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Costa Rica Intro Bio Lab Study Abroad

I wanted to develop a Biology study abroad that as many students as possible would want to take--and could take. This led to our spring break-Costa Rica offering of Intro Bio Lab, Biology 1201 (now 1051 also), which we expect to cost less than $2000 for flights, housing, meals, everything. Instead of weekly labs, the course takes place mainly over spring break in Costa Rica, and involves the collection of valuable data for research and conservation. Pedagogy expert Heather Vance-Chalcraft is my key collaborator, as well as PhD student Fiona Freeland.

Upper level students can potentially also participate through research credits, Biol 3504.

The first part of the trip is spent at La Selva, one of the best known and most influential field stations in tropical biology. There, students conduct bird surveys that contribute to long-term databases critical for conservation and research, as well as going on additional excursions, for example to a butterfly farm and on a night tour with station personnel.

Before we leave for Costa Rica though, we have a series of one hour meetings In January and February to learn bird and fish identification, confirm snorkeling skills, and generally get ready. Students also complete one or more online exercises to hone ID skills and explore Intro Bio topics not well covered in Costa Rica.

The second part of the trip is spent in the coastal Caribbean town of Cahuita, which is home to a national park and some of the best coral reefs in Costa Rica. There we conduct reef fish surveys, again for inclusion in long-term databases used for research and conservation, as well as touring the park with a local guide to see sloths, monkeys, and other wildlife. 

When we get back to ECU, students work in groups to analyze the data they collected, then prepare a research poster and a write-up about their findings.

When we first offered the course in spring 2023, we were fortunate to be able to participate in two pick-up soccer games, one with other American students at La Selva and one with local students at Cahuita, and in a community "Reggae Against Racism" festival in Cahuita.

Interested in getting involved in the 2024 course? Applications are now open through the ECU study abroad site! Please apply as soon as possible, certainly by Sep. 29 (closes formally Oct. 20 but will likely be filled by then). Remember, your spot is not guaranteed until your deposit is received. Contact Prof. Jeff McKinnon for information: mckinnonj(at)

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