Summer in Ecuador

09/21/2016

From the Chesapeake Bay to the Amazon River, nine students took part in a summer course guided by the Environmental Science and Studies Department, traveling to Ecuador for three weeks. The group wandered the streets of Quito, snorkeled with sharks and penguins on the Galápagos, traveled though the hot and humid rainforests, and much more.

placeholder

In a program led by Co-Chair of the Environmental Science and Studies Department/Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Leslie Sherman and Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Studies Dr. Rebecca Fox, students visited the Andres Mountains, the Galápagos islands, the Amazon rain forest, and the city of Guayaquil, and more while academically, taking full advantage of the experience. The group conducted field research projects in which they picked their own topics to study, ranging from renewable energy, oil drilling in the Amazon, and comparing policies between Ecuador and the U.S. in terms of conservation practices.

When discussing the differences in this year’s trip compared to 2014’s, Sherman had a lot to look back on.

“It was a really collaborative group of students that got along really well. They all had their different interests. We did more in the Galápagos this time, a lot of snorkeling.” Sherman explained. “I enjoy seeing the students’ reactions, a lot of students focus on the Galápagos, but when we go to the Andes, it’s nice to see that the students love it. There’s a very unique ecosystem up there.”

During their time in the Andes, students didn’t have the comforts they are use to having at home, or in their dorm room, by staying in a lodge. Students lived with no heat, but fireplaces and learned how to use electric blankets to keep warm during the cold, dark evenings. Fox said, “Being at that place, as a scientist, it’s, —and I don’t really use this word often, — it’s a magical place.”

placeholder
 

While spending time in the Amazon, the students stayed at the Tiputini Biodiversity Research Station, which was described as “remote, but appropriate,” by junior Amy Pfarr. The hot and humid weather with no electricity or hot water gave the students a complete immersion into the rainforest.

The 15 week course jammed into three weeks certainly left for little time to be spent in that magical place. Little time left in the lodge left the group to partake in eight flights, four snorkeling excursions, endless tours of coastal cities, hikes through the rainforest, conducting field research projects, boat rides, and endless stops at protected areas and national parks. With the ongoing schedule, it’s safe to say the students worked for their four credits.

Students were able to gain a diverse understanding on the global environment change and how it influences the quality of life along with the relationship or everyone around the world. The experiences gained are much in part due to WAC’s connection with a handful of professors from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, who Fox talked about as “experts on Ecuador.” That connection was made when Professor of Environmental Studies and Founder of program, Don Munsen made the contact.

The professors took students to the research labs, with WC students being the only international group. “And before I went, I just assumed that it was a program they ran for lots of universities, but it’s not. It’s just us. We’re the only school that has this connection,” Fox said. The labs at Universidad de San Francisco de Quitro offered everything one could expect in a modern laboratory setting, which allowed for the students to jump right into their research of different topics.

placeholder
 

By the end of those three weeks, nine Washington College students gained valuable, hands-on experience in their field of study. After all, how much more hands-on can you get when snorkeling in water so clear you can see the bottoming white sand while swimming just meters from the large sea population.  

“I wish I never left!! It was so amazing to be immersed into a culture that is so entirely different than our own,” Pfarr said. “If I could do this trip every year I would. The experience was unforgettable and I can only hope to return one day to explore the country further.”

- Andrew Chirico '18