Helena Manzella

Costa Rica Spring '10



I returned to Costa Rica this April to collaborate with Professor Sergio Molina on his on-going research on waste management, urbanization, and climate change issues. The two weeks we spent researching together was a great addition to all that I had learned during the Directed Research process.

For one week I worked with Dr. Molina's Spring 2011 students, in particular Kate Macken who was an incredible partner, and we spoke with Tárcoles residents in their homes, probing environmental concerns that they may or may not have considered extensively before. Discussing real sustainable development issues (like the effects of continuing rapid coastline development and urbanization along the Pacific coast) with people who are affected by decision-making at an individual and community-level brings to life many of the theoretical problems preached by development textbooks. It is one thing to learn about the socioeconomic-environmental "give-and-take" of developing urban areas, but it is something else entirely to discuss it in the home of a trash collector whose wife works at the Marriott two beaches away and whose oldest son leads wildlife viewing tours on Río Tárcoles.

Learning about the perception of such trade-offs is an essential complement to the research I have been doing, especially as it relates to waste management. I have been exploring our interviewees' perception of risk from poor environmental management, how influential social norms are on their current waste management practices, and how willing they are to adopt new or more pro-environmental behaviors, such as composting organic waste.

My initial foray into the data we collected (which was added to the work of Dr. Molina's past Direct Research student' interviews in the towns of Jacó, Herradura, and Quebrada Ganado) was overwhelming. But the frustrating hours wading through the numbers and interpretations have paid off. Some of my preliminary findings suggest that my hypotheses were on the right track. For example, people who feel greater social influence to engage in pro-environmental waste management are also more willing to improve their current activities. We also found that people who believe there are high environmental risks from waste management problems are more willing to act more pro-environmentally in their actions.

Ultimately, I look forward to continuing the process of finding and interpreting results within the context of Costa Rican sustainable development. It was a pleasure to see everybody at the Center once again. This academic, professional, and personal experience simply could not be replicated elsewhere, and I am very grateful to SFS, especially Dr. Molina and Center Director Gerardo Avalos for welcoming me back and continuing my education in the unique SFS way. Thank you, and pura vida!

- By Helena Manzella Costa Rica Spring '10 and Muhlenberg College '10 "