Professors Research New Courses in Costa Rica

Two Oklahoma Baptist University professors recently traveled to Costa Rica to gather information for development of new courses in tropical ecology and biodiversity. The professors' research will be integrated into science courses this fall, and eventually field courses will be available to students.

Dr. Dale Utt, associate professor of biology, and Dr. John McWilliams, associate professor of natural science, joined Dr. Dennis Siegfried, Southern Nazarene University's assistant professor of biology, to study the ecology and geology of three different tropical environments.

"Experiences at both the rainforest and the volcano will be incorporated into our environmental, botany and earth science courses this fall," Utt said. "We ultimately hope to have some science students participate in an extended field research experience in Costa Rica as part of their senior capstone research project."

Utt and McWilliams hope that both science and non-science majors will take advantage of the unique field study in Costa Rica once available.

"I believe OBU students will benefit greatly from our participation with Quetzal Education Research Center," McWilliams said. "It's also a unique opportunity for subject areas other than science."

The OBU professors traveled with Siegfried to the Quetzal Education Research Center (QERC) in San Gerardo de Dota, established by Southern Nazarene University in 1986. There they studied the high altitude neo-tropical rainforests, observed the area's ecology and spotted a few of Costa Rica's diverse indigenous birds.

"We were able to experience the misty tree-covered ridges of the cloud forest surrounding QERC at San Gerardo de Dota," Utt said. "In these forests we observed lush growth of various ferns and hardwoods, complemented by mounds of bromeliads clinging to every branch, and a spattering of orchids from the forest floor to high in the canopy."

The group next traveled to La Selva Biological Research Station, an area managed by the Organization for Tropical Studies, an assemblage of international universities dedicated to the study of tropical ecology. Here, Utt and McWilliams studied the lowland rainforest and observed a variety of animals including sloths, macaws, army ants, Blue Morpho butterflies and Poison Arrow Frogs.

"Our visit was only at the beginning of the rainy season, but it was truly a unique experience to watch torrents of rain continue for hours on end," Utt said. "Into the evening, as the rain would slack off, we hiked into the forest to a boardwalk through a large marsh. We saw or heard almost a dozen different species in our short time that night, including the well-known Red-Eyed Tree Frog."

The group's final destination was the Volcan Arenal to study the geology of the volcano and the surrounding forests. Utt said they saw boulders the size of cars that were freshly spewed from the volcano, glowing red with heat.

OBU's science department hopes to begin offering courses in Costa Rica in January 2009. People interested in participating in one of the courses can contact the OBU science department at (405) 878-2028 or e-mail Dr. Utt at

Dr. Utt and Dr. McWilliams visited the La Selva Biological Research Station during their trip where they observed the lowland rainforests and experienced the torrential rain.

The group saw a variety of animals, including the Red-Eyed Tree Frog. The professors also observed sloths, macaws, Blue Morpho butterflies and Poison Arrow Frogs.

The Volcan Arenal concluded the professors' trip where they studied the geology of the volcanic area and surrounding forests.