York U’s new Centre and EcoCampus offer hands-on education in a Costa Rican rainforest

The Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University opened its new Lillian Meighen Wright Centre and EcoCampus today in southern Costa Rica, offering students hands-on experiential learning from deep within a rainforest.

The 400-square-metre Lillian Meighen Wright Centre overlooks the Peñas Blancas River from its prime location on York U’s new EcoCampus. The new centre is thanks to a generous donation of $750,000 from the Lillian Meighen and Don Wright Foundation.

Lillian Meighen Wright Centre in rain forest on York U EcoCampus in Costa Rica

Lillian Meighen Wright Centre in rainforest on York U EcoCampus in Costa Rica

 
The EcoCampus is a long-awaited venture. One that started with a donation to York U of 400 acres of Costa Rican rainforest by noted Toronto physician Dr. Woody Fisher in 1998. Along the way, multiple donors contributed more than $8 million to the Las Nubes Project, supporting student and faculty research, academic positions, student awards, program costs and most recently the creation of the 25-acre EcoCampus, which sits next to the Las Nubes Forest Reserve. The reserve is part of one of the largest rainforest ecosystems in Central America.

“The new Lillian Meighen Wright Centre and EcoCampus is an excellent example of York University’s global reach in promoting and protecting sustainability, while fostering international collaboration and research,” said Mamdouh Shoukri, York University President & Vice-Chancellor. “The EcoCampus will offer our students hands-on learning experiences in a truly fascinating natural and cultural setting. Through this new site, York’s students and faculty will have an enduring impact on Neotropical research and community-based conservation.”

The centre offers indoor classrooms and laboratories, as well as an outdoor Indigenous classroom, an arboretum and botanical gardens. The centre will serve as a local, national and international hub dedicated to education and research on Neotropical conservation, eco-health, community well-being and sustainable livelihoods of those who live and work in the area, as well as the creation of a biological corridor from Las Nubes to the Alexander Skutch Reserve.

Lillian Meighen Wright Centre on York U EcoCampus in Costa Rica

Lillian Meighen Wright Centre on York U EcoCampus in Costa Rica

 
“The Las Nubes Project has reached its ultimate form with the new EcoCampus and the opening of the Lillian Meighen Wright Centre. We look forward to expanding the number of courses offered at the site, as well as increasing our research on rainforest conservation and the health and well-being of the communities living in the area,” said Noël Sturgeon, Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies. “We anticipate fruitful collaborations with universities from around the world, but especially our Costa Rican university partners.”

The EcoCampus is the new headquarters of the Faculty of Environment Studies’ Las Nubes Project in Neotropical Conservation, under the direction of Professor Felipe Montoya, who holds the James and Joanne Love Chair in Neotropical Conservation. It encourages interdisciplinary research, environmental education and community action. Project endeavors include monitoring mammals in the rainforest and safeguarding local rivers and ecosystems.

Now that the Lillian Meighen Wright Centre is open, the first group of students will head to the EcoCampus for 18 days in May. Next year, students can spend an entire semester learning about the rainforest, renewable energy, the environment, local culture, citizen science, marine biology, as well as community arts and health. The emphasis of the courses is on experiential learning and building on the collaborations with diverse communities and groups in southern Costa Rica. It will also be available as a destination for international researchers, writers, artists and performers.

“As ecosystems are deeply interconnected, Las Nubes presents an important region in Costa Rica to preserve as alterations of these complex ecosystems will presents impacts for other regions (including marine systems in the region),” said environmental management student Yana Pikulak, co-president of the Las Nubes Student Association, who did a field course at Las Nubes last summer. “The Las Nubes project is a core project through the Environmental Studies Faculty at York University, both for student learning and comprehension of the regions and cultures, but also for environmental conservation and sustainable community development.”

The opening of the centre in Costa Rica included a signing of a letter of intent between York University and the Costa Rican National Council of Rectors (CONARE). Julio Calvo, rector of the Tecnologico Instituto and a representative of CONARE, was on hand for the signing.

Michael Gort, the Canadian Ambassador to the Republic of Costa Rica, also attended the ceremony and spoke about how the EcoCampus helps to foster international collaboration with Costa Rica. The celebration included a performance by Manuel Obregón, internationally acclaimed musician and former minister of culture for Costa Rica.