WB 2015 – MSU Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

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



Post Program

Throughout my time in-country, I learned more than I thought possible about the general field of engineering, wetlands, biodigesters, and more. Through the may guided tours and hikes offered, I was also able to interact with the Costa Rican people and experience their relaxed culture. Through observation and note taking, I was able to glean the experience of what true Costa Rican life was like.


Above: My colleagues and I enjoy the laid-back, more big-picture focused Costa Rican lifestyle.


One of the most fascinating lessons I learned relates to sustainability and the Costa Rican attitude towards environmentalism and a simpler lifestyle in general. There was never a need for a constant connection via cell phone, or other luxuries from home like television or even hair dryers. When staying at in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve at the University of Georgia – Costa Rica, many staff members, Costa Rican and otherwise, did not even seem concerned with attaining warm water for their morning showers. This is something I found to be in stark contrast with the so called, “needs,” of communities in the United States. As an Urban Planning student in the United States, there are factors of everyday life that we are taught are needed or certain groups or communities are “unlivable.” However, after experiencing the approach of Costa Ricans to life, which focuses more on experiencing the day rather than experiencing amenities or material objects, I was forced to revaluate this approach to Planning. Perhaps luxuries like hot water, cable and uninterrupted cell phone service are not what a society should be built around, but rather a sense of community and the experience of living life outdoors.


My name is Lauren McGuire. I am a senior at Michigan State University studying Urban and Regional Planning with a minor in Natural Resource Recreation and Tourism. For those of you that may not know, Urban Planning is a field of study centering on cities. This study can range from the physical layout of cities (curb measurements, road widths), to the people who occupy them (studies of demographics, psychology, etc.). Popular topics of study among my colleagues are: community development and engagement, transportation planning, economic development and sustainability studies.

My interest in the outdoors has been with me since a young age, and I have incorporated this into my education through my minor, which focuses on park management. I have toured a few National Parks in the US and am most excited to see the National Parks of Costa Rica!

In my spare time, I enjoy reading, baking, painting and searching through the latest documentaries on Netflix. I also belong to three student organizations that promote professional and personal development. Travel is perhaps my biggest passion, however. This past summer, I spent 8 weeks studying abroad in China and I can’t wait to embark on my second MSU study abroad!

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Topic Introduction

Sustainability, when speaking relative to the history of agriculture is, debatably, a relatively new topic. Viewing our food production as what should be an environmentally friendly process has come about in the last 50 years or less. However, some argue that farming, in its original form, exhibits many practices farmers work to achieve today to achieve sustainability today (Altieri, 1990).Older sources claim that total sustainability in agriculture can only come as a result of the demands of consum
ers (Alesc, 2005).

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While in Costa Rica, I would like to investigate the effects of sustainability practices in the world today. I will first focus on how the agricultural practices in Costa Rica have changed and evolved since their conception and how these adaptations relate to sustainability. My information in this stage will come from both research through academic sources and interviews with professionals in Costa Rica. Next, I will investigate what specific sustainability practices have most greatly impacted the economy of the country. Lastly, I will compare the extent and value placed on sustainability in the United States and Costa Rica.

I am primarily interested in this topic because of the claim that Costa Rica is among the happiest and, “greenest,” countries on Planet Earth (Seager, 2009). These claims must be influenced by sustainability which encompasses the ethical treatment of animals and workers as well as engineering concepts and processes.

A few interesting links regarding industries we will visit that have direct interface with sustainability practices and decisions are below.

  • The role of genetic engineering is discussed in this article by ABC news covering a disease that could potentially wipe out the international banana growing market
  • Del Monte, a well-known international fruit producer, recently obtained a sustainability certification that involved many factors was issues by the third-party evaluator


Alesch, A. (n.d.). Banana Cultivation in Costa Rica. Retrieved December 24, 2015, from http://jrscience.wcp.muohio.edu/fieldcourses05/PapersCostaRicaArticles/BananaCultivationinCostaR.html

Altieri, M. A., Carroll, C. R., Vandermeer, J. H., & Rosset, P. M. (1990). Why study traditional agriculture? (pp. 551-564). McGraw-Hill Inc..

Costanza, R. (1991). Ecological economics: The science and management of       sustainability. New York: Columbia University Press.

Photo Citations

Banana plantation in Costa Rica around 1915. Retrieved from http://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/chasteen/topics/assets/topic05_img01.htm

Banana farming. Retrieved from http://anthonyjohncoletti.photoshelter.com/image/I0000o5sFnxX58PQ


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