One of the first things I was really impressed with is SIT’s expansive contacts and the insider opportunities that result from these unique contacts.
Explore extraordinary biodiversity in tropical forests and Caribbean coral reefs. Learn about tropical conservation directly from resource users.
The program is composed of the following phases:
- A two-week homestay in Panama City where you will take intensive Spanish courses and begin the thematic and research methods courses
- A seven-week period in which you will conduct field studies throughout Panama and part of Costa Rica
- Four weeks of independent field research in which you will focus on original research on a topic of your own choosing
During each phase of the program, you will be immersed in diverse ecosystems and stakeholder communities — from Caribbean coral reefs with indigenous fisherman to highland cloud forests with agricultural frontier families.
Engage in seven weeks of field study in one of the world’s most ecologically diverse countries.
Field highlights include:
- A tropical forest dynamics course at a UNESCO Biosphere World Heritage site
- A marine ecology course on the Caribbean coast in the Guna Yala Comarca
- An excursion to EARTH University in Costa Rica, the foremost sustainable agricultural college in the hemisphere
- Learning at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Barro Colorado Island
- A bird ecology course in the Soberania National Park — an Audubon Society “world’s top 10” birding site
- A homestay experience in an indigenous community in a UNESCO Biosphere World Heritage site
- A mammal research course in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor
- An ecological research methods course in the El Cope National Park
- Visits to an organic agroforestry chocolate farm and an industrial banana plantation
- Learning mammal behavioral traits at a monkey rehabilitation center
Hike to study sites through highland ecosystems and lowland rain forests while living in local communities.
While living with stakeholder families in local communities, you will study and explore highland and lowland rainforest ecosystems. At five different sites and within five unique terrestrial ecosystem types, you will conduct field studies with local professors and experts on tropical biodiversity, forest dynamics, water quality, soils, insect diversity, mammal ecology, amphibians, and bird diversity and research. At these sites, you will also explore controversial conservation topics, including hydroelectric dams, sustainable agriculture, indigenous resource use, protected areas, environmental services, and ecotourism, learning directly from community leaders and conservation specialists.
Conduct extensive fieldwork in mangrove forests, threatened sea grass beds, and pristine coral reefs.
In the Caribbean Sea, in the Guna Yala Comarca, you will engage in hands-on study of coral reef diversity; sea grass bed organisms and growth potential; and mangrove diversity, growth, and reproduction. You will learn to apply marine ecology research methods when you collect data on coral reef health, organism functional diversity, and sea grass ocean floor sampling. While in the Caribbean, you will also learn about overfishing and challenges to marine protection and protected areas, and you will have the option to visit an indigenous fishing community.
Live in Panama’s vibrant capital and largest city.
During your homestay in Panama City, you will attend lectures by local professors and professionals on ecology and conservation. You will also be immersed in Spanish language study through intensive language classes and daily interaction with your host family. During this two-week period, you will become familiar with urban Panamanian culture and will be introduced to the relevant issues of ecology and conservation in the tropics.
Conduct research on a relevant topic of your choosing.
The program’s research methods course will teach you how to collect, analyze, and report ecological data necessary to further understanding of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Field study methods include biotic sampling and analysis, fauna and flora identification, population analysis, and animal behavior.
You will spend the final month of the semester working on your research. Field research will provide you with the opportunity to critically examine a specific topic related to ecology and conservation in Panama. Typically, research projects are conducted in cloud forest highlands, coral reefs, lowland forests, mangroves, rural villages, indigenous communities, or other places appropriate to the topic.
You will receive guidance from the program’s academic director and a project advisor who may be a professor from a local university, a researcher from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, or an expert from another organization. In certain cases, student research has gained the attention and interest of NGOs, conservation experts, and government officials.
Sample research topics include:
- Rain forest dynamics
- Tropical forest diversity
- Mammal conservation
- Sustainable fisheries
- Coral reef organisms
- Mangrove health
- Sustainable agriculture
- Amphibian diversity
- Ecotourism for resource conservation
- Bird conservation
- Water science
- Carbon stocks and storage
- Community conservation