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Turns out, it’s a small world after all — especially when it comes to the actual physical size of Costa Rica, which makes up .03% of the earth’s surface. The tiny Central American country contains nearly 6% of the world’s biodiversity, making it an ideal place for students in the Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Management and Sustainability (MSEM) program at St. Edward’s University to spend a month taking a field course.

Here are four ways that month will give you a fuller understanding of the connections between communities and the environment.

You’ll develop field research skills.

Your first year in the MSEM program will teach you how to conduct field research, but a month in Costa Rican forests will refine those skills and prepare you for future internships and careers. You’ll measure trees and evaluate the number of species in a rich ecosystem. “We use those measurements and others to figure out the ecological health of the forest and the economic value to the country and community that the forest is providing,” says Peter Beck, associate professor of Environmental Science and Policy at St. Edward’s University and director of the MSEM program.

You’ll connect your ecological research to the people who are affected by it.

We all know we should save the rainforests, but it takes scientists with social research skills to demonstrate why that conservation is important. In Costa Rica, you’ll hone interviewing skills, design surveys and talk to the people who are impacted by deforestation. “We need to know how to measure a forest’s ecological health, but we also need to get the support of communities,” says Beck. “If they’re benefiting, it’s much more effective to make the case to conserve the forest.”

You’ll be surrounded by unparalleled biodiversity.

Tropical rain forests, cloud forests, dry forests. These different forested areas make Costa Rica an ideal location for conducting varied field research, says Beck. When you go into the field, you’ll learn (and see) different species, many endemic to Costa Rica, and how they interact together. 

You’ll be ready for what’s next.

After returning to St. Edward’s, you’ll conduct an independent research project. You might choose to do a research project where you apply the field research techniques you honed in Costa Rica, or you might work more closely with the data you collected in Costa Rica. Either way, the month in Costa Rica will set you on a course for a research internship, and eventually, a career.

In the intensive two-year Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Management and Sustainability, students explore sustainable development through environmental science in project management in Austin, Texas, and Costa Rica.

Joel Hoekstra is a freelance writer.