Extending the Classroom Walls to Costa Rica

By Purnell T. Cropper | July 20, 2010

By Michelle Tooker ’07

Dr. Warren Haffar, Assistant Professor, Associate Dean of Internationalization and Director of International Peace and Conflict Resolution, is convinced that students learn more from hands-on problem-based learning, “Everything becomes relevant when students and faculty are engaged in learning on all fronts,” he says.

In 2003, Haffar developed a program to extend his classroom walls to Costa Rica. Each spring students and faculty investigate the conflict surrounding the building of the Boruca Hydroelectric Dam. Although the dam will increase power to the region, its construction threatens the indigenous population and ecosystem.

“This experience was developed to bring together theory and practice, illuminating for students the inexorable link between peace and conflict resolution and sustainable development,” says Haffar. “Through partnerships with the Kan Tan Ecological Project and the indigenous communities in the region, along with field visits to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and local civil society organizations, faculty and students utilize mediation framework to identify the underlying needs and interests of the primary conflict stakeholders.”

Before journeying to Costa Rica, students spend class time evaluating the project and its conflicts. “With this classroom foundation, it was easier to understand the overall issues at hand,” says International Studies major Julia Sandrock ’10, who went to Costa Rica in May 2009. “We were able to take the classroom content and apply it to hands-on activities and engage in presentations we heard throughout our 10 days in Costa Rica.”

In December, Haffar and Jurgen Carls, Special Adviser for the United Nations mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica, published a book on their findings, Conflict Resolution of the Boruca Hydro-Energy Project: Renewable Energy Production in Costa Rica. Students from both universities assisted Haffar and Carls by gathering research, copyediting and finding potential publishers.

This experience is just one component of Arcadia’s commitment to integrative learning. Not only does this type of learning make classroom time more relevant, but it also fully immerses students in what they are learning.