Expedition Ecuador

BySternberg Museum

Expedition Ecuador

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Join us for two weeks of immersive field training and advanced biology that takes students deep into the cloud forest of the Ecuadorian Andes to explore wildlife biology. Local guides and Sternberg Museum staff will lead students on a survey of plants and animals high in the mountains. This region is home to hundreds of species of birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles, mammals, and new plants around every turn. College-level learning and hands-on experience with authentic field biology equipment, building confidence through a rigorous curriculum and supportive staff form the core of this incredible wilderness adventure. Expedition Ecuador camp is an intensive field biology program meant to immerse students in a supportive, fast-paced learning environment where conceptual content and lessons are brought into living focus all around them. Our goal is to make sure any student interested in pursuing a career in life science will leave this camp with relevant, practical skills and knowledge they can apply in their future coursework.

FHSU Campus: Intro to ecology and evolution

Students will start with a two day classroom portion at the Fort Hays State University campus working with Museum staff and Biology Department faculty. During this portion, students will be introduced to essential topics in evolution and ecology, cloud forest climate and structure, and guidelines for our wildlife surveys in the forest. These lessons will be delivered by FHSU Biology faculty and Sternberg Museum education staff. Students will learn how to record crucially important field sketches and field notes, and use recording equipment to document the biodiversity of this incredible ecosystem. We train students to operate our motion-detecting camera traps, videography equipment, a super-telephoto digital photography setup, and smaller hand cameras, all of which they will use extensively while in Ecuador. We also go over trip logistics, components of Ecuadorian culture and eco-conservation efforts, and safety guidelines for our time traveling and in the cloud forest.

Ecuador part 1: Bellavista wildlife reserve

Once in Ecuador, students will work with staff and local guides on daily hikes into the forest, visiting sites known for world-class biodiversity! Our goal day each in the cloud forest is to cover as much ground as possible, documenting animal and plant life with field photos and descriptive field notes. Along the way, students will visit secluded waterfalls, bird sanctuaries, and research lodges deep in the Andes. At all of these sites, students are engaged in discussions addressing organisms, habitats, and teachable examples of evolution in action! Our goal is to build a strong foundational understanding of ecology, evolutionary biology, and biodiversity during this program, in addition to advanced field skills students can take with them on their future endeavors

Ecuador part 2: Santo Domingo

Departing Bellavista, we will head west to explore a new, lower elevation portion of forest. While the bird and insect life in Bellavista is spectacular, it is a bit too cold for most reptiles and many amphibians. By heading down lower, we will be able to see a greater diversity of reptiles and amphibians, in addition to new species of other wildlife not found so high up! We will start our survey by setting our camera traps, which will stay out until the morning of our departure. A major point of emphasis will be identifying differences between the high and relatively low elevation ecosystems. From climate conditions to vegetation structure, students will explore the vast differences that can exist between two geographically adjacent ecosystems. Students will be encouraged to build on lessons from our first set of lessons and surveys as we explore the forest, document new types of wildlife and considering their unique adaptations.

FHSU Campus: Database use and data entry

Upon our return to Hays, students and staff will use computing facilities on the FHSU campus to digitize field notes and organize our field data. This organization of field notes, photos, and videos is a crucial step in performing proper field science. You can find data from previous Ecuador camps below through the Widlife Sighting Records link.

Program Cost

Tuition is $4,950 per member, and $5,200 per non-member. Tuition includes:

  • All domestic and international airfare between Hays, Kansas and Quito, Ecuador.
  • All meals, excluding breakfast on the first day, and dinner on the last day. 
  • All travel fees, excepting additional airline charges for excess luggage. 

Additional Information and Logistics

Additional information regarding the Expedition: Ecuador program

For this international programs, the Sternberg Museum requires registration and payment of the deposit to be complete by May 1st, 2018. If your application is accepted, the deposit becomes non-refundable. The deposit is used to hold the student’s place in the program, and cover a deposit fee with the guide service we are operating the trip through. For accepted applications, full payment must be completed by June 1st, 2018.

* Students are expected to be in Hays at the Sternberg Museum by 8am on the morning of June 18th. Travel should be coordinated well in advance with the Museum Education Director David Levering (DALevering@fhsu.edu) once your student is fully registered. Dorms are available on the FHSU campus for students who arrive early. We will be departing as a group from Kansas City Airport for Quito Ecuador on the 18th or 19th of June, depending on flights. If our flight leaves on the 19th, we will be lodging in the FHSU dorms the night of the 18th.

The Centers for Disease Control advises travelers to “make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.”  We will be at high altitude, away from areas where yellow fever and zika virus are known to occur.

During the trip, our first stop will be at Mindo Lindo lodge high in the Andes, surrounded by a stunning diversity of plants, birds, and all manner of other wildlife amidst a breathtaking landscape. Our second stop will be at Bellavista lodge, over 1,000 feet high up from Mindo Lindo. Here we will explore a new community of organisms, taking note of repeat sightings and new organisms. Bellavista is an active biological research station, and students will have access to a comprehensive library on the surrounding ecosystem and wildlife during our stay.

Food on international trips is prepared by guides, service staff, or Museum education staff. During travel involving airports, students will need to pay for their own meals. We will do our best during international trips to coordinate with our guides and lodges we are staying in to accommodate dietary restrictions.

