Student Exchange Programs Broaden Student Experiences

By: Summer Bontrager, CALS Communications Service

Study abroad programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University expand students' cultural awareness and global knowledge.

Mark Gleason, a professor in plant pathology and microbiology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, understands the importance of studying abroad and in 1998 began planning an exchange program between Iowa State University and the University of Costa Rica.

The exchange program became a reality in 1999 when students from Iowa State began to travel to Costa Rica every other year during spring break. In return students from Costa Rica travelled to Iowa State in July.

Gleason said the experience has been a positive experience for students and he has written an article outlining the benefits of the reciprocal exchange, which was published in HortTechnology. The article reviews the results of a student survey of both Iowa State and University of Costa Rica students. Gleason used the results to measure the impact of a long-term reciprocal student exchange.

“I think there is an impact they feel right away and then there is a continuing impact they realize later in life. Some of these impacts are on the international perspectives and increased empathy with people from other cultures and that carries on throughout their lives,” Gleason said.

The Iowa State study abroad exchange is offered in the spring semester of odd-numbered years to students enrolled in the Integrated Management of Tropical Crops class. The class studies a variety of tropical agroecosystems and Costa Rican culture.

During the Costa Rica trip students visit agricultural research sites and farms, seeing a range of tropical crops from bananas to coffee to sugar cane. Students have several opportunities to interact with Costa Rican students and farmers, which offers opportunities for students to immerse themselves in the culture.

“This reciprocal exchange program opens up doors to farms and research facilities that we would never get into if we didn’t have these connections,” said Gleason.

The three lead departments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences include entomology, horticulture and the plant pathology and microbiology department. The departments provide funding and volunteers to help with tours and other events at Iowa State. In Costa Rica residents from previous visits open their homes and farms to Iowa State visitors. The next trip to the University of Costa Rica is scheduled for March 2019.

“This trip is mutually beneficial to both universities that partake in the exchange. It is great to see students really profit from their experiences in a different country,” said Gleason.