For the average American college student, sustainable energy might sound like a boring topic, but in some third world countries, it is increasingly important. In January, Stony Brook University students will be able to see first-hand how essential the subject is for residents of Costa Rica.
A new study abroad course through SBU’s Sustainability Studies program will give students the opportunity to visit renewable energy facilities and observe environmental sustainability efforts in Costa Rica on a 12-day trip this coming winter.
The trip will be short, compact and intense, according to Michael Sperazza, an assistant professor in the department of geosciences, who will accompany students to Costa Rica.
“We will be doing a lot of running around, but the students will get to see and experience everything,” Sperazza said. He also said that the program is being offered during the winter session so that students can have this experience and still be back in time for their spring semester.
The program will be open to about 20 students. The application is due no later than Oct. 1 and can be found on SBU’s Study Abroad and Exchanges website. Students do not need to attend SBU or be Sustainability Studies program members to apply, though applicants must have a GPA of no less than 2.0 to be eligible for the trip.
The department specifically chose Costa Rica as the location for this trip because of the country’s commitment to renewable energy and sustainability. In 2008, Costa Rica became the first developing nation to make a pledge to be carbon neutral, which means having zero output of carbon dioxide by 2021.
All students who participate in the trip will be enrolled in the four-credit course ENV 405 (Field Camp). The Sustainability Studies Department is working with other majors to get the course approved as part of their curriculum.
The cost for the trip, which covers the administrative, tuition and program fees, will include international health insurance, room, meals and excursions. The price is set at $4,114 for New York State residents and $5,886 for out-of-state students. The prices do not include airfare.
Dean of International Academic Programs William Arens said that the program is unique because it is the only study abroad trip offered in Latin America, as well as the only trip with an academic focus on sustainability.
Sperazza is also hoping to have a broad mix of students join the trip.
“Having some business majors on the trip would be fantastic,” he said, “because sustainability efforts have to make economic sense and having people that are involved with plants or animals would be great because there are opportunities out there for all different types of students.”
During the program, students will participate in both a capstone project and a service learning project. In the service learning project, students will play a hands-on role in the ecosystem where they are studying.
“They will get exposure to the local culture, the local people and actually do something to contribute to the sustainability of Costa Rica,” Sperazza said.
In the capstone project, students, working in teams, will combine their previous knowledge with information learned on the trip to brainstorm methods of bringing sustainability efforts or renewable technology back to their homes and develop a plan for doing so.
The Sustainability Studies program started at SBU in fall 2007 at the Southampton campus and moved to the west campus in 2010. It currently offers five majors and six minors ranging from ecosystems and human impact to environmental humanities. Sperazza said that the program is undergraduate-based and is trying to expose undergraduate students to graduate student experiences.
Sperazza said it was crucial for SBU to offer a study abroad program of this kind and that it would continue to benefit those who participate in it after they graduate.
“We are seeing more and more jobs being exported and if we are not giving our students the opportunities and the skills to be able to fill those jobs they’re going to be filled by people from somewhere else,” he said. “Sustainability isn’t just something important for the United States, it’s global.”