By Joshua V. Feltham, Professor, Ecosystem Management program
Six students and two professors from Fleming College traveled to Costa Rica in 2009. They spent two weeks working and learning in the Atlantic lowland tropical rainforest.
Challenged by the climate, topography, flora and fauna, each one of them embraced adversity while contributing to valuable research on marine turtles, reptiles, and amphibians.
Their work directly established a foundation for a new research project on reptile and amphibian distribution in the area; contributed data to a short note on the ecology of a rare species of snake; and established baseline data on nest temperatures of leatherback turtles.
The group returned to Canada confident, inspired and engaged – confident in their abilities, inspired to make a difference, and engaged in a culture of positive environmental change.
The success of the first international field placement for students enrolled in the Ecosystem Management Technician (EMT) program at Frost campus was followed up by a second placement in April 2010 and a third upcoming placement in April 2011.
International opportunities are becoming the norm for the EM program because the community graduates compete in is not local, regional, or national: it is global.
Our challenge is to prepare students for their career in this global community in which international educational experience is becoming the norm. When Michael Fraser became the program coordinator of the EM Program, he set a goal to provide international experiences for EM students.
Now, the goal is to have four international opportunities available in 2012: Costa Rica, South Africa, Peru and the U.S.
Investing in experiences is a key component of successful educational programs because real world experiences provide an opportunity for growth and learning that is disproportionate to the length of the experience. More is achieved in less time. Both hard and soft skills are improved with this experience. Students apply techniques learned in class, expand the scope of their learning to include novel situations, and develop an excellent sense of how their education has prepared them for the workplace. Soft skills of effective communication, team work, and time management are also improved because of the rigorous selection process, high expectations of participating students and structure of the experience.
Students from the Ecosystem Management program compete for a position on the Costa Rica team. They write an essay, submit a resume, endure a job interview, write a test and when they think it’s all over – it’s time for the beep test!
Why the complicated process? The key to a successful experience is to have a group of dedicated students who worked hard to achieve a place on the team. The variety of assessment methods is a critical component that ensures the team is made up of a diverse group of students with a variety of strengths and experiences.
Why assess fitness? The beep test assesses the aerobic capacity of the students as a general measurement of fitness. Costa Rica is a beautiful place but working in the rainforest and on the beach is not easy. The work is physically and mentally demanding. Temperatures are warm, humidity is high, hours are long, and consequences of not being alert can be serious.
Benefits to Fleming College are also realized from these international experiences. Students and faculty meet and engage with a variety of people from diverse places and backgrounds that lead to more opportunities – more opportunities for the college to engage in international work; more opportunities for students to gain employment and work experience; more opportunities for the college to attract international students, and more opportunity to provide leadership in environmental education.
People from Canada and around the world are already spending thousands of dollars with for-profit organizations such as Operation Wallacea, Frontier and Global Vision International. Participants are from the same demographic the college draws from. They include people exploring new career possibilities, high school graduates and graduates from college and university.
The college demographic is clearly indicating a desire for this experience. Not providing international field experience is a missed opportunity to excel and set the standard for environmental and natural resource science education.
Fleming College challenges both students and faculty to “innovate with vision and implement with excellence.” International field experience is innovative and meets the standard of excellence the School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences is known for. Graduates are competing for work globally. Establishing international programs for students is a necessity if Fleming College is to maintain a leadership role in environmental and natural resource sciences.
In a global climate, success demands global experience. Careful selection of prospective candidates, effective management and innovative instruction will ensure Fleming College establishes a standard of excellence in international field experience and education for students.
Innovate with vision and implement with excellence.
Visit: www.costarica2011.ca to read about the trip and watch video from the 2010 experience. Students will be posting blogs regularly during their stay.
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