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Widener University opens Coffee Research Center in Costa Rica

By Jaime Lopez *

The lush, coffee-producing landscape of Costa Rica has been a destination for Widener University students and faculty to conduct research and participate in learning experiences for a decade, but the university now has a permanent hub in the Central American country to call home.

The university has purchased a four-bedroom villa outfitted with bunks to accommodate more than 20 students, a separate building with three studio apartments, and quarters for caretakers.

The five-acre property, known as CARES21 (short for Consortium of Agro-ecological Research and Education for Sustainability for the 21st Century), sits about 20 miles north of San Jose. It will provide a base for existing projects and to develop new research in Costa Rica’s central coffee region.

“CARES21 provides a tremendous opportunity for Widener to take the lead in developing a multidisciplinary research and educational program in one of the world’s most bio-diverse countries,” said Dr. Sharon Meagher, dean of Widener’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“The property makes it possible for faculty to develop meaningful projects that benefit both our students and the community.”

The concept for developing CARES21 was the brainchild of Dr. Stephen Madigosky, chair of the environmental science department. His work in tropical America has spanned more than two decades.

“The CARES21 initiative is especially important because it will serve as a permanent hub for students and faculty to work on long term projects that address critical agro-environmental issues in Costa Rica,” Madigosky said.

“These opportunities will help students develop a more comprehensive understanding of how their own consumer decisions impact and influence people from around the world.”

The efforts in Costa Rica have led to the creation of WU Brew, Widener’s own brand of environmentally friendly coffee. The coffee was developed in partnership with the Chacon family, producers of premier organic Las Lajas coffee in Sabanilla de Alajuela.

The Chacon family introduced Widener into the community, and had a vision for more collaborative projects that address social, economic and environmental sustainability issues in the region. Madigosky and Dr. Itzick Vatnick, chair of the biology department, have led student groups to the Las Lajas farm to conduct research for several years.

“The idea for CARES21 is to establish a permanent site that builds on the success of Widener’s multidisciplinary curriculum and research related to WU Brew,” said Dr. Paula Silver, associate provost for global engagement at Widener.

“The purchase of the property and establishment of CARES21 was a logical next step in the university’s global awareness and sustainability initiatives.”

In recent years, Widener has established several global partnerships and initiatives. In addition to Costa Rica, the university has partnerships with institutions in China, South Korea and Germany.

With its global initiatives expanding, Widener established the Office of Global Engagement last year to develop cultural immersion and global community engagement opportunities through study abroad, and to establish primary locations, or hubs, in select locations to provide meaningful learning opportunities for students.

Widener University is a Pennsylvania metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement.

Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience