Posted: February 6, 2008
Terms like "environmentalism" and "sustainability" are more widely used than understood, according to anthropology professor Lynn Morgan, who will serve as the first resident director of the new interdisciplinary program, Global-Local Challenges to Sustainability: The Costa Rican Experience, when it launches in the spring 2009 semester.
A joint effort of Mount Holyoke and Goucher College in Baltimore, the program will be based at the Monteverde Institute in the Tilaran mountain range 80 kilometers northwest of San Jose, Costa Rica's capital. Mount Holyoke's McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives was instrumental in setting up the 15-week program, which will include regional travel, core courses, and an independent research component.
A lesson Morgan hopes to impart in the class she will teach on development and social change is that "different people have different understandings of what environmentalism is and what it means," she said. Morgan is excited about the interdisciplinary orientation of the program, which is designed to integrate the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. It will bring together students from a wide array of majors to wrap their minds around some of the most pressing issues facing humanity. Morgan looks forward to getting students to help each other shake their assumptions. "We will go beyond just a reverence of some kind of pristine environment," she said. "We want participants to understand the contradictions and the tensions that are inherent in trying to figure out what the environment is and how to best protect it."
Eva Paus, a professor of economics and the director of the McCulloch Center, stresses the emphasis on place-based learning. Projects students undertake, she said, will be grounded in the needs and perspectives of the local community.
Costa Rica has become a popular ecotourism destination, said Morgan, who did her medical anthropology dissertation research in the Central American country. She first visited Monteverde almost 30 years ago when she was in college. Being based there for a full semester will give her the opportunity to introduce a new generation of undergraduates to an area she cares about deeply and which is feeling the impact of globalization and its many challenges.
The Monteverde Institute, said Morgan, has become a clearinghouse for international educational programs. It offers students access to high-level scientists researching the extraordinary biodiversity of the Cloud Forest Reserve it borders. Students will also be able to investigate social issues such as community health, land use planning, the impact of tourism, and the politics of allocating scarce water resources. The latter "is on everybody's minds these days" because the region is growing so fast, said Morgan. Monteverde is also home to many artists, including botany and ornithology illustrators.
In addition to the Development and Social Change in Costa Rica course, the program includes these core courses: Spanish Language and Culture, Environmental Sustainability, Topics in Social Science, and Field Methods in Tropical Ecology. The program, which is limited to 22 students, is set to run every spring with resident directors alternating between Mount Holyoke and Goucher faculty. Students will live with local host families.
By immersing themselves in the community, its conversations, and its concerns, students will gain a deep understanding of the local challenges Monteverde faces, many of which are triggered by global forces, said Morgan. The holistic structure of the program means that every student will wind up crossing disciplinary boundaries.
Morgan, who in 2002 won Mount Holyoke's Faculty Prize for Teaching and was described as a "master teacher," is especially excited that students will get to do "from-the-ground-up research based on agendas defined by people in the community." Their work will hopefully be part of "solutions that are of direct relevance to the community," she said.