CHADRON – When two Nebraska students, Larissa Hastings, a senior from Chadron and Kolton Brown, a senior from Valentine, enrolled in Social Media and Democratization, they didn’t realize the course would lead them to Costa Rica.
Dr. Bob Knight, who teaches the six credit hour Essential Studies Program Capstone course with Dr. Shafiq Rahman, said the course explores the intersection of new communication technologies and ways in which citizens utilize these technologies to effect social and political change.
Rahman said some of the readings for the class were of graduate level.
“Students read them and synthesized information. It's a higher level of learning. Some of the papers that students wrote for their group projects are good enough to be presented in academic conferences. In fact, we encouraged students to send their work to academic and professional conferences,” Rahman said.
Brown said the intensive research in advance was beneficial and made the trip more enjoyable.
“We stumbled upon the idea of ecotourism and it was neat to actually experience it,” Brown said.
The culminating experience for the students is a major team project that allows them to creatively apply what they have learned, according to Knight.
“After researching an issue for which they wish to effect change, studentswrite a research paper and project proposal in preparation for creating a social media campaign. The resulting social media sites are presented to the class to conclude the semester. By doing so, students engage in the core learning outcomes of the Essential Studies Program; namely, critical inquiry, interdisciplinary understanding, and collaborative work,” Knight said.
Knight said Brown’s and Hastings’ media projects are particularly noteworthy and have potential for impact.
“The content of their Facebook page and the YouTube video effectively encourages others to think seriously about choosing to experience travel that is not only fun and educational, but fosters environmental sustainability. This project exemplifies the type of high impact learning experience we seek to facilitate for our students,” Knight said.
The two students established a Facebook page, “Experience Ecotourism - Larissa & Kolton Travel,” and a YouTube video to share information with friends, family or public who wanted to follow their journey.
During the May 20-29 trip, Brown and Hastings recorded their experiences kayaking on Lake Arenal at the base of the Arenal Volcano, taking nine different zip lines through the tops of the rainforest, and white water rafting on the Sarapiqui River.
“Lake Arenal supplies hydro-electric power to the country which is a great example of environmental sustainability and tourism combined into ecotourism,” Brown said.
Hastings, a Family and Consumer Sciences Secondary Education major, said sustainability is unlike preservation, which focuses on keeping the environment exactly the way it is.
“Sustainability allows for the exploitation of natural resources while renewing and rebuilding the environment. It is possible to use natural resources in a sustainable way through ecotourism because, when done correctly, resources can be used to create jobs, benefit the economy, and reuse and rebuild the resources for future generations,” Hastings said.
Brown, who is majoring in Music with a Music Industry option, said through study before the trip, he and Hastings learned how environmentally stable Costa Rica is and more fully understood what they would experience there.
Hastings, who has traveled to eight countries since high school, said international travel is an incredible experience.
“Costa Rica has to be one of my favorites because of the natural beauty and serene atmosphere. The National Parks are a must see because of the protection efforts the country gives the land in the parks,” she said.
Brown, who hadn’t previously traveled overseas, said the vast and impressive vegetation of the country is one feature he promotes to others.
“I have told people who asked about the trip if their sole reason to go to Costa Rica was to see the vegetation it would be worth it,” Brown said. “It was definitely an eye-opener to see different cultures and it made me interested in traveling more.”
—Tena L. Cook, Marketing Coordinator