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WSU students apply classroom lessons to hands-on experience

Date: 1/31/2014

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD – During winter break, 42 Westfield State University (WSU) students traveled abroad to gain firsthand experience in their courses of study.

Students could choose to visit Nepal, Costa Rica or Nicaragua. From Jan. 4 to 16, Westfield native and junior Lindsey Lowinski traveled to Costa Rica and visited Tirimbina, Monteverde, Isla Plata and spent time in the rainforest as well as the Cloud Forest studying the environmental biology of the areas.

Each trip cost $3,000 outside of tuition, but the price was all-inclusive. WSU will host Welcome Back Party on Feb. 11 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. where participants will share their experiences with the public.

“Ever since I was young, I dreamt about going to the rainforest,” Lowinski, an environmental science major, said. “Simply put, it was an absolutely amazing experience.”

Lowinski first learned about the trip a couple years ago from a fellow classmate while she was a student at Holyoke Community College. She could remember writing reports about toucans early on in grade school and was able to see one in-person on the very first day of the trip.

“I really gave it serious thought about staying [in Costa Rica] – I would absolutely go back,” she shared. “The course was pretty intense, we packed everything in.” The group of 13 students and two professors started on the Caribbean coast, moved inland to the Continental Divide and ended the trip on the Pacific coast.

Lowinski explained that despite its small size, Costa Rica has many climates and ecosystems within its confines. She said that the work was “hands-on” and that students spent time hiking, investigating and drawing hypothesis about the features of the landscape.

“It was green everywhere,” she said, likening it to the scenery of “Avatar” and “Fern Gully.”

The field-based course allowed students to investigate the diversity of ecosystems in a tropical country and learn about how people interact with their environment. Other topics explored included conservation issues, food production and tropical organisms such as sloths, monkeys and scorpions.

Mark Wainright, one of the instructors on the trip, held a blacklight to a scorpion to show the students that it glowed in the dark.

Lowinski cited other highlights as seeing a black sea turtle nesting and visiting a rehabilitation facility where they saw scarlet macaws, an endangered species. She said howler monkeys were everywhere, but “they just kind of ignored us.”

She said one the most interesting and beautiful sites the class visited was the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, a section of land that grade school students from around the world raised money to preserve in the 1980s.

Lowinski said she is now more focused on conservation efforts.

She commented, “The experience overall re-sparked a general sense of curiosity to ask questions. Everyone just assumes there’s an expert out there, but that’s not always the case. [Although] a lot of times, there are answers [to our questions, we just have to investigate them].”

Westfield State University offers study abroad opportunities in more than 250 different programs in locations including England, France, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Spain, Italy and more. For more information on study abroad options, visit