Curso Corto Residencial en Casa Pueblo

During the spring semester of my sophomore year (2009) I participated in a short course titled: “Advances in Tropical Microbial Ecology”. The purpose of this course was expose students to an environment where the needs of the community are addressed through science, and to introduce the students to the concept of a “global citizen” through ethics.

We were a group of thirty students staying at Casa Pueblo (official website in Spanish) over the course of five days. All of us were enrolled in two credits of “Special Topics in Biology” of UPRM (University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez). We had thirty contact hours with the professors in charge of the course: Dr. Larry Forney (Director of the Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies; Professor of Biology, University of Idaho), Dr. Eva Top (Professor of Biology, University of Idaho), and Dr. Arturo Massol-Deya, (Professor of Biology, University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez).

This short course involved small group activities, oral presentations, and lectures on community ecology, adaptive evolution, biological diversity, resource competition, and other topics. We also went on field trips to the local forests and visited areas where the community engaged with scientists in projects on agriculture, energy, and water resources.

Casa Pueblo is a community organization that manages local forest reserves and offers educational activities. Casa Pueblo is currently operating with renewable energy systems, especially solar energy. They are making the case for the shift to solar energy in Puerto Rico.

I encourage students to take opportunities like this whenever possible. The skills you acquire during these experiences will shape how you view the world and will only serve to give you a different perspective when tackling problems in your future.

Below is an excerpt from the blog entries I made during this course:

Sunday April 5, 2009

… Arturo presented the team of professors that was going to work with us. Larry and Eva were both microbial ecologists, but there was also a philosopher – Jason. … I’m sure I speak for every student in the course when I say we were shocked. I never imagined how philosophy could be matched with microbiology. …

At night, we went to “Finca Madre Isla”, where the first activity was held. This activity consisted of answering: “What do I know?”, “How do I know it?” and “What am I going to do with that knowledge?” …

Monday, April 6, 2009

… We were introduced to the term “Biodiversity” which was the center of controversy through the rest of the course. This happened not only because it is a broad concept to visualize, but because it makes some decisions difficult to make. For example the decision of constructing more houses or new hospitals, this implies the manipulation of the land which can affect biodiversity.

… The next activity came up; this time we had to formulate our own hypothesis and specific aims to prove this theory. … It was a tough task we had ahead of us, with little time, not much ways to get accurate information and a team of professors, experts in this area waiting to evaluate our work. … After almost two hours of work we were required to present our result. The truth was that none of us in the group was ready, we only had a vague idea of our aims and the topic was not yet clearly formulated. But the show must go on, and we did our best in the last 10 minutes to make our presentation understandable. …

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

… After enjoying the astounding view we reunited to hear Jason’s presentation the ethical matrix. At that moment I felt nothing could be more exciting than to hear what Jason’s got to say, so I sat down and listen more closely than ever.  I thought I understood what he said, so I made no questions. Then we went deeper in the forest and reunited again. … Each group was given a case to use the ethical matrix and decide which the best plan of action is. Our topic had to do with agriculture, economics and Puerto Rico’s sustainability. …

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

… After completing the exercise the closing ceremony started. Certificates of participation in the course were granted and the team of professors and the Massol family expressed their feelings about the experience. It was a very emotional moment, and although I was very tired I honestly didn’t want it to end. …

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