Jim Lehmann’s Eco-Education course in Ecuador combines education and marine biology.
By Anna Marum
Students from a variety of disciplines will have a chance to test their skills in education and ecology this summer in Puerto López, a small fishing town in western Ecuador.
The Eco-Education course is the brainchild of Jim Lehmann, a WSU Tri-Cities professor who teaches courses in elementary curriculum.
His interest in marine biology was sparked when his daughter began working for the Pacific Whale Foundation in Hawaii.
“I’ve always been an educator and I’ve always been a naturalist, and the two kind of go hand-in-hand,” Lehmann said.
He said Ecuador is the perfect arena for putting both his passions to use.
Lehmann said he has been working in Ecuador for several years, sometimes with college students. However, this is his first time teaming up with the university.
The experience students can gain from his Eco-Education course is three-fold, he said. Students will expand their knowledge in education, ecology and culture.
Students will have the chance to work with fourth and fifth graders from the area. They will focus on teaching the children about the dangers of contamination and pollution. “That’s a huge problem,” Lehmann said. “We try to tell the kids how important it is not to pollute.”
To help this lesson hit home, Lehmann said he takes the children out on a tourist boat and shows them the local sea life.
He said he also takes his students on outings, where they spend days studying humpback whales in their breeding grounds. The data students collect enables Lehmann to compare the number of the whale pod from year to year, he said. He studies whether the whale population is connected to global warming, among other factors.
The Ecuadorian culture is a big part of the experience as well, he said.
Lehmann said coming to a third world country is a starkly different experience than studying abroad in Western countries such as Spain or France. “It’s not a tourist trap,” he said. “You have to come away impacted by the people.”
He said while many of the Ecuadorians live in bad conditions, they have more smiles and less stress than many Americans. He contributes this to their habit of living day-to-day, instead of worrying too much about the future.
Lehmann’s favorite part of his trips to Ecuador is being able to talk with his students outside the normal classroom environment. “It’s really fun to take my students down there and just jabber,” he said.
He encouraged all interested students to apply.
“If you’re a scientist, Ecuador’s got to be one of the richest areas the world has to offer,” he said.
Caitlyn Cowan, a sophomore wildlife ecology major, is in the process of applying for Lehmann’s Eco-Education course.
“This would allow me a head start, give me better networking opportunities and help me have a better understanding of what I want to do,” she said.
Cowan said she is most excited to study the humpback whales. “I want to go out on the boat and help the researchers,” she said.
This will be Cowan’s first time abroad, she said.
“I’ll be on my own,” she said. “I want to see how I handle myself on my own and by myself and in a different country and a different continent entirely.”
The office is promoting Lehmann’s course and recruiting students for the program, Education Abroad Adviser Miranda Roberts said.
“There have been lots of people stopping by,” she said. “We know there’s interest out there.”
Roberts said Lehmann’s program is especially unique in that it is a faculty-led program that caters to multiple majors, not just education majors.
She said while Europe is the most popular destination for students going abroad, she has seen an increased interest in traveling to Asia, South America and Africa in the past few years.
According to the course flier, the program costs a total of $4,416 per student. “It’s fairly inexpensive, all things considered,” Roberts said.
She said she hopes the program will become an annual option for students.
Lehmann will be at the Education Abroad Fair on Jan. 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the first and ground floors of the CUB.
There will also be an information session about Lehmann’s Eco-Education course at 4 p.m. Jan. 24 in Education Addition 308. The application deadline in Feb. 1.