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Outdoor classroom

Costa Rica offered stimulating experience for biology/environmental studies students

Anteaters, translucent frogs, eight-inch grasshoppers, tarantulas, scorpions and more than 100 species of birds were sometimes as close as the mosquito netting that covered the 10 Wilmington College students that spent 12 days after Christmas in Costa Rica.

Kendra Cipollini, associate professor of biology, took the students on a trip that became the capstone component of their course, “Tropical Ecology and Conservation,” for which they prepared throughout the fall semester.

“It was an outdoor classroom,” Cipollini said. “Costa Rica offers full-on field biology.”

The group also included Cipollini’s biologist husband, Don, WC alumnus Bliss Magella ’09 and Stephen Potthoff, associate professor of religion and philosophy.

They studied the biology, native animals and culture of Costa Rica, which is especially accommodating to Gringos, as the country’s “number one” economic activity is ecotourism.

“It’s well geared for the traveler that wants nature,” she added.

And nature they got!

“We had exhaustingly long days and they were still up at the crack of dawn to look for birds,” Cipollini said, noting the students documented “all they saw and did.”

She added that being in an environment so far removed from winter in Ohio further heightened their senses and desire for adventure.

“When you go to a new place, it stimulates your curiosity and leads to greater scientific skills,” Cipollini said. “They had a sense of wonder and amazement. They were encouraged to be creative.”

Costa Rica, which is known as one of the “best-developed” destinations for studying biology in the tropics, had field stations geared for tropical studies spaced throughout the country. Indeed, the group even milked cows at 6 a.m. at a station run by the University of Georgia.

They also got a taste of Wilmington in Central America. The WC contingent had lunch with alumni Roy Joe ’48 and Ruth ’52 Stuckey, who were visiting their daughter’s (Mary Stuckey Newswanger ’76) family residing in Costa Rica.

But most days they were required to communicate with non-English speaking persons when not viewing the unique flora and fauna of the verdant countryside and lush rain forests.

“What especially impressed me about the students was how they did in the Third World,” Cipollini said. “It was a good educational experience for them — they definitely got a lot out of it.”