Habitat for Humanity: Costa Rica, Part III

As part of UGA Costa Rica’s Housing and Household Economics Maymester program, a group of eight UGA students and two faculty members traveled to Puntarenas, Costa Rica to participate in an international Habitat for Humanity build as a service-learning component of the experience. During the four-day build, students chronicled their experiences via journal, detailing feelings and experiences related to the build.

Join us for a three-part series summarizing their endeavors. Make sure to read Part I and Part II also!

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Habitat for Humanity: Costa Rica, Part II

As part of UGA Costa Rica’s Housing and Household Economics Maymester program, a group of eight UGA students and two faculty members traveled to Puntarenas, Costa Rica to participate in an international Habitat for Humanity build as a service-learning component of the experience. During the four-day build, students chronicled their experiences via journal, detailing feelings and experiences related to the build.

Join us for a three-part series summarizing their endeavors. Read Part I here!


Day three brought with it both difficulties as well as positive experiences.

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Habitat for Humanity: Costa Rica, Part I

As part of UGA Costa Rica’s Housing and Household Economics Maymester program, a group of eight UGA students and two faculty members traveled to Puntarenas, Costa Rica to participate in an international Habitat for Humanity build as a service-learning component of the experience. During the four-day build, students chronicled their experiences via journal, detailing feelings and experiences related to the build.

Join us for a three-part series summarizing their endeavors.


The first day’s task could be summed up in a single word: dig.

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Preserving history in San Luis

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Ana Ligia López Jurado, Lindsay Stallcup, Dallas Fitzgibbon, and Samantha Peykoff stand in front of the beneficio, or coffee processing plant, in San Luis that Ramón Brenes built.

Yesterday, at a special community presentation about the history of San Luis, UGACR students Dallas Fiztgibbon and Samantha Peykoff debuted a 50-minute documentary they have worked on throughout the semester for Spanish 4090, a service-learning class.

Along with their professors, Ana Ligia López Jurado and Lindsay Stallcup, they conducted interviews about Ramon Brenes, an important figure in this town’s history because of his business acumen and character. Both his daughter, Mari Brenes Jiménez, and his grandson, Ramón “Mon” Brenes Morales, shared their memories with us and graciously invited us into their homes.

Special thanks also goes to many others who contributed to this project: Víctor Ramírez Badilla, Carlos Badilla Jiménez, Odilio Ramírez Rodríguez, Tina Brenes Jiménez, Danis Brenes Jiménez, Luis Venegas Pérez, Edwin Rojas Quesada, Orietta Gómez Chen, and Manfreed Venegas Brenes.

The student’s knowledge of Spanish was put to the test as they edited about 12 hours of interviews. In the end, they had a polished documentary to present to the people of San Luis and demonstrated how important it is to preserve history and our stories.

Wednesday Spotlight: Dr. Kris Irwin, Adelante Award Winner

The UGA Costa Rica Adelante Award honors a UGA faculty or staff member who has made major contributions to the University of Georgia’s Campus in Costa Rica.  These contributions may have come in any of the following areas:

  • Study abroad program development and on-going instruction on study abroad programs with particular attention to student mentoring and service-learning;
  • Incorporation of international content from Costa Rica into the curriculum in his or her field;
  • Cevelopment of ongoing research initiatives based at UGA Costa Rica;
  • Significant contributions to develop the UGA Costa Rica Campus infrastructure;
  • Significant contributions toward ecological and social sustainability of the UGA Costa Rica Campus;
  • Public service and outreach in the San Luis / Monteverde community;
  • Leading international conferences and symposia based at the UGA Costa Rica Campus;
  • Significant contributions to the Latino community in and around the Athens community;
  • Commitment to fostering relationships, educational or otherwise, between the Athens and San Luis/Monteverde campuses and communities.

The Adelante Award is given annually by consensus decision among the UGA Costa Rica Athens Office Staff and the UGA Costa Rica Campus Staff in review of all nominations.  Preference is given to individuals with demonstrated accomplishments in two or more of these areas.

