“Research is not glamorous,” declares Achim, the Natural Resource Management professor here at the SFS Center in Costa Rica, on one of the first days of the semester. He continues to warn the students of the impending week of Directed Research: they will surely be slogging through mud, scrambling up steep slopes, and spending hours in the blazing sun, all in the name of science.
For most students, their time here at SFS has been a stark contrast to their typical educational experiences back in the States. Most of their classes back home don’t involve encounters with sloths, howler monkeys, or blue morpho butterflies. Most classes don’t go on excursions through pristine cloud forests. Many of their classes would never take the time to get off campus and interact with a local farm just a few kilometers down the road. Here at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies, these experiences are commonplace.
Today, many educators have realized the power of experiential education. Not only is it more engaging, but students often retain more of the information learned through these direct experiences and can more easily apply the skills learned further on down the road. SFS was way ahead of the game, realizing the importance of field education back in the 80s when almost everyone was still sitting at their small wooden desks, vigorously copying down the professor’s every last word with their perfectly sharpened #2 pencils.
I have seen it firsthand from the students as they rattle off the soil types in the landscape through which we’re hiking with ease, and start thoughtful, critical discussions about the tourism impacts of their visits to the places they traveled to over mid-semester break. They’ve even told me how much better they are able to remember information from their classes here compared to their classes back home. I know none of them will ever forget “sooty mold” or “anthracnose” from their laborious exercise helping monitor the health of the mango trees here at the Center’s sustainable orchard.
I guess I’ll have to agree to disagree with Achim. It’s true, soil samples and hiking and bird watching and participatory action research might not be for everyone. But I can’t help seeing the allure in this experience as these students don their rubber boots, binoculars and GPS units in preparation for a week of field research. Maybe it’s just me, but learning to become the sustainability rock stars and conservation superheroes that these students are capable of being seems like the most glamorous, exciting, and wonderful thing in the world.