Campus Honors Program Intercultural Study Tour - Galapagos
May 16, 2008 - June 8, 2008

Course title: Explore your world - Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands

Course instructor: Professor Rod Mackie
Department of Animal Sciences, ACES
And Institute for Genomic Biology

Bordering the Pacific Ocean at the Equator, between Colombia and Peru, Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in South America, but it has substantial petroleum resources and boasts one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. Quito, the historic capital, is located 20km (12 miles) from the equator at an altitude of 2,850m (9,350 ft) on the Andean central highlands or "Sierra".

The Galapagos Islands lie 1,100 km (600 miles) west of Ecuador in the East Pacific ocean. They are volcanic in origin and have never been connected to the mainland. The islands are famous as the birthplace for Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. Based on their extraordinary natural heritage, geographical location and geological activity, the islands were declared a World Heritage site in 1984. The volcanic archipelago is renowned for its unusual animal life and takes its name from the giant tortoises that are endemic to the islands.

Course location:
The course will be held at the Galapagos Academic Institute for Arts and Sciences (GAIAS) on the island of San Cristobal, the administrative center for the province. This facility is a campus of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, our hosts. Students will be placed in home stays while on San Cristobal.

In addition, we will spend several days in Quito in transit to the Islands. We will visit the Equator and the historic city center, and we will make two other short trips:

  • To the Cloud Forest (similar to a rain forest) at Mindo, a unique ecosystem that holds the greatest variety of birds and plants in the world.
  • To the "Paramo" (a neotropical ecosystem located in the high elevations, between the upper forest line and the permanent snow line) at the base of the highest active volcano in the world, Cotopaxi (5,900m or 19,350 ft), just south of Quito.

Course content:
This course explores several aspects of diversity, ecology and evolution as they occur in Ecuador but especially the Galapagos Islands, including:
  1. visit to Quito en route to GAIAS;
  2. human history and discovery of the islands;
  3. unique marine and terrestrial biodiversity;
  4. evolutionary biology;
  5. impact of invasive plants and animals on this diversity and related conservation issues;
  6. conflicts involving local fishermen, the Galapagos National Park, and the tourist industry.
  7. discussions with scientists from USFQ, local fishermen and students and National Park personnel. See the rugged volcanic terrain, visit the only freshwater lake on the Galapagos, tour a breeding refuge for giant tortoises, and experience the unique vegetation and animal life.
  8. a series of short boat trips to experience this "living laboratory" firsthand.

Computer facilities and internet access:
Students will have access to computers and internet at the USFQ main campus for no additional charge. There are also several internet cafes located throughout Quito. These cafes normally charge approximately $1-$1.50/hour for internet use. Importantly, there is a computer lab at GAIAS offering high speed internet access for no extra cost. Students can also use local internet cafes in San Cristobal where Internet access costs an average of $2.50 per hour. If you have a laptop, you may want to consider bringing it to GAIAS, but please make sure it is insured through your family's insurance policy or through some other means.

Scientific Travel Narrative:
Participants will receive credit through an individual topic number in the Fall 2008 semester. They will be required to work on a scientific travel narrative of approximately 3 pages per day during the trip. This is not a diary but rather a journal that records and evaluates facts, observations, and thoughts on the places, people, plants and animals, climate, food, language you have experienced. It is the mark of a thinking, literary and responsible traveler. These travel narratives will be handed in for evaluation and grading by the first day of fall classes (August 25).

Course director and Faculty/Staff ICST Leaders:
Prof Rod Mackie is a microbiologist in the Department of Animal Sciences and the Institute for Genomic Biology. His research program includes a study on diet and digestion by the unique herbivorous iguanas and giant tortoises on the Galapagos Islands. This has led to collaboration with scientists at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and the Galapagos Academic Institute for Arts and Sciences (GAIAS) on the island of San Cristobal. This beautiful site on the fabled archipelago is the location for our Intercultural Study Tour. Dr Mackie was born in Zimbabwe, studied and worked in South Africa, and is a seasoned traveler. He has had the privilege of experiencing two sabbatical study leaves since coming to UIUC, the first in Australia (August 1997 - June 1998) and the second in France (July 2007 - January 2008).

Bruce Michelson, Director of the CHP, and Carolyn Allen, CHP Assistant Director, will also lead this CHP Intercultural Study Tour.

Pre-departure meetings:
Students selected for the Campus Honors Program 2008 Intercultural Study Tour will attend several evening sessions with Professor Mackie to gain contextual and scientific background information in order to prepare for, and gain maximum advantage from, this adventure.

Specific information about costs, passports, money requirements, health tips, luggage and what to pack, cameras, food, free time, conduct, etc. will be provided to students selected for the program, along with a course text and suggested pre-trip reading list. Items will be held on reserve at the Honors House.