Session II: Applied Research Techniques & Strategies Toward Sustainability

Costa Rica

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Location Atenas, Costa Rica
Language English
Dates 2016: July 11 – August 10
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 og age
Credits 4 credits (8 credits if taken with Session I)
The firsthand experience of living and learning in a rapidly developing country showed me the difficulty of solving environmental issues brought on by economic growth, but also gave me better insight into how to address the problem.        

—Mindy Zhao, University of California, Los Angeles, Summer ‘11



Students learn about the ecological, natural resource management, and socioeconomic factors impacting protected areas and surrounding communities and farms in Costa Rica. Field exercises, research projects, and lectures introduce students to models of conservation, biodiversity protection, and development of Costa Rica's national parks, within the context of the Costa Rican cultural application of conservation ecology. In this research-intensive program, the focus is on developing relevant research questions that address local issues related to sustainability. Students propose alternative approaches toward sustainable development in an effort to help address challenges to conservation goals.

Issues to be examined include (but are not limited to): visitation management in protected areas, the social and economic impact of ecotourism on local communities, individual’s actions around climate change, solid waste management, urbanization impacts, impacts on the ecology of flora and fauna species protected within national parks coming from human influences such as increased road traffic, increased edge habitats, extraction of non-timber forest products, as well as hunting.


  • Explore Poco Sol forest as a natural laboratory in which to practice field observation and hypothesis testing
  • Hike the oak forest and páramo ecosystems of the highlands of Cerro de La Muerte
  • Visit Arenal Volcano National Park and evaluate the consequences of increased tourism in an effort to inform park managers about opportunities to foster better relationships with surrounding communities
  • Learn to implement the scientific research process while contributing to a growing body of scientific research that informs local conservation and resource management decisions


This summer course can be taken individually (4 credits) or in combination with Session I: Sustaining Tropical Ecosystems: Biodiversity, Conservation, & Development (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.


This course can also be taken in combination with Session I: Tourism and Island Systems: Assessment of Sustainable Practices in Panama (8 credits). This eight-week combined summer program gives students an opportunity to gain a two-country comparative perspective on the impacts of tourism and development on the natural environment and human communities. By engaging in field-based research, students come away with both a conceptual framework for understanding the challenges of addressing complex conservation questions, as well as direct, hands-on experience in two different Central American countries. 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.