2018 Honors in Peru

From Andes to Amazon: Biodiversity, Conservation and Sustainability in Peru

2018 Honors in Peru

[mediacredit id=”966″ size=”full-content” align=”alignnone” credit=”wikicommons”]image: ruins of Incan village high in mountains Cusco, Peru[/mediacredit]


From The Andes to The Amazon: Biodiversity, conservation and sustainability in Peru

Program Dates: Early Fall Start, August 26 – September 20, 2018

Sponsoring Units: University Honors Program, Undergraduate Academic Affairs and Program on the Environment

This program will satisfy the following 5 credits:

Course Credits Credit Type
HONORS 223 5 Honors Natural Science (NW)
ENVIR 496 5
BIOL 493 5 NW

Applications due: Feb 15, 2018

Information Sessions

Weds, Jan 17, 1:00-2:00pm: MGH 211
Fri, Feb 9, 12:00-1:00pm: MGH 211

Program Description

Our program examines conservation and sustainability issues in a biodiversity hotspot of global importance: southeastern Peru. The first week of our program takes place in the relatively arid highlands surrounding Cusco. We examine current and past human land-use practices and their impact on biodiversity. This portion of the program includes visits to Machu Picchu, a women’s weaving cooperative, local fruit and vegetable markets, an organic farm and environmentally focused school, Week 2 and 3 takes us to Manu National Park and Biosphere Reserve where we lodge at biological field stations, both in mountain forests and remote lowland forests. We immerse ourselves in ecological exploration of pristine forest ecosystems and park buffer zones. Basic taxonomy of plant and animal groups will be discussed, as well as techniques for conducting biodiversity surveys. We continue our ecological studies, but also looking at the impacts of various human activities (road building, gold mining, cattle ranching) on biodiversity. For most this is a first foray into the tropical forests, and the sheer diversity of life is overwhelming. Becoming acquainted with the intricacies of tropical forest biodiversity is the first step to understanding what stands to be lost. Ultimately the course examines various stakeholders in biodiversity conservation and exploitation, and discusses compromise solutions that might prevent or slow the future loss of biodiversity.

Southeastern Peru is recognized as a biodiversity hotspot of international importance. It is also facing huge anthropogenic pressures from population growth and habitat loss, to oil exploitation, to road building, to mining, and climate change. Ecosystem changes are palpable. Yet these ecosystems are some of the least well understood in the world. We allow our students to become intimately familiar with tropical ecosystems and the pressures facing them. The techniques used to study them are best learned in the field setting, and the unique challenges faced by this region can only be understood by field observation and experience.

By spending a week in each of three different locations, we give students exposure to the best available cross section of ecosystems and conservation issues. In the Sacred Valley, the most important agricultural area in southeastern Peru, we visit a current farm and past farms (of the Incas), as well as participate in a dying and weaving project that uses alpaca wool and natural plant and animal based dyes all from the local area. On hikes, we examine these organisms (the sources of wool and dyes) in their environment and look at the impacts (sustainable or not) of local land use practices on the natural ecosystem. By exploring three ecosystems we begin to understand how the Andes create the climate the zones we travel through, and how each ecosystem is linked to the other in the landscape. Our second two weeks are spent immersed in natural history study at 2 field stations—one in a remote wilderness setting, and the other occurring at the interface of wilderness and moderate-to-high impact human land use. These sites are ideal for understanding tropical ecosystems in their natural state and examining first-hand the impact of modern human encroachment. Again, it is only through immersion that one can truly understand the magnitude of what is being lost and the importance (and difficulty) of brokering compromises for conservation and sustainable use.

Every field station we visit has a unique community of researchers, actively engaged in the most current tropical research. This is an unparalleled opportunity for students to interact with and hear lectures from the most up-to-date ecological science available on this region.  It is also a great way for students to think about possible careers.  The fees we pay for room and board at field stations go directly to land conservation efforts of the agency owning the stations.

