Feature Article | Entomology@Purdue | Spring 2011

Maymester in Costa Rica

Entomology Maymester students, Steven Smith, Zachary Eisenhower, John Diller, Tyler Stewart and Dan MartinEntomology Maymester Students (l-r): Steven Smith, Zachary Eisenhower, John Diller, Tyler Stewart, and Dan Martin

Jaguars, howler monkeys, toucans, Hercules beetles, bushmaster snakes, volcanoes, and rain forests quickly indicated to the five entomology undergraduate students that they were no longer in Indiana. From the chaos that is San Jose, the capitol of Costa Rica, to the serenity of a rain forest, John Diller, Zachary Eisenhower, Dan Martin, Steven Smith, and Tyler Stewart experienced a two-week course studying the natural wonders of Costa Rica.

 

Costa Rica is the perfect place to study Central American ecosystems. The country officially abolished its military in 1949 and focused its attention on education and tourism. Today, Costa Rica ranks first in tourism in Central America because of the county's emphasis on preserving its biodiversity. Costa Rica is fortunate to be bounded by two major bodies of water, the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, which reflects its name of "rich coast."

 

The Costa Rica course is divided into two components: a two-credit on-campus course, "Multicultural Aspects of Sustainable Agriculture" offered in the spring semester and a three-credit summer course, "Biodiversity and Agriculture in the Tropics" in Costa Rica. For the spring semester course, the five entomology students along with seven other Purdue students joined with six students from Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas to study multicultural aspects of sustainable agriculture. Because of the distance between the two schools, interactive lectures were presented on-line. At the start of the semester, Purdue students travelled to Haskell Indian Nations University to meet and interact with Haskell students. At semester's end, Haskell students came to Purdue for a final wrap-up of the course. Students were required to interview three people on their thoughts related to biodiversity, and each student presented a video or slide presentation to the class. The on-campus course was taught by Dr. Bridgett Chapin from Haskell Indian Nations University and Purdue staff and faculty, Dr. Tamara Benjamin (also from CATIE), Dr. Kevin Gibson (Botany and Plant Pathology), and Dr. Chris Oseto (Entomology).

 

By the end of the spring semester, students eagerly anticipated the adventures and learning experiences awaiting them in Costa Rica. They were anxious to use Costa Rica as a living classroom. The trip started in San Jose, a bustling city of over 350,000 inhabitants and travelled throughout the country from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. The students explored differences between organic and conventional production practices of coffee, cacao (chocolate), bananas, and pineapples along with tilapia and rice production.

 

The highlight of the Maymester course was the service learning experiences with three indigenous groups, the Maleku, Cabecar, and Yorkin Bri Bri. Students had the rare opportunity to stay two nights and interact with the Yorkin peoples in a true indigenous setting. To reach the Yorkin village, students travelled for 2 hours in a dugout canoe. They could only take what they could carry in their backpacks, and all luggage remained on the bus. The river passed through pristine forests with Panama on one side of the river, Costa Rica on the other side along with a host of parrots and macaws announcing our presence.

 

The Yorkin are proud of their culture, and how they have been able to maintain their culture in this modern era, and they were excited to share their culture with our students. Students worked in the heat and oppressive humidity of the tropics to help Yorkin cull diseased cacao pods and transplant banana plants. At the Maleku reservation, students helped the villagers make banana vinegar, an interesting tasting product, which is gaining popularity throughout Costa Rica.

 

One evening, we were treated to an enthralling performance by the Toriaravac Folk Dancers who gave an overview of Costa Rican history with their interpretive dances.

 

The entomology students always had their collecting equipment at the ready. Morpho butterflies and numerous species of Helioconidae would entice students to chase them. Where ever we went students could see the activities of the industrious leaf cutting ants and learned to respect the bullet and army ants. Students saw trees that "walk" and plants that strangle trees. Students tasted pineapples freshly cut in the field, and ate bananas pulled off plants along with guava, cassava, and cacao. Costa Rica is a marvel of nature and provides an educational experience outside the four walls of the traditional classroom.

 

After the Maymester course ended, Dan Martin remained in Costa Rica for six weeks to conduct research on the association of insect community on coffee plants. His comment illustrates the impact of his experience in Costa Rica. He said, "Traveling to Costa Rica was a life changing cultural experience from which I was really able to bring something home and apply to my life back in the States. As a part of the trip I stayed back to take part in a two and a half month internship at CATIE, which broadened my experience in insect identification and field work."

~Chris Oseto~