WB 2015 – MSU Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

Costa Rica – MSU / UCR – December 26, 2015 – January 9, 2016



My name is Danielle Smith, and I am a sefacebook_1450756248082.jpgnior in the Biosystems Engineering program at Michigan State University.

Both of my parents come from agricultural backgrounds, and I grew up showing dairy cattle in livestock shows with my little brother until I was 10 years old. Since coming to MSU, I have also joined Sigma Alpha Professional Agricultural  Sorority which is geared towards women interested in careers in the Agriculture industry. All of this said, I am hoping to continue this passion as I graduate and become an engineer. My current field of interest within the Biosystems community is food sustainability, and as luck should have it that is what my individual project will be focusing on for the next few weeks in Costa Rica and also upon returning to the United States.

IMG_7609When I am not studying or in class, I participate in a wide variety of activities. As mentioned above, I am an active member of a professional sorority where I serve as the Professional Chair. I am also the Secretary of my hometown’s Kiwanis Club, which is a service organization geared towards the embetterment of our community for the children who live there. I work as a Student Clerical Aide at the MSU Infrastructure, Planning and Facilities – Planning, Design and Construction department where I interact closely with administration as well as the university’s engineers and architects. It is great to see what all they do on a daily basis and to be able to help them with the tasks that make their jobs possible.

Even with all of my activities I make sure to relax once in a while as well. In my free time I enjoy cooking, drawing, and spending time with my friends and family. I have travelled a lot over the years, but this will be my first time out of the country without my family, and I cannot wait to see where this adventure takes me. In the past I have gone hiking in Hawaii, swam with dolphins in the Bahamas, and touched snow on my July birthday in the mountains of Wyoming.

I know that this trip will be an amazing learning (and personal) opportunity for me, and there is much I hope to accomplish. Above all, I would like to get more hands on experience with the field of Ecosystems Engineering because of how closely it relates to my career goals. If I leave Costa Rica even slightly more sure that I am headed down the right path for me, it will be entirely worth it. I am most excited to learn about how wetlands can treat water in a natural and engineered way, as that is another interest I have had since joining the BE program.


Coffee production is a huge industry in Costa Rica. In fact, on January 4th we will be touring Coopedota, the first carbon neutral coffee producer in the world. My individual project will be assessing the process of making coffee to see where changes could be made that will make the coffee industry more sustainable. In the early 2000s there was a crisis in Costa Rica where it cost the farmers more to make the coffee than they got back when they sold it. It resulted in abandonment of coffee land and changes from one crop to another. My goal in doing research and talking to farmers and other people of the industry is to find ways to make coffee cheaper to produce, make more coffee in weight per plant, or find a combination thereof that makes coffee much more profitable for the farmers. Read more about the crisis at:


The things that I am most interested in researching is what fertilizers are used, most effective, and cheapest to see where the best option lies, what harvesting methods are used to determine if there is a better way to go about it, and if there is something that can be done with the leftover plant materials to make even more money from each plant. If things are done cheaper, farmers can potentially grow more to support the expanding world population.

If anybody knows of any relevant or useful articles that provide information that could be helpful, I would greatly appreciate you sharing them with me. Thank you everyone!

Works Cited:

Babin, Nicholas. “The Coffee Crisis, Fair Trade, and Agroecological Transformation: Impacts on Land-Use Change in Costa Rica.” Taylor & Francis. 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 24 Dec. 2015.


Feel free to check back in with me any time. ¡Adiós!



One thought on “Danielle

  1. Did you see any practices at Cafe San Luis that you would change? Overall, was the production of coffee at Cafe San Luis “sustainable”?


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