Danielle Ervin of Waterbury, a junior studying biology at the University of Connecticut, will travel to Costa Rica in January as part of an Ecology and Conservation Tour offered through the university’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program. The nine-day educational tour will take Ervin and 10 other students, along with a UConn faculty member, to rain forests, volcanoes, and natural parks to teach them about conservation efforts and the region’s flora and fauna while also exposing them to local history and culture.

   UConn’s LSAMP program supports students from African American, Latino/a, Native American, and other underrepresented populations as they pursue degrees in the challenging fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Many STEM students are reluctant to take an entire semester off from their demanding coursework to study abroad. This trip offers an ideal alternative, packing a great deal of learning and first-hand experience into a concentrated time period.

   “The students get to learn science in context and observe another culture up close, all while becoming good stewards of the planet,” said Joy Erickson, LSAMP Program Coordinator, who will accompany students on the excursion.

   The Costa Rica Ecology and Conservation Tour, run by Education First (EF) Tours of Cambridge, Mass., offers an itinerary packed full of educational activities. Students will land in Costa Rica’s capital city of San José and explore the nearby INBioparque, a natural park and research station. They will visit Poás, one of country’s largest active volcanoes, and have a chance to soak in the region’s natural hot springs.

   The expedition also takes participants to La Selva Biological Station, a tropical rainforest research station home to 400 species of birds, 114 species of animals and 44 species of frogs and toads. Students will hike to La Fortuna Waterfall and take a canopy tour of Santa Elena Cloud Forest, where they may glimpse rare orchids and quetzal birds and literally walk through the clouds in the treetops.

   After traveling to the central Pacific coast region, students will explore Manuel Antonio National Park with its diverse array of marine life. There they may investigate coral reefs or spot dolphins and whales from their vantage point on palm-filled beaches.

   In addition to examining the country’s natural habitats, students will also attend lectures, plant trees in a reserve, and browse the colorful craft markets in Sarchí.

   Ervin and other participating students raised money for the trip by helping to clean up after the October snowstorm that left a wake of downed and damaged trees across Connecticut. The trip takes place January 5 – 13, 2012.