Colorado State University-Pueblo Students Learn About Ecotourism in Baja California Sur

Taylor Brooks, Higher Education Intern

From an overnight wilderness expedition to Espiritu Santo Island in the Sea of Cortez to kayaking, surfing, and snorkeling with sea lions at Los Cerritos Beach, the students of Colorado State University-Pueblo (CSU Pueblo) certainly managed to fit in their fair share of adventures during their spring 2018 semester in Mexico.

The 10 Colorado State University – Pueblo students and 15 University Autonomous Baja California Sur (UABCS) students, pictured here at the UABCS campus in La Paz, Mexico. The students had the opportunity to participate in a cultural exchange experience in March 2018 on the UABCS Campus in La Paz, Mexico. Photo Credit: CSU-Pueblo

These opportunities were made possible by a grant that CSU Pueblo received from the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund with generous support from MetLife Foundation. Since its founding in 1976, MetLife Foundation has provided more than $744 million in grants and $70 million in program-related investments to organizations that work to positively influence their communities. Through 2017, MetLife Foundation committed $170 million to promote financial inclusion, including $64 million in the United States and $31 million in Latin America, and their support to the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund reflects their continued commitment to the region.​

As part of the 2017 MetLife Foundation Study Abroad Innovation Competition, special emphasis was placed on supporting partnerships that would increase study abroad opportunities for economically disadvantaged students and other populations that are traditionally underrepresented in study abroad programs. Colorado State University-Pueblo, in partnership with the Colorado State University Todos Santos Center, and the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur (UABCS) in Mexico, received one of these grants to establish an Institute of Ecotourism Studies in Baja California Sur, Mexico.​​

A Colorado State University – Pueblo student taking in the sunset on an overnight camping and sea kayaking expedition to Espiritu Santo Island in the Sea of Cortez in March 2018. Photo Credit: CSU-Pueblo​

CSU Pueblo is a regional comprehensive university that serves a highly diverse student population with half of its students being of racial/ethnic minority. Like many institutions, CSU Pueblo, a designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), faces various constraints and barriers to study abroad that often limit access to such opportunities for their students. In the ten years prior to receiving the Innovation Fund grant, only ten students from CSU Pueblo had studied abroad in Mexico, which reflects the considerable financial and cultural barriers to international travel faced by their students. The grant helped to mitigate these challenges by making it possible for their students to study abroad and more importantly, to enhance cultural connectivity to the Latino heritage and culture.​​

The students enjoying the sandy beaches after surfing the Pacific Ocean near Los Cerritos Beach. Photo Credit: CSU-Pueblo

The 10 participating CSU Pueblo students spent the first part of the semester at their home university enrolled in a field-based course, “Ecotourism in Baja California Sur”, which consisted of classroom sessions in January and February 2018. Students first built their knowledge and understanding of the issues surrounding ecotourism and sustainable development through on-campus coursework, language acquisition, and online learning with their peers at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur (UABCS) in Mexico. Topics included historical foundations of ecotourism, current trends and issues, regional characteristics of Mexico and Baja California Sur, the role of the government in ecotourism, community development, and more. In March, learning moved beyond the classroom. Students traveled to La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico for one week, where they were able to use the knowledge acquired during the semester and apply it in various learning and cultural activities. They met with key members of the local community, such as developers, fishermen, and farmers, participated in a service project where CSU Pueblo students visited a local middle school and taught a lesson on ecotourism, and they also met and formed relationships with 15 UABCS students.​

After a successful first phase of their grant, CSU continued to collaborate with their partner UABCS on a follow-up course that took place in May 2018 called “Sustainable Travel and Alternative Tourism”. This course consisted of 8 students from Colorado State University–Fort Collins that traveled on a week-long field experience to Baja California Sur, during which they worked on their capstone project and developed an Ecotourism Symposium, hosted at the CSU Todos Santos Center in Mexico. The symposium included educational workshops and research presentations that highlighted key issues and topics, including risk management, stakeholder engagement, sustainability standards, best practices, tourism infrastructure, natural resource protection, communication and marketing, among others. CSU hopes that the Ecotourism Symposium will serve as a catalyst for future symposiums, with the second event planned for May 2019.

Currently, CSU Pueblo and Fort Collins are working on the final field-based course, “Colorado Tourism”, which aims to reciprocate the exchange with UABCS and host 12 Alternative Tourism students in Colorado this August 2018. For more information about this program, visit the CSU Institute of Ecotourism Studies page.

The CSU-Pueblo students had the opportunity to participate in an interpretive naturalist guided hike. Photo Credit: CSU-Pueblo

In addition to CSU Pueblo, other projects funded through the 2017 MetLife competition that are currently under implementation are led by  Davidson County Community College, Fashion Institute of Technology, Fundación H.A. Barceló, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, the University of Central Arkansas, Wayne State University, and the University of Denver. These projects include diverse themes—ranging from fashion design to rural medicine and mental health, to English language learning and peace building, to technical skills training in manufacturing technologies—all with the common goal of increasing access to study abroad for underrepresented students within the partnering institutions’ respective local communities.

International student exchange programs, like those made possible by 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, allow students to learn about other cultures and about themselves, while also strengthening partnerships between higher education institutions. These partnerships promote cross-cultural understanding, solve real-world challenges, and provide more opportunities to students who are typically underrepresented in study abroad.

 The host and local university students pictured here during a cultural exchange experience on the Malecon (waterfront) in La Paz, Mexico. Photo Credit: CSU-Pueblo

Higher education institutions and administrators interested in expanding their study abroad programs are invited to apply for the 2018 MetLife Foundation Study Abroad Innovation Competition! This is the second Innovation Fund competition sponsored by MetLife Foundation, and it is open to all higher education institutions in the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico that promote study abroad and training opportunities for students in any academic discipline. Like the first iteration, this competition seeks programs that address inclusion and diversity in study abroad and serve economically disadvantaged and/or underserved student populations. Applications are being accepted until July 16, 2018. Learn more about the competition by visiting