Professor Brings Costa Rican Experience Back to Classroom

July 26, 2011


Joan Davison Costa Rica


Since 2005, the President’s Internationalization Initiative (PII) has aimed to enable every faculty member to have an international experience at least once every three years. It’s an effort that President Lewis M. Duncan believes is key to providing a global education for students.  

This summer, Professor of Political Science Joan Davison joined the nearly 75 percent of eligible faculty and teaching staff who have used the grants to conduct individual research projects or to travel internationally with faculty-led groups. Along with 12 other faculty members from other U.S. institutions, Davison participated in a two-week faculty seminar through the Council on International Educational Exchange. Lessons in Sustainability, as the seminar was titled, gave the group an in-depth look into the economic, social, environmental and political impacts of sustainable development in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.  

“Costa Rica is an ideal laboratory for this particular seminar because it is considered to be one of the best examples of a country focused upon having a neutral environmental impact,” said Davison. “But as we learned, sometimes there are trade-offs for achieving desirable outcomes and sometimes these are in conflict.” 

As a traveling seminar, Davison was given the opportunity to learn about Costa Rica’s sustainability movement in real-time. She visited large cities, remote villages, coffee plantations and nature preserves. At each stopping point, participants were given the opportunity to explore the various social costs of Costa Rica’s commitment to sustainability.  

A good example of such social costs is the impact of flooding areas in the region for the purpose of creating manmade lakes that produce hydro electric power. “Huge areas of land are flooded and many people are displaced in the process,” Davison shared. “We’re always weighing how to balance these concerns so that no advancement comes at too great a cost to the people.”  

As a political science professor, Davison could see an endless list of ways she could enhance her curriculum as a result of her experiences in Costa Rica. “In my Introduction to International Relations class, we are always looking at the global south and how it interacts with the rest of the world,” explained Davison. “Sustainable development brings into consideration all kinds of issues such as free or fair trade policies, international economics and also global environment questions like the importance of the rainforest to the rest of the world."

Davison also believes she’s gained further insights into questions of how much tourism truly benefits a region and how infrastructure, such as public transportation, should develop. “This trip has been incredibly enriching to my ability to teach sustainable development in the classroom,” said Davison. “It’s informing my teaching on a whole other level.” Just as the President’s Internationalization Initiative intends, her students will also garner immeasurable benefits from her experience.

By Kristen Manieri

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