Mark Rieger, dean of UD's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, has been involved in a consortium of unversities offering a sustainability program in Costa Rica.

EARTH University

Summer program in Costa Rica stresses sustainable development, agriculture

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2:43 p.m., May 16, 2013--Students from the University of Delaware interested in sustainable development and agriculture are encouraged to apply for the second session of the Consortium for Sustainability beginning June 23 at Costa Rica’s EARTH University.

The event involves a consortium of universities including the University of Florida, Michigan State University and Penn State University, among others, that will send faculty and students to study in Costa Rica for two four-week sessions. Mark Rieger, dean of UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, spearheaded the consortium when he served as associate dean and professor in the University of Florida’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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“I saw a couple of friends from Michigan State and Penn State when I went down to EARTH University in 2007 for a global conference on higher education in agriculture,” explained Rieger.

Finding similarities and overlapping areas of research between the students and professors at the different institutions, Rieger asked, “‘Why don’t we think about a consortium of universities that would all contribute to one program? Then we could still have our semi-autonomous goals, things that we want to accomplish in our own universities, but we could also collaborate and share because we’re doing the same things.’” 

The consortium was created soon afterward and Rieger said that he couldn’t think of a better place for it to happen than at EARTH University. 

“EARTH University has, by virtue of the name and what they do, a sustainable agriculture focus,” said Rieger.

Rieger explained sustainability, specifically sustainable agriculture, as “a system of agriculture -- or culture if you want to talk about development -- that allows for the current population to be successful without detracting from future generations to also be successful.” 

For those interested in sustainability, EARTH — which stands for Escuela de Agricultura de la Región Tropical Húmeda (School of Agriculture in the Humid Tropical Region) — is an excellent place to study as the campus is situated on more than 8,000 acres of land and has a working dairy, a botanic garden and a native forest. 

Rieger said that it is important for students who are interested in sustainable development to get a hands-on experience, especially one in an area as vital to the future of the planet as Costa Rica. 

“Most of the people in the world don’t live in North America, they live in tropical zones which are very vulnerable areas,” he said. “You’ve got to grow food and sustain the population, and I think a lot of agriculture development is going to happen in that tropical band around east Africa, South America and southern Asia. That’s where the population is.” 

The opportunity is not solely limited to students interested in agriculture, as Rieger stressed that there are many aspects of sustainability covered at EARTH University. 

The students will also not be studying only on campus, as participants will head out to local areas to learn firsthand about real world sustainability issues, a teaching model employed at EARTH that Rieger said is not fully utilized at most universities in the United States. 

“At EARTH it is a very different educational model. It’s a learn by doing model,” said Rieger. He explained that every student at EARTH University is required to go out and do some type of community service in local areas every Wednesday to gain real world experience. 

“These are kids that are going to be leading agricultural crews and the idea is that they need to understand what a laborer is going through in order to effectively lead them,” he said. “And a lot of it is swinging a machete and killing weeds by hand or uprooting things, just very basic manual labor to go along with the courses they get taught in leadership, management, agricultural economics and entrepreneurship. But they’re actually getting out every week so they understand what it’s like -- the whole 360 degree view of what happens in an agricultural enterprise.” 

To apply for the second session of EARTH University’s Consortium for Sustainability, visit this website.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Ambre Alexander

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