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Some of the projects that have been a part of this of this program have been:
1- A Master Plan for Monteverde Institute was investigated. Students listened to staff, board, and MVI board committees to develop their proposal.
-With help from this program that we built out outdoor classroom
2- Make a project design for the local Monteverde Zone Farmers' Market. Here, the students received information from diverse community members to make a recommendation.
3- The design and building of Green Walkways in the Monteverde area, and the design of the sidewalks from Monteverde to Santa Elena, currently under construction.
We like the sense of community. The community as a whole together with classmates and faculty, provide a supportive base. This community inspires me to actively participate as well. The one on one attention in class and out is something we would never have at our home universities.
I've had the chance to learn from my home stay family, and really become a part of their day-to-day activities. Currently, I am learning how to milk the cows they own on the farm. Participating in these chores allows me to feel helpful and really involved.
Academics: The final projects have been engaging and fascinating. We have been able to go on multiple bird watching events with our professor, Sofia. On these trips we have learned about the different species, their specialized calls, and their flying patterns. Every trip is an opportunity for us to learn more and see something new.
After graduating with a degree in biology, Monteverde was an ideal location for continuing that interest in ecology and the environment through real life experience. Through working on an organic farm and with the local ProNativas project as an intern, I have been immersed in the process of protecting native species. What I have learned thus far will not only help me in my career endeavors, but as also opened my mind to the world around me.
My name is Sarah Ropp and I am a Monteverde Institute alumna. Together with 22 other students from my college, Goucher College in Baltimore, and Mt. Holyoke College of Massachusetts, I spent January through May of 2009 at the Monteverde Institute as part of a new semester-long program called Global-Local Challenges to Sustainability, a multi-disciplinary course that explores questions of environmental, cultural, social and economic sustainability in modern-day Costa Rica, using the Monteverde community as a starting point for discussion.
A year later, I returned Monteverde for 5 weeks. I came back because it feels good to be here, because this place is magnetic. Coming back also meant that I was able to see a special project I took part in last year come to fruition. It is also a testament to the power of studying abroad, to the possibility of creating and maintaining community in another place. It’s for this exact reason that I’ve come back to Monteverde, and for this reason that I feel sure I’ll return at some point in the years to come—even if it seems unfeasible now. And it’s for this reason that programs like mine offered by the Monteverde Institute need to continue. “ Sarah Ropp, currently teaching for Teach America.
Click here to download Sarah's own detailed description of her experience with the Monteverde Institute.
Dear Monteverde Alumni, Friends, and Supporters,
My name is Leslie Burlingame, and I have been a student and volunteer historian of the Monteverde Institute for nearly twenty years. Like you perhaps, my first contact with MVI was as a student. I came in July 1992, when I took a MVI short course with 20 other educators who were associated with the group "Save the Rainforest." Karen Nielsen (now owner of Sofia's, Chimera and Trio restaurants) introduced us to tropical biology in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. We conducted short field projects on aspects of tropical ecology and each gave presentations to the larger group. Fun and imagination ran rampant. I still remember with a smile the imaginative dung beetle rap team that overshadowed our leaf cutter ant presentation. Jim Wolfe, owner of the Butterfly Garden, was our agroecology instructor. During the class he introduced us to various local businesses. Some were sustainable and others were not, which became obvious as we visited the Monteverde Cheese Factory, a tree nursery, coffee fincas and other farms.
I appreciated that inclusion of the local community as we received excellent instruction in Spanish as well as introductions to many aspects of Tico culture. A representative from the Monteverde Conservation League spoke to the group and impressed us with their carefully thought-out approach to protection of the area forests. Some in the group had considered bats scary or dangerous, but our fears were dispelled by renowned bat specialist, Richard LaVal (currently owner and curator of the Bat Jungle exhibit in Monteverde, which features live bats). We learned of crucial roles that bats played as pollinators, seed dispersers, and insect eaters when he took us mist netting for bats one night at the League's Bajo del Tigre (the first and only time I got to pet a bat).
As busy professionals we didn’t have time for a long course, so MVI showed its flexibility and creativity by putting together a short course for us. It was a mini-version of MVI's first (1987) semester-long, world-renowned course in tropical biology. Today the University of California continues to sponsor the course, which brings between 30 and 40 students a semester. 2011 is the 25th anniversary of the Monteverde Institute. I have watched the Institute grow and change as I made annual visits to Monteverde. The most striking change was the creation of a campus with a sustainably designed main building (1997) and a library/lab wing addition (2002). But the Institute is much more than its buildings. Over the years, I have advised students at my college about attending various study abroad programs throughout the world. Some of those include homestays, but MVI is unique in its variety of course and community activities that indeed make a difference for the area. There has been staff turnover, as one would expect over such a long time, but there is an amazing continuity of purpose, dedication, and enthusiasm originating in the goals and mission of the Institute's founders and supporters, and including many alumni.
