Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies


This academically rigorous program follows a six-day/week schedule. The interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to help students actively discover and understand the complexities of environmental, social, and economic issues in Panama. Read more about the SFS program model.

Major academic themes include:

  • Climate change impacts
  • Rainforest and marine ecology
  • Indigenous tourism and sustainability
  • Marine protected areas
  • Conservation and natural resource management
  • Ecosystem health assessments
  • Tourism impacts on ecosystems and human populations


On the Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies program, you will take three 4-credit disciplinary courses, one 2-credit language and culture course, and a 4-credit capstone Directed Research course. Courses are participatory in nature and are designed to foster inquiry and active learning. Each course combines lectures, field exercises, assignments, tests, and research. All courses are taught in English.

Click on each course to view a description and download the syllabus

SFS 2070 Language, Culture, and Society of Panama 2 credits
SFS 3020 Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values 4 credits
SFS 3740 Principles of Resource Management 4 credits
SFS 3790 Tropical Coastal Ecology 4 credits
SFS 4910 Directed Research 4 credits

Core Skills

You will gain practical skills in the field such as: species identification, habitat and biodiversity assessment, experience using underwater surveying with transects and quadrats, basic Spanish language skills, wildlife population monitoring techniques, tourism impact assessment methods, research design and implementation, quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, and research presentation.

Field Sites

You will visit different ecosystems and communities which may include coral reefs, tropical rainforests, coastal forests and beaches, Indigenous Ngöbe communities, island ecosystems, coffee farms and cloud forests in the Chiriquí Highlands, Panama City and the Panama Canal, mangrove forests and seagrass meadows, marine protected areas, banana farms and other agricultural operations, riverine ecosystems, and the vibrant small-town community of Bocas.

Directed Research

In the Directed Research course, each student completes a field research project under the mentorship of a faculty member – beginning with data collection and analysis and concluding with a research paper and presentation. Project subject areas span ecology, natural resource management, conservation science, environmental ethics, and socioeconomics.

Find Out More
All program components are subject to change.

Where You'll Be Living

The Center, once a hotel, lies among the slender palms and warm waters of Isla Colón. You’ll live, study, relax, and enjoy communal meals with your cohort, here. Across the street, you’ll find a beach with waterfront access for swimming and paddleboarding. The laidback hub of Bocas Town is a short taxi ride away, with access to shops, restaurants, and a vibrant culture that is as unique as the mix of people who live here.

  • Dorm living in ~4-person bunkrooms
  • Indoor/outdoor classroom and study space
  • Student lounge space
  • Casual al-fresco dining area and on-site cooking staff
  • Swimming pool, kayaking, paddleboarding, and snorkeling
Panama Center Casita