for foreign travel,” Colosi said. “I agree with that statement. I think the support that DeSales gives students to help them experience a totally different place, a totally different culture, is a really good thing.” 

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