Senior Michael Cash holds one of the poison dart frogs he studied in Costa Rica.

Michael Cash beamed as he talked about studying in Costa Rica this past summer. For the senior biology major at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, getting the chance to do field research in tropical ecology for a month changed his life.

“My experience in Costa Rica was so amazing because it pushed me into what I liked and showed me what is possible (in the field),” said Cash, 22, of Overland, Mo. “It helped me figure out what I want to do in the future.”

He plans to attend graduate school in tropical conservation.

Cash, along with UMSL biology graduate students Dilys Vela and Saul Hoyos, spent time this summer in Costa Rica taking courses run by the Organization for Tropical Studies.

Vela, 28, took a graduate course on tropical plants. Originally from Iquitos, Peru, the Christensen Fund Fellow currently lives in St. Louis. She said studying with people from all around the world with different academic interests was beneficial.

“To interact with all of these people – entomologists, ornithologists and ecologists – was invaluable, because now I have a broad perspective of the application of plant systematics to different study fields,” Vela said. “I also saw ecosystems that I had never visited before (including dry forest, paramos and cloud forest).”

All three students benefited from the help of UMSL scholarships.

“Patrick Osborne (executive director of the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center at UMSL) told me about support from the Harris Center and I received the Marcelle Kranzberg Undergraduate Research Award. I also received money from OTS and UMSL’s study abroad office,” Cash said. “I could not have gone to Costa Rica without these scholarships.”

Vela and Hoyos also received scholarships from the World Ecology Center. The center has recently established an endowment with funds from the estate of Whitney R. Harris that will support its membership of the OTS and provide travel scholarships to UMSL students participating in OTS courses.

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Kylie Shafferkoetter

Kylie Shafferkoetter