John D. Atkinson (far right, back row) and students in his Costa Rica: Sustainability in Latin America course pose for a picture at the Guanacaste Wind Farm in Costa Rica.
Atkinson (foreground), assistant professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering, talks with one of his students during the tour.
A worker inspects bunches of bananas for quality. Blemished fruit, such as the bunch seen here, is mashed and used for baby food.
Students watch a presentation at the Miravalles geothermal plant in Guanacaste. Matt Dearstyne (MA ’15) (seated at the table), communications coordinator for the Institute for Central American Development Studies, helped coordinate the activities for this study abroad trip and served as an interpreter.
The Miravalles Volcano looms in the distance as the students walk to the geothermal plant where the electricity for the entire country is managed.
Students traverse some narrow—and wobbly—bridges to access the waterfalls at Las Hornillas mud pits and waterfalls.
The El Viejo sugar mill in Guanacaste Province is the largest sugar producer in Costa Rica and also generates 1.5 percent of the nation’s electricity.
The Sol de Vida is a solar cooking project in Guanacaste Province. Here the students learn about the non-GMO seeds utilized by the project.
At the Quetzal Education Research Center, a biological field station operated by Southern Nazarene University in San Gerardo de Dota, the students learn about the biodiversity of the cloud forest.
Hiking a volcano, touring banana and coffee plantations, ascending through a cloud forest, all while spending time in a tropical paradise. It sounds like a perfect getaway, but for the 16 UB students enrolled in CIE 464 Sustainability in Latin America, winter break in Costa Rica was hard work … mostly.
Faculty director John D. Atkinson, assistant professor of environmental engineering, realized that few engineering and science students were able to study abroad for whole semesters at a time. So he created this shorter winter session course, focusing on Costa Rica as an ideal destination to observe sustainability. The country has announced plans to become carbon neutral by 2021 and is well on its way: Today, approximately 98 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources, and more than 25 percent of its land is protected forest.
Over 17 days, students explored some of Costa Rica’s energy resources, including the geothermal plant beneath Miravalles Volcano and the Guanacaste Wind Farm, as well as ecotourism destinations, corporate plantations and family farms. They were tasked with considering how methods, scale of production and other factors affect sustainability, and how better practices could be incorporated back home.
To Atkinson, the biggest takeaway was the pride that Costa Ricans have in their country’s progress. “You can pull any person off the street and ask them about energy, and they will gush about their wind turbines or how clean their water is,” he says, remarking on the irony that a developing country could make such great strides while many advanced ones drag their feet. “Sustainability,” Atkinson says, “is less about technology and more about mindset.”
To that end, he gave the students one question to reflect upon in a post-trip final paper: “What now?”