Dr. Charles McClaugherty Publishes Case Study in Council on Undergraduate Research

April 06, 2010

Dr. Charles McClaugherty, professor of biology at Mount Union College, recently published 'Risk Management in International Undergraduate Field Classes: A Costa Rican Case Study,' in CUR Quarterly, (The Council on Undergraduate Research).

McClaugherty has been taking classes of students to Costa Rica to study tropical ecology since 1994. The course, entitled 'Tropical Biology Field Experience,' is usually preceded by a semester long course in tropical biology. The field experience itself consists of a an 'intensive three-week visit to four different ecosystems in Cost Rica, the primary objective being to compare tropical ecosystems with an emphasis on community structure and composition.' In his article, McClaugherty used his experiences in the field to describe how risk management was a consideration throughout the planning, implementation and evaluation of the classes.

'One of the most important concepts of the course is to keep it adventurous enough to engage the students effectively while keeping it safe enough to optimize learning and the overall quality of the experience,' explained McClaugherty. 'There are clear dangers in any undergraduate field experience, but if proper planning and risk management are implemented, a suitable balance can be found.'

McClaugherty also emphasizes the importance of pre-course planning, choosing a country, visiting sites before taking a class, preparing students before the trip, making decisions concerning transportation and lodging, risk management during the trip, and evaluating the effectiveness of the experience after the trip.

McClaugherty advises instructors to travel on their own to the region they wish to take students. He traveled to Brazil, Costa Rica, and two other South American countries in hopes of identifying locations suitable for undergraduate field experiences. He thoroughly explored Costa Rica, and worked with the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), to set up a field experience that would adequately met his educational objectives. This enabled him to have familiarity with the sites he chose, and offer a more authoritative perspective on the risks to be anticipated.

Consideration of risk management throughout the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the classes, has enabled him to minimize illness and injury, and adequately prepare students for the trip. In fact, his students have experienced one scorpion sting and only one minor injury over the course of over a thousand student days in the field.

McClaugherty hopes that his article will allow other professors who take students to foreign countries for field experiences to take appropriate measure for safety, and still allow students to have engaging and meaningful experiences.

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