St. Olaf College | News

International conservation journal highlights St. Olaf researchers

CostaRicaJournal350x501An international conservation journal recently highlighted the research that three St. Olaf College students and Professor of Biology Kathy Shea conducted in Costa Rica.

Revista de Biología Tropical, an international journal of tropical conservation and biology, published a special volume dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Associated Colleges of Midwest’s Field Research Program in Costa Rica.

This special issue of the journal highlights nine research projects, three of which were written in part or in their entirety by St. Olaf researchers.

Students Lauren Carlson ’13, Emma Cornwell ’13, and Jonathan Henn ’12 conducted the research, under the guidance of Chris Vaughan, director of the ACM Program, and Shea, as a St. Olaf advisor. A preface includes comments by Shea and other former students of the program on its impact in their careers.

St. Olaf is one of 14 ACM institutions participating in this program in Costa Rica. The program gives undergraduates the unique opportunity to develop their own intensive research project. Henn says the program provides students with the freedom and independence to investigate a scientific question.

“We were able to think creatively and critically about what question you would ask and how you would go about answering it,” he says.

The students created a variety of research projects primarily in the natural and social sciences. Cornwell’s research focused on how different agricultural systems affected the soil quality in the province of San Carlos. Henn focused on food provided for the rare scarlet macaw and variegated squirrels by the introduced tree species, beach almond. Carlson explored high school students’ knowledge of cervical cancer in San Carlos through interviews with students and teachers.

In addition to field research opportunities, the program also gives students the opportunity for cultural immersion with two family stays.

“I observed directly how cross-cultural experience, Spanish language, and field research were brought together in this program,” says St. Olaf Professor of Spanish Leon Narvaez, past director of the ACM program in Costa Rica and a St. Olaf advisor, along with Shea. Narvaez was recognized for his decades of service to the programs at the 50th anniversary celebration of ACM in Costa Rica last June.

As a participant, Cornwell says she formed lifelong bonds with her two host families during the program.

Both Carlson and Henn received Fulbright awards after their work in Costa Rica. Henn researched forest restoration in Argentina after damage by North American beavers. Carlson conducted public health research with the Universidad de San Francisco Quito in Quito, Ecuador.

Cornwell has been working with Food Corps, a program in partnership with AmeriCorps that puts leaders in limited-resource schools to teach students about food with hands-on activities such as creating a community garden.

St. Olaf has been a pioneer and leader in international study for half a century. The college currently offers more than 110 programs in 44 countries, and more than two-thirds of St. Olaf students study abroad in one or more countries before they graduate.