Summer Science in Costa Rica


The Central Texas Science Team sponsors a summer intensive science program for teens (those homeschooled and those enrolled in more traditional school programs).

Summer Science Expedition is a 10-day program for 14-18* year olds in Costa Rica. It’s a joint program between Central Texas Science Team, Expedition Education, scientists from SeedsforEducation at the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Curry Lab and the biochemistry department at the University of Costa Rica.

16 high school age teens will participate in a serious science experience that includes:

  • 6 educational pre-program sessions created by University of Wisconsin scientists and facilitated by certified educators and homeschool parents Russell Baker and Amanda Akers (who we love working with weekly as part of our Science Olympiad team).
  • Real-life experience participating in tropical field lab research
  • Contribution to important research on the use of leaf-cutter ants in the creation of new antibiotics
  • Possibility for college credit
  • Fund-raising assistance
  • The experience of a lifetime!

The program is not a tropical vacation. Participants are expected to learn and work as real scientists do. (The amazing benefit is being in Costa Rica with scientists from the University of Costa Rica who show the group around their beautiful country when the team isn’t hard at work.)

Travel Dates: July 26, 2018-August 4, 2018

Program Cost is $3500, which includes educational sessions, airfare from the continental U.S., room, board, and ground transportation in Costa Rica.

Interested students should apply soon. Central Texas Science Team will fill many of the spots, though not all, so we’re looking to include teens from around the country for the other spots. The deadline to register was January 2, and has been extended into February.

Much more detail at:
For a first hand account, a detailed description from Amanda is at the bottom of this message.

Amanda and Russell will lead the educational pre-sessions, help kids raise money, keep everything organized, and chaperone the group to Costa Rica. For more on their qualifications, see Expedition Education, their educational adventure company.

Connect directly with Amanda or Russell through email:
Amanda Akers (
Russell Baker (
Or call 512.638.9722

*Kids need to be 14-18 during the dates of the trip and have real biology experience (through a course or equivalent real-world time) to ensure they are mature enough both socially and academically for the program. They need to be resilient enough to be away from family in a new and foreign environment for 10 days. They should be able to manage themselves, their work, and their belongings independently and be able to ask for help when needed. Academically, students will be doing research that will require an understanding of basic biology vocabulary, a very solid understanding of the scientific method, and a strong sense of biology basics like food webs, symbiotic relationships, and how living beings respond to and adapt to their environment. They’ll also need to be able to use lab equipment, conduct background research, and write up and present their scientific findings.

During the spring, Amanda and Russell will facilitate 6 planning and prep lessons to prepare the students for Costa Rica. The lessons cover Costa Rica itself, the leaf-cutter ant and how they produce their fungus garden and their own antibiotic, and a little bit of bioinformatics. Plus, we just get the kids ready to go on the trip. These can be attended in person in Central Texas or via Skype.

Here’s a blog entry from last year that also includes photos:

Amanda describes the program in more detail this way:

“Once we land in Costa Rica, we are met by the team from Seeds of Change, University of Costa Rica and Finca La Anita. It’s an amazing group of people. We stay at a beautiful ecoresort called Finca La Anita — high in the rainforest and nestled in between three volcanoes. The cabins are lovely, the grounds are breathtaking (surrounded by rainforest), and the food is delicious. The scientists are led by Dr. Adrian Pinto. He’s a world-renowned leader in leaf-cutter ant research and discovered that ants actually fix nitrogen. He and his grad students facilitate an amazing educational experience for the kids. They go out in the cacao plantation and look for ant colonies. Then they carefully dig them up and collect specimens. The kids are divided into groups and they design their own experiment using their specimens. They spend mornings with lessons and experiment work. In the afternoons we have excursions. We went ziplining, horseback riding, volunteering in the village, hiking and swimming in waterfalls, and learning how to cook Costa Rican food. It was lovely. Then the kids have to present their research findings. It’s a little like a thesis defense. The scientists really ask them hard questions and expect them to know their stuff. To prepare them though, they work with each group individually to make sure they are all ready. It’s phenomenal pedagogy (I’m a teacher nerd.) The last two days of the trip are spent at a research station near the beach. We do a night patrol on the beach looking for sea turtles. It’s quite an experience.