Dr. Quint Newcomer’s Comments:

Kris has been highly engaged with UGA Costa Rica since very early on, even before I arrived. His first trip to UGA CR was in September 2003. He brought a group of 15 students and in-service teachers down to Costa Rica in March 2006 as part of an IDEAS Grant: “Environmental Education in Costa Rica: A UGA Service-Learning Experience” in which they interacted with faculty from the National University and the National Biodiversity Institute. They planted trees and learned about environmental education and Kris found his home away from home in San Luis. He then received a Scholarship of Engagement Grant and came back to UGA Costa Rica in 2009 to support community outreach activities in aquaculture pond management and to begin work on a service-learning toolkit to support faculty teaching at UGA Costa Rica. Based on the work completed in 2009, he was selected as a Senior Service-Learning Scholar to continue to develop the UGA Costa Rica Service-Learning Toolkit, which he completed in 2010. He has since helped with training several faculty to engage in service-learning as part of their education abroad programs with UGA Costa Rica. In 2010, we co-presented about service-learning at UGA Costa Rica at the “People, Place, & Partners: Building and Sustaining Engagement in Critical Times” Gulf-South Summit.

Kris Irwin Fishing

Since 2006, Kris has helped me write and submit at least seven funding proposals, including representing UGA for the annual WK Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Award. Most recently, throughout 2013, Kris participated in the drafting of a white paper which led to the development of a large Coupled Natural and Human Systems grant we submitted to NSF. Our fingers remain crossed! In Fall 2011, Kris initiated contact with the US EPA International Office, and has helped foster an on-going dialog since that time with the team who serves as the advisors for the Central American region regarding high-level environmental policy planning and technical support. Together with Warnell colleague Jay Shelton, we have made four presentations to different EPA groups, at both Athens and Atlanta offices, regarding the work of UGA Costa Rica and possibilities of research collaborations with US EPA.

 In 2013, Kris and I launched a new spring break program, Tropical Reforestation, offering a hands-on service-learning field experience in support of the UGA Costa Rica carbon offset reforestation program. Enrollment more than doubled between 2013 to 2014. Kris supervised graduate student Micheal Heldreth in the development of a nursery management and tree monitoring protocol, which is helping us to standardize the management of the program and has been critical to help us begin to measure tree growth rates over time as well as gather other critical site data and develop detailed plotting and mapping for the 30,000 plus trees we have planted as part of this project.

Dr. Kris Irwin (center) with Dr. Jay Shelton (left) and Lucas Ramirez (right).
Dr. Kris Irwin (center) with Dr. Jay Shelton (left) and Lucas Ramirez (right).

 In addition to his engagement as an educator of students, as a researcher, and as a leader of community engagement and outreach, Kris has been a tireless champion of UGA Costa Rica, encouraging his colleagues to get involved, serving on the UGA Costa Rica Academic Advisory Board, and perhaps most importantly, he keeps me laughing when I most need a good dose of humor.

 I’ve told you many of the highlights of my work with Kris over the past 8 years. There’s equally as much I haven’t mentioned here. For his many, many contributions and steadfast support, the UGA Costa Rica Athens Office staff and Costa Rica Campus staff have unanimously selected Dr. Kris Irwin to receive the 2014 UGA Costa Rica Adelante Award.

Monday Top 5: Spring Break Highlights

Happy St. Patrick’s Day Everybody! We just wrapped up one of our busiest weeks during the whole year — spring break! We had student groups come from all over the country to learn and take in the beauty of their surroundings. Here’s a list of some of the week’s highlights. 

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1.) Saving the world, one tree at a time. One of our spring break programs focused on reforestation efforts in the Monteverde area. This group helped give our tree nursery a makeover that standardized beds for future research projects.

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2.) Catching your own dinner – Like everything else here, even dinner is a hands-on activity. Students had the chance to wade into the tilapia pond to catch their own fish. Students had to put on safety goggles before getting in the water because the tilapia can jump! And even for those not brave enough to get in the water, it was entertaining to watch.

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3.) Brushing up on San Luis – Our visitors from Athens Academy gave a wonderful gift to the community of San Luis by spending the morning painting the fence around the cemetery. The area is maintained by volunteers and the effort spent to make it look its best was greatly appreciated!

4.) Watching the sun go down in paradise. Our front porch is always a great place to watch the sun set. And the few minutes before dinner is the perfect time to relax from an activity-packed day. Every sunset is different, but this one was so beautiful it had our guests scrambling to snap a photo before it disappeared.

Student Alexandria Desantis is ready for her ziplining adventure!
Student Alexandria Desantis is ready for her zip-lining adventure! Photo courtesy of Alexandria Desantis.

5.) Flying through the Cloud Forest. Well, not flying exactly. But gliding over the tops of trees on a wire is about as close as it gets. Going zip lining is a great way to get that thrill of flying as well as a new perspective on the cloud forest.

Text and photographs by Kathryn Ingall