Northeast biology students travel to Costa Rica

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by amandab  4/12/2017 10:00:33 AM --  NORFOLK - One hundred eighty-nine. That’s the number of plant and animal species a group of Northeast Community College students was able to identify on a recent trip to Costa Rica. Ten students and four instructors traveled to the Central American country for an eight-day learning experience as part of Northeast’s Introduction to Environmental Issues course.

The trip was one of several to be conducted under the supervision of Northeast Community College’s Center for Global Engagement.

Introduction to Environmental Issues offers an interdisciplinary curriculum, with four instructors each focusing on a different area of study. Angie Jackson teaches the ecology aspect of the course, while Kate Trindle incorporates geography and history into the class. Erin Kucera and Irina Weitzmann introduce agriculture as well as air and water quality components.

The students who participated were Kate Asmus, Pierce; Sydney Fling, Ainsworth; Austin Hart, Norfolk; Rebekah McGill, West Point; Monica Perez, Madison; Sydney Preston, Norfolk; Krisayla Rasmussen, Norfolk; Natalie Retzlaff, Pierce; Carly Thies, Wayne; and Makayla Wiese, O’Neill.

Before the group left for Costa Rica, they took air and water quality measurements and also checked ground-level ozone to compare against measurements they would record in Costa Rica.

And while 189 identified species may sound like a lot, Costa Rica, despite covering only about 20,000 square miles, is home to more than 500,000 species, which makes it one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.

“This class revolves around environmental concepts such as biodiversity, ecosystems and climate change,” said Jackson. “Now, we’ve actually gone to Costa Rica and have experienced all of these concepts firsthand. It was total immersion.”

The Northeast contingent partnered with Campanario Biological Station, which provided them with a local biologist and guide. The station is located on the Osa Peninsula, a highly remote area of Costa Rica that can be reached only by boat. The group stayed in primitive housing near the beach with very little electricity, no hot running water and no cell phone access.

“It’s one of the most pristine areas of the whole world,” said Jackson. “You could see the bottom of the ocean, even on the speed boat out there.”

Kate Asmus, Pierce, is a biology major who is enrolled in the course. She said one of the most memorable experiences was exploring a reef by snorkeling.

“I had never done that before. I’d been to the ocean, but I’d never been able to experience ocean life like that before. You see it in movies and in TV shows, but it was right in front of me.”

Asmus hopes to study wildlife biology and pursue a career as a wildlife or ecological guide, similar to the role their guide played for the class.

“He had such a passion for wanting to protect the environment there and for explaining that to us and other visitors. That’s what I want to be able to do, too, over here in the United States, to protect the environment here and inform people about all the environmental things that are happening, what humans are doing to our beautiful country.”

Asmus, who had never traveled outside of the United States before, said she is already planning more international travel, exploring the possibility of a mission trip to Nicaragua this summer.

Trindle said she had each student keep a journal while in Costa Rica.

“All of them described this emotional growth, and this gain of confidence.”

Jackson said the students not only wrote about their newfound confidence, but expressed it, too.

“I could see in certain students the confidence they had. They were somewhat shy at the beginning of the trip and by the end, they came out of their shells. I think there was a lot of growth in our students. They’re a lot tougher now than they ever thought they could be. If you were to ever think at the beginning of this trip that you would hike eleven miles in the jungle up and down, in that kind of heat. And you survived, and you did it.”

Now that the class has returned to Nebraska, they still have work to do. Jackson said the group is hoping to begin sample collecting in the Norfolk area again around mid-April, when macroinvertebrates are more numerous.

“The creepy crawlies need to come out before we can sample other streams,” said Jackson.

Asmus, Jackson and Trindle all agreed that Costa Rica has been an invaluable learning experience.

“It gives our undergraduate students an opportunity to do basic research, especially for those who want to transfer to other institutions,” said Jackson. “The opportunity to see this level of biodiversity, it’s life-changing. It gives you a new perspective on appreciating our world and protecting it.”




Northeast Community College student Rebekah McGill, West Point, takes a macroinvertebrate sample as part of a recent trip to Costa Rica. McGill was among ten students and four instructors who traveled to the Central American country for an eight-day learning experience as part of Northeast’s Introduction to Environmental Issues course. (Courtesy Northeast Community College)

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