REU Site: Ecohydrology of Tropical Montane Forests -- Diversity in Science, Interdisciplinary Breadth, and Global Awareness

Award: $478,780

Recent evidence suggests that projected temperature increases over land and sea will lead to decreased cloud cover and altered precipitation regimes in Central America. Deforestation of lowland rainforest can further reduce cloud and mist, which amplifies drought, alters forest structure, and reduces stream flows crucial for dry-season water supplies to downstream users. Eight students per year, recruited from 2-year community colleges, participate in a hands-on 10-week research experience to characterize the gradient of water, climate, and biodiversity in the watershed of a tropical montane forest in central Costa Rica under the guidance of twelve Texas A&M University faculty from the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Civil Engineering, and Geosciences, alongside faculty and students at institutions in Costa Rica. Students utilize natural climate gradients from lowland rainforests to high-elevation cloud forests to characterize land-atmosphere interactions and processes that impact streamflow generation. The program is designed to provide crosscutting understanding of the interactions among biophysical processes, water management, and human impacts in a regional-to-global context. Activities provide a firsthand international research experience, foster a learning community, demonstrate the foundational importance of diversity in science, provide students with a cultural experience, and increase awareness of the interconnection between forests, water and people. In addition to the unique international research experience, REU students observe how water from the mountains effects agriculture and society in the valley below via cultural exchanges and service learning projects that provide them with global competences including the ability to live and work effectively in a diverse and global society, and articulate the value of a diverse and global perspective.

Recruitment strategies to enhance participation of students from diverse backgrounds include visiting target schools, making the website more attractive to minority applicants, providing resources and assistance in the application process, and breaking down barriers to minority participation in study abroad programs. The assessment team will examine how those mentoring experiences encourage students to understand the scientific research process, develop individual research interests, and appreciate their mentoring experiences with faculty members. The expected outcomes include joint faculty-student publications in leading research journals, research conference presentations, and studies to assess the success of international field experiences.