This course integrates research and service learning in a Latin American country on an environmental research project with an independent research project undertaken by participants. The planned service and research site is at a Nature Conservancy Project in Panama.. Contacts have been established with the Nature Conservancy, in anticipation of a planning trip in January or the Spring on the part of the faculty member to work through the logistics of the site, the volunteer project and possible research endeavors. Preliminary material on the political and economic context of Panama has been gathered for the background readings course in the fall semester that the students are required to take prior to their arrival in Panama.
The logistics of pre-registration and the importance of running a readings course prior to the January program experience precluded launching this program in the fall of 1999. Pre-registration for fall courses had already taken place when the Aire grants were announced. Without the opportunity to learn more about the economic, politics and particular environmental problems in Panama, the field research itself would be less meaningful. Research and study abroad requires a longer term horizon where students have the opportunity to learn about the program and then, for academic as well as financial reasons, to confer with their families about the possibility. A late registration process would have resulted in a limited pool of applicants for the course.
The course description of the fall independent study will therefore be available for the spring pre-registration for fall courses. Students will also in this way have ample time to discuss how this course might fit into their academic program before enrolling in the one semester independent study. This will also allow student researchers the opportunity to define their independent study topic at the research site, and enter into email contact with Panamanian counterparts to maximize the benefit of time on the ground in Panama. The combination of a service learning opportunity where students are learning from community members by working with them on a project that will have a lasting benefit for the community with an independent research project where students will have the chance to explore an academic question of personal interest to them in a foreign environment should create a particularly intense and meaningful educational experience.
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