Signature Programs

UConn – OTS Partnership

The University of Connecticut (UConn) and the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) have joined forces to provide students exciting experiential learning and research opportunities at four tropical field stations: three in Costa Rica (La Selva, Las Cruces, and Palo Verde) and one in South Africa (Skukuza). The partners have a long history of cooperation: UConn has been a consortium member of OTS for over 40 years and is the first permanent member.

UConn's Office of Global Affairs and Institute of the Environment collaborate to oversee a suite of undergraduate courses offered at OTS field stations, for which UConn is the school of record. Becoming the school of record is the first in several steps to addressing some of the most challenging environmental questions to face society in the 21st century by leveraging UConn's record of excellence in education and research and OTS' long-standing reputation for advancing integrated research and educational activities in the tropics and beyond.

Three integrated semester-long suites (16 credits total) of experiential learning courses are taught in South Africa (one program) as well as in Costa Rica (two programs). Regardless of country, these courses represent a dynamic mix of lectures, skills workshops, fieldwork, and directed research that is supported by an international team of instructors (professors and practitioner or managers in the field). UConn provides academic transcripts for credits earned in the program by UConn or non-UConn students.

Interested UConn students should contact for advising, and non-UConn students should contact or call OT Enrollment Management at 919-684-5155. Additional information is available through the Experiential Global Learning website. Course lists are provided below.

African Ecology and Conservation Semester Program

(1) South African Ecosystems and Diversity (EEB/NRE 3390, 4 Credits)

(2) Conservation, Biodiversity, Management, and Protected Area Design in South Africa (EEB/NRE 3490, 4 Credits)

(3) Directed Field Experience (EEB/NRE 4990, 4 Credits)

(4) History of Southern Africa (HIST 3760, 3 Credits)

(5) Supervised Field Work (South African History) (HIST 3991, 1 Credit)

Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet Program

(1) Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet (EEB/NRE 4490, 4 Credits)

(2) Environmental Science and Policy in the Tropics (EVST/NRE 3255, 4 Credits)

(3) Directed Field Experience (EEB/NRE 4990, 4 Credits)

(4) Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced Study Abroad Spanish (choose one):

  1. Elementary Spanish II (SPAN 1002, 4 credits)
  2. Intermediate Spanish I (SPAN 1003, 4 credits)
  3. Intermediate Spanish II (SPAN 1004, 4 credits)

Global Health in an Interconnected World Program

(1) Introduction to Field Ethnobiology (ANTH 3980, 4 credits)

(2) Field Research Methods in Tropical Diseases (AHS 4662, 4 credits)

(3) Tropical Diseases, Environmental Change, and Human Health in Costa Rica (AHS 4661, 4 credits)

(4) Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced Study Abroad Spanish (choose one):

  1. Elementary Spanish II (SPAN 1002, 4 credits)
  2. Intermediate Spanish I (SPAN 1003, 4 credits)
  3. Intermediate Spanish II (SPAN 1004, 4 credits)


In addition, two summer field courses are taught for undergraduates, one in South Africa and one in Costa Rica:

Support of Environmental Research, Scholarship, and Engagement

Multidisciplinary Environmental Research Awards for Graduate Students (MERGAS) Program

The MERGAS Program, executed in collaboration with CESE, provides funding to graduate students for compelling interdisciplinary projects that catalyze research at the frontiers of environmental disciplines.

To be eligible for funding consideration, projects:

  • Must be completed by the summer following the solicitation, and funds must be expended before the end of the fiscal year
  • Must be undertaken in association with two faculty members who serve as mentor-collaborators. The mentor-collaborators must represent different departments and disciplines.
  • Should provide support for new collaborations, especially those that extend graduate research beyond the disciplinary bounds of their thesis and dissertations.

Allowable expenses include student summer salary, student travel for field research, and supplies or equipment needed to complete the proposed research. Students must be in good standing in a graduate program at UConn, and the mentor-collaborators must be members of the graduate faculty from two different departments. Awards vary in size but are generally less than $5,000, except in well-documented circumstances and with strong justification.