At two of our sites, our students may also have the opportunity to conduct environmental education outreach projects for local elementary school students. These students come from underprivileged backgrounds and their families directly benefit from the use of the natural resources we are studying. They also suffer directly when these resources are depleted. This is an unparalleled opportunity for our students to understand first hand what it is like to live in and depend upon the ecosystems we are studying. The students they teach stand to benefit from gaining a scientific and international perspective on the importance of the ecosystems they live in, as well as encountering positive role models who care about their well-being. Basic well-being is a legitimate concern, for example, in areas where children are forced to live among gold-miners in physically dangerous and toxic conditions, as well as social environments that can be psychologically detrimental to them.

In the Sacred Valley we will have many obvious interactions with the local community from the restaurants we patronize, to a service project conducted at a school we visit, and the project we undertake with the women’s weaving cooperative. In all cases, the money we bring in is important for their well-being and survival, and provides means of living that do not directly depend on the unsustainable depletion of biodiversity.  Undoubtedly, fostering friendly interaction between our students and Peruvian citizens has positive ramifications for both sides. The program allows students to experience Peruvian culture as a participant more than a tourist, which is perhaps the most impactful component of the program.

As a course, we are especially careful about ensuring that our students portray the best possible public image for UW. We are also extremely conscious about our personal and group resource use. We refuse to buy disposable packaging and always travel with reusable Tupperware, bags, and water bottles for such purposes. We try to minimize the use of  fossil-fuel powered electricity and vehicles whenever possible as well. We minimize electricity and water use (for non-essential things like showers and laundry), and try to eat locally grown food. We encourage the avoidance of meat, especially beef that is raised by destroying the rainforest we study. All of these simple actions on the individual level add up to significantly reduced group impact. We calculate these impacts as an exercise during the course.  Our calculations can serve as a model for other tourist groups and a personal learning experience for how we might live our own lives beyond the course.

Learning Goals:

– Gain knowledge of basic tropical ecology and conservation and gain skills in introductory field research: students will be working in situ on this, and we will supervise and assess their learning directly.

– Gain skills on writing scientific reports; a research paper will be submitted with the results of their research

– Gain skills in documenting natural history events and produce pieces of science/conservation communication: students will submit a natural history journal, a blog entry and visual material that documents their learning

– Gain knowledge of the current conservation issues in the area of study, including an understanding of different cultural practices with respect to resource use, as well as drivers of resource exploitation: students are expected to participate in frequent discussions and do presentations on assigned issues, based on field observations, field lecture, and outside reading.

– Learn and apply basic principles and concepts in environmental ethics


Students and directors stay in biological field stations whenever possible. This is the best and cheapest way for students to immerse themselves in biological study.
Where staying in biological field stations is not possible, i.e. during traveling periods of the course, we stay in a comfortable, clean, and reasonably priced hotel that is conveniently located for accessing supplies and travel to other course sites.



This program is designed for undergraduates, although we may considergraduate students in special cases.  Students from a diversity of disciplines are encouraged to apply if they are committed to the goals and material of the program.

Living conditions are at times rustic with camping conditions for at least 50% of the time; however there will be no backpacking trips or trekking. Students are expected to spend a significant portion of most days outside, often hiking. Weather can vary from cold/rainy to hot/humid with biting insects.

Academic seniority may be a factor in some selection decisions. Prior coursework in environmental studies, ecology and evolution is also a helpful background, but not required. Students will also be asked to write a short essay on what they hope to get out of the course. Their answers will also help prioritize candidates. Willingness to deal with harsh field conditions is highly recommended (hot/cold days, mosquitoes, long days).


Humans and Biodiversity

HONORS 223, 5 credits, Honors Natural Science

This course explores the relationship between humans and biodiversity in one of the most species rich areas of the world, southeastern Peru. You will have hands-on opportunity to hone your taxonomic skills and ecological research skills at field stations in two rainforest preserves of global importance. Visits to local communities will be scheduled to allow you to see how natural resources are being used, and to understand the day-to-day challenges faced by local communities.  Past and present agricultural systems and their impact on the environment are also studied.

Program Directors

Dr. Ursula Valdez, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UW Bothell

My teaching is focused on the theory and application of topics in ecology (tropical and temperate systems), conservation, ornithology, natural history, human connections with the environment and field biology. In my courses, I provide opportunities for my students to develop an understanding of the processes and mechanisms that explain the interactions of species with their environments and other species, including the critical role that humans have on them. I integrate the use of critical analysis of scientific studies and the evidence that support hypothesis about species and ecosystems, with the students’ appreciation and connection with the mechanisms that allow life on the planet.

