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Session I: Sustaining Tropical Ecosystems: Biodiversity, Conservation, & Development

Costa Rica

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Location Atenas, Costa Rica
Language English
Dates 2017: June 5 – July 5
Rolling admissions. Early submissions are encouraged.
Program Cost
Click here for program costs. Program cost includes all tuition, room, board, local travel. Excludes airfare.
Financial Aid Click here for more information about need-based scholarships, loans, and travel grants.
Prerequisites No academic prerequisites; 18 years of age
Credits 4 credits (8 credits if taken with Session II)
I've gained further interest in studying how the effects of forest fragmentation from human impact affect the diversity and structure of forests. Thanks to SFS, I have a better understanding of what conducting research is all about, as well as a new perspective on the importance of sustainability.        

— Brianne Held, Otterbein University, Summer '15



Students explore and address key features of sustainable development strategies including the most pressing challenges occurring at the intersection of conservation and economic progress. Through coursework, students gain an understanding of the complex interrelations between economic development, land-use, the provision of ecosystem services, and global climate change from socioeconomic, ecological and natural resources management perspectives.

Students learn about Costa Rica’s historical and current sustainable development strategies, as well as tropical ecosystem function and connectivity, allowing them to understand the impacts of development on the environment and on society. The course introduces students to models of economic development and biodiversity conservation with field exercises, lectures, and trips in and around Costa Rica’s protected areas. A short field research project gives students a practical introduction to research design and methods for achieving conservation goals.


  • Explore the biological diversity of the rainforests of Braulio Carrillo National Park in the Volcanic Cordillera Conservation Area
  • Compare and contrast biodiversity protection in examples of conventional and organic agriculture
  • Study water and waste management approaches on the Tárcoles River
  • Evaluate tourism services and park management practices in Poás Volcano National Park
  • Learn about climate change mitigation and adaptation in Central America, as well as strategies in the context of international policy frameworks


This summer course can be taken individually (4 credits) or in combination with Session II: Applied Research Techniques & Strategies Toward Sustainability (8 credits). The combined summer program provides a thorough introduction to the sustainability of tropical ecosystems, as well as field research techniques for addressing conservation questions. Students participating in both sessions receive a $1,000 discount.



The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies, located an hour from the capital city of San José, comprises a campus facility integrated with a small Rainforest Alliance Certified™ mango and orange farm overlooking the fertile Central Valley. Practicing sustainability is part of the student learning and living experience. The Center’s facilities include a dormitory and cafeteria, indoor and outdoor classrooms, an organic garden and greenhouse, a soccer field, a basketball court, a swimming pool, and a forested area with trails. The campus is part of the small neighborhood of La Presa/Los Angeles, and the friendly town of Atenas is only three miles from campus. Costa Rica’s tropical forests, beaches, mountains, and volcanoes are within a day’s travel.