Meet Our New Volunteers!

The new year has brought in a handful of new residents at UGA Costa Rica who are getting settled in quite nicely. However, orchestrating the multiplicity of events that are offered on campus is tough business. Being a team of naturalists and volunteers means that most of our meals, guided hikes, and training sessions are spent together. As we share these things, it becomes more apparent how each individual contributes to the melting-pot which is UGACR. It is quite wondrous the way we are meshing together to create a family of global citizens and revealing more potential each day.

The nature of our work holds importance in close-knit relationships. Our flexibility leaves us open to trade tour schedules, workout schedules, or let the box of fate decide which classic movie we will watch. This way our volleyball matches, daily haikus, and movie nights are filled with laughter at each other and ourselves. Here are some quick bios to help you get to know the new faces:

cab_2017_00038_tours Emilie Morris, 22, graduated from University of Georgia in December of 2015 with a double major in Ecology and Biology. She was enthralled by studying the way parasitic disease moved through a population of Monarch butterflies in the lab. Going from a microscopic to macro scale, she now has goals of going to medical school to study practical application of medicine in humans. After graduation from UGA she hiked over 2,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail with her uncle. Our favorite things about her is the way she infuses a happy-go-lucky art into our group across all media. We love to see her drawing, painting, and even writing music in her free time. Emilie and Gaby are veteran naturalists, being here for a few months now. They are quick to add a new workout to the routine and organize a movie night.

cab_2017_00550_toursGaby Benitez, 22, graduated from Duke University with a double major in Biology and Environmental Science. During her inspirational undergraduate career, she traveled to Singapore, Malaysia, southwest Turkey, and Ascension Island to study sea turtles. She led an advocacy group at Duke called Food for Thought that explored the relationship between dietary decisions and their environmental affects. She continues to look into sustainable urban development and integrative human systems. UGACR is a great culmination of her interests, being in the San Luis valley where there are small-scale farms that sustainably support the community. Gaby has a capacity for gently guiding people to explore, whether it be through the medicinal gardens or a yoga flow.


Sean Peacock, 25, has a sweet background in conservation. After graduating from Georgia College and State University in 2014, he worked in a lab doing analytic chemistry of metals in water by his hometown of Savannah. After environmental education training and guiding at the Dunwoody Nature Center, Sean found himself on St. Catherine’s Island as a conservation zookeeper. He worked with ring-tailed lemurs, cranes, great hornbills, and Georgia’s state reptile, the gopher tortoise. His wealth of knowledge is transforming into a passion of protecting biodiversity through education and preservation of species. He’s the type of guy to pull you away from the computer for a quick stroll that turns into an hour of chasing capuchins through the jungle!

Ellie Swanson, also in the 22 club, recently graduated from the University of Utah in December of 2016. She found out about UGACR when her friend clued her in after a visit. As a river-rafting guide in the summers, she decided to skip a winter in Utah this year for an endless summer! After a biology and geography major, she’s fulfilling a vision to deeply expand upon her four years of Spanish in high school. Ellie has already gone from our library’s children books to mini-novelas and is already translating our awesome coffee tours. We have loved seeing her break open a new world in interpersonal communications and flourish inside of her always-down attitude.

Mel Freshwater, 23, is a May 2016 graduate from James Madison University in Virginia in the Appalachian foothills. She focused on geographical sciences and environmental conservation in school and continued to spontaneously plan travels, taking a year off to travel by work-trade through Spain, Italy, and Hawaii. Mel’s passion has recently led her to work for the American Conservation Experience in habitat conservation in Asheville, NC. The positive, go-getter mentality adds a delightful tone to our hang outs. Mel is early to rise in the morning and quick with a pause of appreciation, always smelling the flowers.



Ben Schmidt, 24, is a May 2015 graduate from Northwestern College in Iowa. He had an extremely diverse undergraduate career where he studied all across the globe. His degrees in Biology and Secondary Education have taken him to British Columbia and even the southern alps of New Zealand. He studied field botany in Michigan and now focuses on stream ecology, including invertebrates that have aquatic phases, like dragonflies and different types of naiads. Since graduating, his travels have taken him through the Oregon Cascades and Northern California. He’s the type of Minnesotan to seem reserved until he breaks out one of his unbelievable family stories, like a transformer mystery man!

cab_2017_00043_farmAnaLiz Rojas Mendez, 24, is a current student at the Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Honduras. She was born and raised in Buenos Aires in the southern region of Costa Rica. As a sustainable agriculture intern, she spends much of her time in the vegetable garden. AnaLiz is a double threat, doing research at the National University of Costa Rica and hands-on training at Zamorano in Honduras. She helps UGACR embody the “pura vida” style when she is seen walking the cows from pasture to pasture and transplanting young sprouts. She often puts in a couple extra hours of work to take extra care of the life around her. AnaLiz even fills her free time with hiking, riding a bicycle, or swimming. Cruise on, AnaLiz!

cab_2017_00052_farmAriana Muñoz, 20, is a sustainable agriculture intern who is currently studying at the Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Honduras as well. Because of their shared classes, she has known AnaLiz for a few years now. Despite her age, Ariana has loads of practical experiences in all types of agriculture. Zamorano requires the students to have both intense reading for part of the curriculum and hands-on training for the second half. Most of her gardening and skills in the stable seem second nature, as she has learned from her father who also works in the agriculture industry. She has a work hard, play hard ethic that will leave you with dirt on your boots and a smile on your face. Ariana is the type of person to toss dirt on you with one hand, and then toss you a fresh banana with the other.

Photos and words contributed by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll


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