A program that offers Colorado State University students the opportunity to learn about sustainable building practices through an education abroad experience has been honored for curriculum design by the Forum on Education Abroad.
Rodolfo Valdes Vasquez, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Construction Management, and colleagues have received the award for the Sustainable Buildings program. The nonprofit Forum advocates for education abroad and its value, and engages the field in critical dialogue to benefit students.
“Educating current and future generations will play a pivotal role in making sustainability a standard practice in the life cycle of construction projects,” said Valdes Vasquez. “I am humbled to receive this award in recognition of the hard work of all our co-leaders, the Office of International Programs, EARTH University (CSU’s partner in Costa Rica), and other industry partners.”
The program takes students through Costa Rica, focusing on the principles of sustainable design and construction, energy, healthy buildings, natural resources, and other environmental issues. CSU students work with local EARTH University students to learn about the best sustainable practices through renowned international examples. During the program, students go on field trips, listen to local guest speakers, visit the EARTH campus to see their sustainable agriculture facilities, and stay with host families.
As part of the award, the course will be included in the Forum for Education Abroad’s Curriculum Toolbox, an online resource center where faculty and other education abroad professionals share their unique approaches to encouraging student learning in other countries.
Between the inception of CSU’s partnership with EARTH University in 2014 and 2020, under Valdes Vasquez’s leadership, 95 CSU students from a number of different majors have participated in the program. Students have also come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, including Latin American, African, U.S., and others. This combination provides an unparalleled, multi-disciplinary, and cross-cultural student travel experience.
A student’s perspective
Jamie Crowder, a graduate student in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise M.B.A program in the College of Business, was a participant in the winter 2019 program.
“Over the past few years, I have been fascinated by how climate change will affect the built environment, and what steps humans must make in order to mitigate some of these negative effects,” Crowder wrote in her course evaluation, adding that Costa Rica was the next country on her travel bucket list.
She was impressed with the passionate, knowledgeable professors and staff, but most of all with how the program helped to shift her worldview.
“I had never before been so immersed in a culture the way this program allowed us to be,” she wrote. “Whether it be interacting with local farmers, community members, or students of the university, we had the chance to truly grasp what life was like for the people living in that part of the planet.”
The program’s lead faculty members believe that such cross-cultural experience also mitigates the challenges of implementing service learning in remote locations, including project logistics, health and safety of participants, and developing local trust and rapport.
Over the years, Valdes Vasquez’s co-leaders have included construction management faculty members Mehmet Ozbek, Ph.D; Svetlana Olbina, Ph.D; Jeff Wilkes; and Caroline Clevenger, Ph.D.
Even though she’s in a business program, Crowder’s glad that she participated in a construction management program. It encouraged her to stretch beyond her comfort zone and emphasized reflection on what was learned, so that participants were better able to gather knowledge and work through problems experienced along the way.
Crowder also took a moment to reflect on the dedication and passion of Valdes Vasquez and Ozbek toward this program.
“From the moment one is accepted into the program, you get a strong sense of inclusion. The faculty and staff want their students to be well-equipped going into the program, and it shows,” she wrote. “Once a student has the opportunity to participate in this program, it is quite evident that tons of thought and care have gone into it.”
Students are enthusiastic about the program.
“Although everyone came from diverse cultures and educational backgrounds, it was clear that we all came to make a positive impact on the world through a better understanding of sustainable buildings,” wrote another student.
“This trip was very eye opening, and I really hope that (I) can continue to improve my life to be more sustainable not only at work, but in my personal life as well,” wrote another. “I am so grateful and happy to have this experience in Costa Rica!”
Valdes Vasquez is committed to advancing research and teaching involving the sustainability of infrastructure and building projects. Additionally, he became involved in attracting and retaining more diverse professionals in the construction sector so sustainable decisions can be implemented from a variety of perspectives.
The Department of Construction Management is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences, and this program is one of CSU’s education abroad offerings through the Office of International Programs.