The following are requirements for all student participants for participation in this program:

  • United States passport with at least 7 months remaining validity. If you do not have a valid United States passport, you cannot participate in this trip.
  • Up to date on immunizations, including:
    • Mumps-measeles-rubella (MMR) vaccine
    • Diptheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine
    • Polio vaccine
    • Chicken pox vaccine (varicella)

We will not be traveling into the Amazon basin, so you will not need a yellow fever vaccination. Proof of travel insurance that includes emergency evacuation & repatriation. Trip cancellation and lost property are also good to make sure you policy includes. If you have any questions, please contact the Education Director at DALevering@FHSU.edu

Contacting Your Child
During international programs, education staff will do their best to provide status updates for the trip via Museum Twitter and Instagram (@SternbergMuseum) accounts. Access to wireless internet or cellular data will be unpredictable. Please assume no news is good news if there are gaps in our online updates. Along with this, please do not count on being able to reach your student by phone reliably. If you need to contact your child during the program, please email them or the Education Director (DALevering@FHSU.edu). If you email the Education Director, he will transmit your message to your student as soon as possible, and follow up however necessary.

Transportation for international programs is program-specific. Please see the individual program description, and contact the Education Director (DALevering@FHSU.edu).

Pick up is by 5:00pm on the last day of the program.

Contact Us

For questions about the Sternberg Science Camps programs, contact Education Director David Levering at DALevering@FHSU.edu, or 785-639-5249.

Application Requirements

– Student applicants must be ages 14 to 18 as of June 2018.
– 2 page (5-7 paragraph) letter of interest from the student applicant.
– Letter of recommendation from the non-family member for the student applicant.
– Financial aid application paperwork (if applying for financial assistance).
– Complete online registration.
– Submit correctly filled out, signed waiver and release form.
– Valid passport and passport number.

Next Generation Science Standards

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are a national collaborative set of benchmarks for science education in the United States. Here, we have listed parts of the NGSS subject contents that are included in this camp program.

Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
HS-LS2-6      HS-LS2-7      HS-LS2-8    

Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits

Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity
      HS-LS4-2      HS-LS4-3      HS-LS4-4      HS-LS4-5

Earth and Human Activity

A Violet-tailed Sylph hummingbird

To understand the differences we observe in organisms, a robust understanding of evolution is absolutely necessary. Students are presented with an initial lesson on the population basis for evolution, and how selection over time leads to new species. We continue lessons on evolutionary biology throughout the program, always relating back to the essential concepts of heredity, selection, and variation of genes and physical features. From beak shape and feather colors in birds to the shapes of orchid flowers, we will be discussing evolutionary biology frequently, in great depth. Some sub-topics include:
– In-depth discussion of natural selection and selective pressures
– Bird feathers and reproductive selection
– Coevolution, as seen in flower shapes and some bird beaks
– Camouflage, primarily in insects
– Speciation and niche specialization
– Sex-based dimorphism
– Heredity and the importance of trait variation

Studying the interconnected nature of organisms to each other and their environment is crucial for understanding the structure of that ecosystem, and why organisms have evolved as they have. Within the extremely broad field of ecology, we make sure to touch on the following during the program:
– Population ecology
– Community ecology
– Niche ecology
– Trophic ecology
– Behavioral ecology
– Biogeography

Even high up in the cloudforest, human environmental impacts are a huge concern. The majority of our field work will take place in small pockets of forest protected to conserve the biodiversity of the region. Even still, human environmental impacts can still be easily found on the mountain ecosystems. (Amphibian diversity is a major point in this discussion.) Students will participate in lessons and discussions about the importance of habitat and biodiversity conservation, including how to approach these topics in the 21st century.

A majority of our wildlife surveys will require half-day hikes through the forest, at relatively high altitude. In order to stay safe and healthy, students will receive instruction on loading and fitting a backpack, optimal attire, hydration, footwear, self-awareness and group safety. Weather in the cloudforest is quite variable, from warm and sunny at midday to afternoon thunder-showers, to evening and nighttime temperatures down into the 40s F. Preparation is key, and we will make sure your student has the information to be prepared.

Prior to departing Hays, students will be lead through a lesson on keeping quality, detailed field notes. (Guidance will continue during the field portion.) During our hikes through the cloud forest, we will be documenting wildlife we come across. We will be doing this using hand-written field notes, photographs, video, and audio recordings of vocalizations. All locations visited will be recorded on GPS units, with coordinates, time spent surveying, and distance traveled all included in notes. Students will be instructed in the use of the following equipment:
– Super-telephoto digital camera setup
– Macro photography
– Use of motion detecting camera traps
– Binoculars
– Spotting scope
– Parabolic microphone with digital recorder
– Use of regionally specific wildlife field guides

The best way to get comfortable with international travel is experience. For students interested in pursuing advanced degrees and careers in the earth and life sciences, international travel may become a necessary reality to attend meeting and conduct their own fieldwork. Our goal is to guide students through the process of arranging pre-travel logistics, setting up flights, packing strategies, potential vaccinations, and going through customs. We will provide pre-program materials introducing these topics, and will discuss them at greater length during the program itself.

While some of these components will have to be done by the student’s parent(s) or guardian(s), we strongly recommend involving the student as much as possible in the process. Having even a small amount of familiarity is immensely more useful than having none!

Taking initiative, staying organized, and effectively communicating are all important skills for working with a team in the field. Over the course of the program, students are coached on developing these areas. With guided opportunities to lead portions of field work, students are encouraged to develop their voices, organize team efforts, and build confidence in their abilities.

From staying hydrated to dealing with bad weather, students are introduced to the hazards of field work and how to effectively, safely deal with them. Staff provide lessons on safety through discussion, making sure students have a clear understanding of problems that can arise and how to effectively avoid them, or mitigate their effects afterwards.

Smartphones and GPS units can lose their signals, and have batteries that die. It is important for students learning to do field work to understand how to read and orient a map. Students are trained in use of aerial photos and compasses to navigate field areas and locate established field sites using cardinal directions and landmarks.