TNCC Students Spend Spring Break Studying Abroad in Costa Rica and Nicaragua

Published: April 20, 2009

Spring break in the Caribbean and Pacific – it’s not as relaxing as it sounds. Eleven Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) Biology students traded a relaxing spring break for intensive field research in Costa Rica and Nicaragua February 25 – March 8. The trip was part of BIO 295: Topics in Biology: Tropical Ecosystem Ecology.

Jennifer Martin, Assistant Professor of Biology, organized the trip for her students and was accompanied by Dr. Donald K. Bartholomay, Dean Science and Allied. The itinerary included studies of rainforest, mangrove forest, marine and freshwater ecology. “Ecosystem diversity was the theme for this course,” Martin said.

The students learned from Martin’s lectures and hands-on activities. They were also responsible for gathering information for the final project, a formal scientific research proposal on a topic related to ecosystem ecology in Costa Rica or Nicaragua.  “I think the best part of the field experience was the ability for students to experience the reality of the information presented in lecture,” Martin said.

Their journey started at La Suerte Biological Field Station in northeastern Costa Rica. Positioned on a patch of land in the middle of the rainforest, the students spent the first few days observing tropical forest plant and animal life. “We were lucky enough to observe a variety of organisms, including monkeys, frogs, leaf-cutter ants and the deadliest snake in Central America – the Fer-de-lance,” Martin said.

Yolanda Powell, a student on the trip, had a close encounter with the region’s wildlife. “There was a bat in our room, but we decided he wasn’t going to hurt us. The first night we were scared, but we figured it was ok because he wasn’t going to bite us and he was going to eat the bugs,” she said.

Another student Sarah Rawls vividly remembers the day the class spent kayaking through the narrow swamps on the Caribbean coast. “I felt like Indiana Jones going through all the canals and vines. It was really cool,” she said.

Anthony Warren was excited to get an up-close look at the wildlife that he learned about in class.  “I think the best part was the way we did our lectures. Ms. Martin was in a kayak and we were all around her in kayaks and she’d do a lecture. We got to touch things and see things and really apply what she taught in class,” Warren said.

The trip was full of scientific discoveries, but the students learned plenty from the residents on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua, many of whom earned an annual income of about $300. “I went with two suitcases and I came back with a small bag and dirty clothes because when you get there and you see these people, you just want to give them things. You just want to give them everything you have because they’re so happy and they don’t have anything,” Powell said.

The TNCC students donated school supplies to a local elementary school and volunteered to teach English lessons to Nicaraguan school children during their stay on the island. “It was really nice to talk to the kids. A lot of them were like, ‘I”ll Facebook you.’ Some of them just got Internet at their schools and use donated laptops,” Rawls said.

Their stay also included an impromptu sports event. “The Thomas Nelson Biology study abroad class challenged a local village to a game of soccer. We were all out on the field in our bright orange Thomas Nelson study abroad shirts yelling, ‘Go Gators!,’ Martin said.

Martin organized the College’s first Study Abroad trip three years ago with other TNCC faculty members for students in Humanities and Spanish classes. This year and last year, the trip was only open to Biology students. “We got on the plane to leave but none of the students wanted to go. They just didn’t want to leave Central America,” Martin said.

Powell was definitely ready to stay longer. “It was the most gorgeous place I could have ever imagined,” she said.

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