MVI Is a non-profit organization that provides a quality educational experience using what we now call place-based education. Students learn from the Monteverde area's natural environment and community involvement. Many return often, giving back to and protecting those environments in a variety of ways. Longer courses have a major research component. At the end of the course, students give reports on their research, and residents of the broader Monteverde zone are invited to attend, so they can use what has been learned on their farms, etc. Students proudly deposit copies of their research papers in MVI's library where anyone may consult them. Years of student research are now becoming even easier to access as MVI's library digitizes them, making them searchable.
When the Quakers arrived in 1950 there were only ten Tico families in the area but by the early 1990s, the Monteverde area had experienced explosive social, economic, and demographic change. More Ticos moved in, scientists came to fill all the niches, and tourists flocked to see the forests, the golden toad (sadly now gone), the resplendent Quetzal and three-wattled bellbird, and to explore the canopy. Santa Elena is no longer the small village I first saw, with dusty, unpaved roads. Although the last dozen kilometers from Guacimal continue to be a beautiful but car-and-body-jolting journey, when I sit on the lawn in front of the Institute, surrounded by the cloud forest and my friends, I always feel it was worth the trip.
Global concerns shifted to "Sustainable development" and MVI broadened its objectives to stress "Education for a Sustainable Future." Service learning programs began in 1995 for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in architecture, landscape architecture, and planning. Sustainable Futures students learned by working (gratis) on planning and designing projects that help local communities and institutions. Examples include the creation of one-way streets in Santa Elena to control congestion, the Enlace Verde project that links green areas together using conservation easements, plans for sidewalks, and the best ways to utilize several vacant local buildings. The list grows each year. Additional service learning courses that focused on local-global issues of sustainability, forest conservation, nutrition, and community health appeared by the late 1990s and resulted from a variety of institutional partnerships.
MVI has also fostered and facilitated applied research by graduate students and professionals. In the last few years, the Institute has promoted more research on water resources in the area. Those of you who have lived through a rainy season in Monteverde may be surprised to learn that there are shortages of clean water in dry season because of overuse. Most of Monteverde’s drinking water comes from springs in the mountains of the various cloud forest reserves. With a growing population, stream and river pollution have increased and now pose health and environmental challenges.
MVI works closely with local schools in the “Adopt-a-Stream” program, which educates and involves the students in water quality studies because they will soon be the main stewards of this environment. Other MVI contributions include the Sustainable Futures' proposed wastewater treatment options for Sta. Elena. The Institute itself captures rainwater, conserves water, and uses reed beds to treat gray water. MVI's Library now has a searchable database containing all research (including student research) related to water issues in the area.
There have been many other forms of community engagement, ranging from programs for disadvantaged local women, to English language courses for local residents, to construction and other projects for cooperative groups in San Luis. MVI also supported the Arts, hosting concerts, art and crafts classes, and exhibits at MVI's facilities. The Institute operates an electronic bulletin board that publicizes lectures, workshops, cultural programs, end of semester student presentations, and other area events open to the public.
Institute volunteers and interns (many of whom were former MVI students) continue to help people and organizations in the area. They have worked in reforestation, repaired trails in the areas' nature reserves, monitored water quality, and aided people with special needs. The previous correspondent's letter by MVI Alumna, intern, and volunteer Sarah Ropp describes her work with MVI's ESL program and her impressive volunteer projects. See Sarah’s own account of her work at http://www.monteverde-institute.org/what-alumni-say.html.
Homestays, an MVI mainstay for the students, contribute to mutual cultural understanding. The work of the Institute also provides income for local people-homestay families, MVI staff, teachers, taxi drivers, and owners and employees of local lodging and dining facilities.
Because the MVI provides such unique quality educational experiences for students and adds so much to the community and the environment, I wanted to be a part of it. Therefore, I have been a donor to MVI for many years as well as a volunteer working to preserve its history. Since 2009, I have been a volunteer member of the Board of the Alliance for the Monteverde Institute (AMVI), a U.S. non-profit that supports MVI. Would you like to support the Institute as a donor, volunteer or intern? See the current opportunities at MVI's new web site, http://www.monteverde-institute.org/donate-and-support.html
Leslie Burlingame is a retired professor from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA where she taught the History of Science and Environmental Studies. She published a chapter on the history of conservation organizations in the Monteverde zone (including MVI) in Nadkarni and Wheelwright (eds.), Monteverde: Ecology and Conservation of a Tropical Cloud Forest (2000). She continues to write about Monteverde's educational and conservation organizations. You can contact her at: email@example.com and read an electronic copy of her History of the Monteverde Institute. Click here to download.