Costa Rica – Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

MSU / UCR – December 15-29, 2012

Day 14 – San Jose/Alajaula – University of Costa Rica – Biosystems Engineering

Today the group awoke with the bitter~sweet taste of coffee and departure in our mouths. We ate what was to be our last breakfast together whilst soulfully gazing into our hardened traveller´s eyes. Less sentimental members of the group took this opportunity to get some extra sleep.

Next we took to the road in what can only be described as organized chaos, the great roads of Costa Rica. Today’s ride was a bit bittersweet, as it was the last time we would be making the trip to Fabio together.

Promptly upon arrival at Fabio the group began to finish the floating mat project. The final stage of the floating mat construction was to plant vetiver grass in it. Vetiver, or Chyrysopogon zizanioides is a grass native to India. This grass will be the organism that treats the water in the wetland, up-taking nutrients dissolved in the water through its submerged root system and converting them into biomass. Most groups had to loosen up their coconut fiber with water to properly plant the grass. This didn’t take too long, and everyone was glad to be done and out of the hot sun.

Soon the group was to be at my mercy. We had been reading separate articles to prepare for a ‘Jigsaw’ discussion for a few days and I would be leading the group. I have little experience teaching; however, I led the group through the jigsaw like a puzzle master.

Post jigsaw the group ate our final lunch. Afterwards we got together and discussed possible improvements to the program, and signed soccer balls for Wilberth and Alejandro. We gave Mattias his honorary hat.

Then we said goodbye, with gleaming tears in our eyes. The great journey was coming to an end..

Here are some pictures from the days activities.

katie, the ´midgette´ exhibits her work ethic

katie, our new friend from Oregon, works on her ‘Jigsaw’ assignment

homeboy robbie leading a rousing lecture as stand in teacher

Robbie leads a group ‘Jigsaw’ discussion

we aren´t sure what happened here, but there was a rabies shot administered soon after

Our photographer and friend, Hugo

lunchtime, and a peaceout from our beloved costa rican supermodels

lunchtime, and a peaceout from our beloved costa rican supermodels

werner caught eating on camera. how scandalous!

Werner, enjoying our last lunch together.

someone call the ugly police

It was a hot one.

a young male, luke, handles long shafts with ben, another young male

Luke handles long shafts of bamboo with Ben

mattias the friendly costa rican receives his honorary state hat

our good friend Matias receives his honorary MSU hat

last lunch <3

last lunch ❤

success plants~!

success planting the vetiver grass~!

busy bodies looking hotty

students try to beat the heat while finishing their floating wetland project

noble matias

The noble Matias

some of my diligent students

some of my diligent students

what a job

The floating mat post successful planting

dimitri is hungry and demented

dimitri is moistening the coconut fiber to prepare it for planting

bens boombox, you can tell hes an engineer

bens boombox, you can tell hes an engineer

this is what the inside of dawn's nose looks like up close

A closeup of a beautiful rose

farewell, friends

farewell, friends

As we left UCR , we left a university in another continent that is transitioning in cooperation with MSU. It is a very special opportunity to witness the creation of connections across the world, nonetheless connections with the intention of harboring a more sustainable, systems approach to engineering.

In order to make this transition from agricultural engineering to biosystems engineering, many changes have been made.  For instance, many biology courses have been added to the curriculum. These include microbiology, organic chemistry, and regular biology.

UCR houses about 600 students, with 400 of those being active. Traditionally the program is five years, with four years going into a bachelors degree and a one year licensure program. The licensure typically consists of a test, or a research project. An example of a research project would be to follow up the wetland project our study abroad group conducted and make improvements upon it.

In the past the agricultural department was more focused on maximizing agricultural productions and yields, the basic goal of producing food. They now employ a wider vision, a systems approach. This includes mitigation of environmental impacts, proper use of agricultural residues, use of bio-energy, etc.  Now the department is more focused on land administration, and is more involved with local governments. Areas of focus include watershed management, ecosystems services and riverbank restoration. As seen from the digester project, they are also interested in bio-energy from several sources, including industrial and municipal wastes.

Three years ago when students heard about the changes to the program they met them with resistance.

Now, bright eyed students line up to ask questions about bio-energy concentrations.

The program will be available to interested students beginning next year. MSU looks forward to more collaborations with UCR.

For more information on UCR and their Agricultural Engineering program, visit the following link

or here is some more general information about student life at UCR.


5 thoughts on “Day 14 – San Jose/Alajaula – University of Costa Rica – Biosystems Engineering

  1. Ruthless Puzzle Master, I revel in your humor! I had been wondering what the inside of Dawn’s (the respected Dr. Reinhold?) nose looked like!!

  2. Fue un honor para mi el haber participado de esta actividad, y haber conocido a personas tan amenas y agradables, no escondo que para mí fue muy dificil por el hecho de no hablar el idioma pero fue toda una experiencia y un reto para mí. Esta experiencia me permitió conocer muchos lugares de este hermoso país que no conocía y conocer sobre el tema del biodigestor que para mí fue una experiencia nueva ya que en mi carrera no es un tema que se estudia.
    El estar lejos de la casa tanto tiempo y estar con personas nuevas fue toda una experiencia incrible y de mucho aprendizaje en mi vida.
    Agradezco a la U.C.R y la Universidad de Michigan por la oportunidad de haber sido parte de este intercambio, muchos saludos para todos fue un gusto conocerlos y aunque me hubiera gustado mucho poder conocerlos más y poder aportar más a la actividad creo qe hice mi mayor esfuerzo

  3. This was informing and ridiculously entertaining.
    Overall this was a great experience. Everybody had an awesome attitude towards everything that came with it and it seems we all had a great time. Personally I met some incredible people, all of which helped me changed my mind about americans. Back into the good ol’ friendly people I know they are (no thanks to louisiana by the way, I had to say it).
    Anyhow, I really hope you all learned about our small country and how the actions we take everyday impact our neighbors and friends.
    Stay safe and good luck in all your endeavors!

  4. Great post Robbie, you are the most funny and eccentric guy i had ever know never change but grow as you say to me. When i think of you as an engeenier i imagine a mad scientific ready to take over the world. I was great the activity of the jigsaw, you should teach man.

  5. It was interesting to see the progress our group had made from when we first stepped foot in room 103 to our final discussion. Some of the students weren’t even aware of what was to occur during our time spent at Costa Rica and being able to see how we had all developed in a matter of two weeks was definitely inspiring. On a personal note, this experience has helped me develop as a student and helped me figure out what I want to gear towards as I complete my undergraduate degree. Has anyone else experienced similar thoughts after completing this study abroad?

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