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Dr. Jennifer Atkinson, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UW Bothell

My teaching explores the intersection between American Literature, Culture, and Environmental Studies.  I believe that developing a more sustainable relation with the biotic community is both a science and an art.  While disciplinary boundaries can encourage us to frame environmental crisis as a scientific problem requiring technological solutions, I ask students to consider how social values and practices arise out of our imaginative lives — and specifically how literature, philosophy and the arts shape environmental thought, both past and present.

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Program Expenses


Total costs are made up of the estimated Program Fee of $3,800 (which includes lodging, most food, field trips, and credits) plus the UW Study Abroad Fee ($450), airfare, a few meals not included in the program fee (about $100), UW Study Abroad Insurance ($40/month), other health expenses/immunizations and personal spending money.

Average Airplane Ticket Price

$1,200 – 1,800* roundtrip

*Subject to when & where you buy your ticket.

Payment Schedule

Program fees will be posted to your MyUW student account and can be paid the same way that you pay tuition and other fees. Check your MyUW Account periodically for due dates.

Payment Type Payment Amount Payment Due Date
Non-Refundable UW Study Abroad Fee $450 October 13, 2018
Program Fee Balance $3,850 October 13, 2018

Making the program affordable

The Honors Program is passionate about study abroad and the incredible impact it can have on a student’s life.  An education grounded in a global context provides life long skills and lifelong memories. Studying abroad deepens study at home and provides a foundation for expanded reflection and self-growth, all core tenets of the Honors Program. We want everyone to experience study abroad. Don’t assume you can’t afford to study outside of the U.S. Here are resources to help you get started on your global adventures!

Honors Program Scholarships

The Honors Program offers a number of scholarships for current Honors Program students. These scholarship funds may be used for UW approved study abroad programs or exchanges. Students may apply beginning in January (deadline is April 1).

Study Abroad Scholarships at UW

The UW offers several scholarships to support students interested in studying abroad whether through a faculty led program or an exchange program. A few opportunities include GO! and Fritz.

Visit the The Center for Experiential Learning and Diversity’s Global Opportunitieswebsite to learn about more scholarship opportunities.

The Gilman Scholarship Program offers awards for undergraduate study abroad and was established by the International Academic Opportunity Act of 2000. This scholarship provides awards for U.S. undergraduate students who are receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university to participate in study abroad programs worldwide.

The summer 2018 Gilman International Scholarship application will open in mid-January 2018. Applications are due March 6, 2018 by 11:59pm (Central Time) and the certifying advisor deadline is March 13.

There are several outside resources for study abroad scholarships. Visit the UW’s Study Abroad Scholarship page for more information on scholarship support as well as information about GET funds and how you may apply the GET to your study abroad costs.

Using Financial Aid for Study Abroad

You may find more information about using your existing financial aid for study abroad on the Study Abroad Office’s Financial Aid webpage.  In general, all financial aid awarded may be used to support study abroad. Exceptions to this include tuition waivers, work-study awards, or scholarships that are specific about using the award for tuition (although there may be flexibility with some scholarships, please check with the financial aid office). Tuition waivers and work-study are never allowed for study abroad.

Revision of Need

You may also turn in a “Revision of Need” form with the Financial Aid Office if you have a FAFSA on file.  Once you are accepted to a study abroad program, visit the Study Abroad Office to obtain a budget for your study abroad program then complete the Revision Request and turn in both the budget and the revision request to the Office of Student Financial Aid in Schmitz Hall.

Visit the Financial Aid Study Abroad Funding Website for more information about applying for Summer quarter financial aid and for information about Exploration Seminar financial aid timeline (different than A or B term financial aid disbursement timeline).

You may also contact Honors Program Director Julie Villegas (villegas@uw.edu) if you would like to discuss additional resources and strategies.

Application Process

Apply through the UW Study Abroad Website: APPLY NOW!

Applications deadline: Feb. 15, 2018