MERGAS proposal solicitation occurs during fall semesters.

Graduate Assistantships in Support of Multidisciplinary Environmental Activities by Faculty Members (GASMEA) Program

The GASMEA Program, executed in collaboration with CESE, supports multidisciplinary environmental research or advances environmental education and outreach by faculty members. GASMEA provides assistantships to students who assist faculty members on environmental projects. Proposals should cogently describe the nature of the environmental project and detail the kinds of activities that would be undertaken by a graduate student as well as the value of those activities to the student’s professional development.

Supported activities include those involved with:

  1. publication of multidisciplinary scholarship;
  2. production of proposals to request extramural funding for environmental research, education, or engagement;
  3. gathering of preliminary data in support of proposal production; or
  4. development of new environmental initiatives that are related to research, education, or engagement.

GASMEA proposal solicitation occurs during fall semesters.

Mini-Grants in Support of Environmental Research (MiSER) Program

MiSER leverages the analytical capacity of CESE laboratories to assist faculty members in development of research projects that do not currently enjoy extramural or intramural support. The objective is to reduce the cost of services and analyses by CESE laboratories (nutrients, metals, organics, emerging contaminants) for UConn faculty members to:

  1. support development of new environmental proposals to state, federal, or private sector funding agencies,
  2. enhance environmental scholarship or outreach,
  3. enhance graduate student research, or
  4. strengthen authentic collaboration by faculty members with personnel in CESE Environmental Chemistry Laboratories.

In addition:

  • Proposals with a 50% match from sources other than accounts managed by CESE will be most competitive.
  • Only the costs of analyses at CESE should be included in proposals (both requested and matched funds), and total budgets, including match for analytical services, should not exceed $25,000, without strong justification.
  • All costs, including defined matches, must reflect CESE published rates and must be developed in collaboration with the Director of CESE Environmental Chemistry Laboratories. Only costs for executing analyses of samples at CESE can be included in the project.

MiSER proposal solicitation occurs during fall semesters.

Environmental and Social Sustainability Small Grants (ESSSG) Program

The ESSSG Program is executed in collaboration with the OS to support student-led collaborative projects with faculty or staff members that enhance environmental sustainability and campus-wide engagement with sustainability issues at the University or in Connecticut or surrounding communities.

To be eligible for consideration:

  1. Project themes should support education, research, authentic community engagement, or campus operations.
  2. Projects must explicitly address one or more of UConn's strategic sustainability goal areas (climate change; energy and buildings; waste; outreach and engagement; water resources; food and dining; purchasing; transportation; or grounds, open space and conservation areas) and at least one related social challenge (e.g. fostering inclusion of diverse perspectives, addressing systematic inequalities, environmental justice, social and health inequity, community development, etc).
  3. Project activities may occur at any of the UConn campuses or extend to Connecticut communities outside of the University campuses.
  4. Special consideration will be given to interdisciplinary projects that advance equity and justice or that incorporate the arts and humanities.

Funded teams will present their project findings and impacts at a symposium at the UConn Storrs campus.

ESSSG proposal solicitation occurs during fall semesters.

Justice in the Environment Research Network Initiative (JERNI)

JERNI aims to build a collaborative network of justice-focused environmental researchers across the biophysical sciences, social sciences, humanities, engineering, law, and medical sciences. The network will:

  • create and support novel interdisciplinary partnerships that lead to future and fundable projects centered on environmental justice, and
  • provide faculty members with skill-development opportunities that focus on environmental justice research methodologies that enhance the social impact of research and scholarship and incorporate community involvement.

By enabling authentic collaboration and training opportunities that transcend boundaries of traditional academic units, we hope to propel UConn’s reputation and leadership in environmental justice to one of national and international prominence. Project activities recognize the need for both collaborative research that integrates justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion into the science of solutions and for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the people, ideas, and approaches that constitute the scientific process.