USF World News

costa rica
USF Costa Rica Field School Receives NSF Grant
May 22, 2012

Anthropologists Nancy Romero-Daza and David Himmelgreen have recently been awarded a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant from the National Science Foundation totaling $418,611. The grant will be used to fully fund 10 undergraduates over a period of 10 weeks at the USF Globalization and Community Health Field School in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Initiated in 2001 in collaboration with the Monteverde Institute, the Globalization and Community Health Field School offers students the opportunity to train in qualitative and quantitative methods used to conduct community-based health related research in areas undergoing changes associated with globalization.

Dr. Himmelgreen and Dr. Romero-Daza have seen an overwhelming interest in the program from students worldwide. Though the program has had an average enrollment of 12 to 16 students every season over the last ten years, both emphasize that the high costs associated with the program prevent other deserving students from gaining the experience the field school is designed to provide.

Supporting 10 undergraduate students over a 10-week program, the REU grant will cover all the students’ expenses and provide a stipend. “We will be focusing on students from minority groups. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do and now we can,” said Romero-Daza.

Over the years the program has gradually evolved. “It’s a work in progress,” said Dr. Himmelgreen. “It gets better each year.”  Currently focusing on anthropology and health, the 2013 curriculum will include engineering. Extending projects to areas of water management, sustainability and environmental health, Himmelgreen and Romero-Daza are enthusiastic about bringing together students from anthropology, public health, and civil and environmental engineering to address issues identified by local communities.

“The whole idea is to bring them together and make the training more interdisciplinary. So far, students in public health and medical anthropology have studied the health and environment in the area in a way that responds to local realities, needs, and customs.  But bringing in civil engineering students will help find practical, physical solutions to these needs from a perspective we haven’t used before. At the same time, students from each discipline will learn to appreciate different approaches that can be used to work on issues community members identify as important.” said Dr. Romero-Daza.

Students will spend the first six weeks of the program learning concepts, theories and ethics, and the last four weeks working in teams on finding feasible solutions to problems identified by the local community to present to stakeholders. The grant will support the program for three years and will be equally shared between engineering and anthropology students; Himmelgreen and Romero-Daza are both hopeful that when the time comes the grant will be refunded.

Additionally, both faculty agree that one of the main objectives of the program itself is to motivate students to pursue a graduate degree. Previous students of the program have continued on to a master’s or doctoral program. One student from Spain returned to the U.S. to do her master’s in Public Health at Harvard University while others are working with governments in Africa.

““We want students to understand that culture plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of illnesses, and also in health promoting behaviors,” said Himmelgreen. 

Working in Costa Rica, not only do students get to experience first-hand the local culture through home stays and community engagement, they also see the workings of a health care system that is strikingly different from the United States.