Andy McCollum, Professor of Biology

Immerse yourself

In this extended field course, you’ll experience firsthand how conservation of threatened and endangered species such as sea turtles is carried out and how these efforts impact local peoples. You’ll work alongside conservationists at multiple sites in Costa Rica and learn about the biology of the wildlife species and the social, economic, and political conflicts that impact their conservation. Ultimately, you’ll come to appreciate the challenges of saving wildlife in a world in which local people are often poor and global interests are powerful.

Course highlights

  • Toucan Rescue Ranch: A rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned birds, sloths, cats, monkeys, and more
  • Central American Headquarters for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • Osa Conservation Field Station: Turtles on the beach and big cats in the rain forest in one of the world’s most biologically diverse locations
  • Las Baulas Marine National Park: Created and named for critically endangered leatherback sea turtles
  • Ostional National Wildlife Refuge: We try to time our visit to coincide with an “Arribada” – a spectacular mass turtle nesting event – and to witness the country's only legal sea turtle egg harvest, a unique compromise between government, conservation scientists, and local residents of the small coastal town

Student reflection

Jarod Armenta, Homedale, Idaho

Environmental studies major

Taking a block to study in Costa Rica was, undoubtedly, a highlight of my time at Cornell. We had our adventuresome moments to whitewater raft, take surfing lessons, and experience the harvesting of pianguas (a saltwater bivalve harvested as food), but we also had some of the most riveting learning experiences that simply aren’t possible in an on-campus course.

Throughout our course, we visited various types of conservation organizations to discuss, for example, the success of water-quality monitoring programs and species conservation techniques on the national and local level. We heard on-the-ground stories – not the “tidied up” versions we read in primary literature. After hearing how regulations have actually affected peoples’ daily lives, I think it’s safe to say our class walked away with a new-found appreciation of the necessity to involve local people in conservation plans.

Studying in Costa Rica served as more than just a class; it truly carried the feeling of a month-long job shadow as a conservationist.