Travel Learning: Studying Monkeys in the Costa Rican Rainforest

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Regis Gives Day 23
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About

   


The project is a travel learning experience that I run in the summer in Costa Rica: Primate Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation in the Costa Rican Rainforest. Students spend a month in the rainforest studying monkeys in their natural environment and learning about the pressing conservation issues facing both the non-human and human populations in the region (e.g., forest fragmentation, etc.).

After a month in the rainforest, students truly experience primate behavior and ecology as well as the research process. They leave the course empowered, becoming an expert in some aspect of these animals’ lives, and having been immersed in nature. The La Selva rainforest in Costa Rica is surrounded by banana and pineapple plantations. Students begin to understand the complex relationship between humans, wildlife, economics, and politics by living in such a threatened environment and learning about the various stakeholders, both human and nonhuman.

This is a high-impact experiential learning experience for our students. I recently published a paper in American Journal of Primatology outlining how this course greatly impacts students’ passion and understanding of global conservation issues as well as their career trajectories. The program fee (~$2400) puts the course out of reach for many of our students and we would like the opportunity to be accessible to more (ideally all) of our students.

Regis Gives Day is a perfect opportunity to raise funds to either cover the program fee for 1-2 students, or to defray the costs for all of the students who will participate (usually ~10 students take the course). This project aligns closely with Regis University’s mission, particularly with respect to global environmental awareness. Habitat fragmentation is a global phenomenon, with wide-ranging effects on wildlife. Developing effective solutions to such pressing environmental concerns requires understanding the perspectives and often conflicting interests of various parties including fauna and flora, scientists, and industrial agriculture.

Furthermore, this project provides critical experiential learning opportunities for Regis students. Since 2015, ~30 students have participated in this travel learning course, assisting with behavioral data collection, vegetation and population surveys, and the collection and analysis of genetic samples. This work has resulted in multiple published manuscripts and conference presentations with Regis student co-authors. These opportunities allow students to learn and practice scientific inquiry, integrate knowledge and practical skills that will enable them to become successful biologists and citizens, cultivate a respect for biodiversity, and provide motivation to confront crucial human problems.

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