Ashland University Students Participate in 'AU in Costa Rica' Program

Ashland University Students Participate in 'AU in Costa Rica' Program
Ashland University students who participated in the “AU in Costa Rica” program during the summer of 2016 pose for a photo at Conversa Language Center, a Spanish language school situated in a lush mountain setting overlooking the Santa Ana Valley.

9/8/16 ASHLAND, Ohio – Thirteen Ashland University students participated in the “AU in Costa Rica” program during the summer of 2016. The long-standing “AU in Costa Rica” is a program designed to provide students with an immersion experience and this year’s program combined Spanish and Biology.

Those students who attended the program included Emma Eastwood, a biology and Spanish major from Medina, Ohio; Elinor Fortescue, a political science major from Springfield, Ohio; Anna Fry, a Spanish and hospitality management major from Muncie, Ind.; Makayla Gauss, a political science major from Polk, Ohio; Justus Kendel, a biology major from Medina, Ohio; Amanda Lyon, a political science major from Canton, Ohio; Abigail McMaster, an international business and hospitality management major from Wadsworth, Ohio; Kennedy Walker, an international business major from Uniontown, Ohio; and Kyle Wissel, an integrated social studies major from Medina, Ohio.

Students attend five hours of language instruction per day for four to eight weeks at Conversa Language Center, a Spanish language school situated in a lush mountain setting overlooking the Santa Ana Valley. For additional cultural experiences, students live with families and participate in excursions. Dr. Barbara Schmidt-Rinehart, professor of foreign languages, directs the Spanish program.

During two weeks of the program this year, students had the opportunity to work with Biology Professor Merrill Tawse, completing the lab component of their spring lecture class BIO 202: Organisms, Adaptation and Diversity Lab.

How better can one address the question “How do organisms solve the problems of survival, and how are the solutions that have evolved influenced by the environment?” than by exploring the vast diversity of organisms and life Costa Rica has to offer. In addition to on-site labs at the biologically rich campus setting of Conversa, students did weekend field work in the tropical cloud forest of Monteverde and the marine park in Manuel Antonio.

“Our department has had an immersion program abroad for Spanish students for almost 30 years. We have continued to reach out to other disciplines to integrate the study of Spanish with their content areas. It is exciting that the Biology Department put this program together and, of course, it is a perfect fit,” said Dr. Schmidt-Rinehart. “We already have an education component where students can work in the schools for a field experience. My dream would be for all departments to recognize the value of knowing another language – and work with us to create unique programs that will better prepare students for the world today.”

Professor Tawse noted that this is the first time that the Ashland University Biology/Toxicology Department has led students into this part of the world where they were surrounded by some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world. 

“Students were in awe as they observed first-hand the richness of plant and animal species surrounding them as they were snorkeling in coral reefs, hiking through mountain cloud forests, and when comparing upland and lowland tropical forests of Costa Rica,” Tawse said.

“Student lab experiences included measuring and comparing the biological diversity in select habitats, night hikes, mist netting of birds and bats, encountering lizards and snakes along the park and preserve trails and visiting a local animal refuge center,” Tawse added. “For many, being able to watch a sea turtle foraging in a coastal reef, discovering howler and white-faced monkeys moving through the canopy above them,  and observing sloths sleeping in the trees will become some of the lifetime memories of their Ashland University experience.”

Spanish language is of utmost importance for science students, as much professional field work is currently in Central or South America. Costa Rica boasts to having 6 percent of the world’s diversity and Costa Ricans are known worldwide for their enormous pride in preserving biodiversity and their striving to create sustainable communities that live in harmony with the natural environment.

Many students in this program were supported through AU Global Education grants and the “Schmidt Take-Flight Scholarship.”

The AU Foreign Language and Biology Departments will team up again in the summer of 2017. Those wanting more information about the program can contact Dr. Schmidt-Rinehart at 419.289.5131 or

Ashland University, ranked in the top 200 colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category for 2016, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University ( values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.                                                                                ###

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