Earth to UF: We have contact

Alberto Vasquez, left, from Bolivia, and Ronald Murillo, from Costa Rica, gained real-life experience as fall interns at Mecklinburg, a 700- to 1,000-head dairy farm in Baldwin, where they worked on various aspects of production.

DANIEL HERRERA/Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, April 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2004 at 10:07 p.m.
Earth University, a small, non-profit agricultural university about 90 miles from San Josť, Costa Rica, lies in the tropical lowlands between the high mountains and the coast.
But it is close to the University of Florida in many ways.
Earth's president, Dr. Josť Zaglul, is a UF alumnus who earned his doctorate in animal science and masters of science in agriculture at UF in 1980 and 1981.
Since the school's inception in 1990, Zaglul has worked to foster a connection between UF and Earth by promoting exchange visits among faculty members from both institutions.
"My colleagues here at Earth, especially those who are UF graduates (a total of six) and myself, have tried to establish some projects together with our counterparts at UF," said Zaglul.
"In the past we have had students from UF come and spend a semester here at Earth, and we have had a number of our students go (to UF) for their graduate studies.
"At present these exchanges have been increasing in terms of the type of exchange and the number of participants," said Zaglul.
Opportunities for success For the past several years, a cooperative agreement between UF and Earth allowed four third-year students from Earth to spend a semester at UF as interns.
Lizette Staall, assistant director for international programs at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said that they worked on grants that allow for expanded collaboration between Earth and UF.
"This link that provided internships and real experience prior to graduation is very important to them. They (Earth and UF) are also working on making sure the students are aware of all the aspects of production in agriculture, to create opportunities for their own business and prepare their own products," said Staall.
Costa Rican student Ronald Murillo and Alberto Vasquez, from Bolivia, worked at Mecklinburg, a 700- to 1,000-head cow farm in Baldwin near Jacksonville for nearly four months, gaining a new perspective on dairy farming.
Daniel Herrera, an Earth University graduate who is now a master's student in soil and water science at UF-IFAS, said that the typical small farm in Costa Rica has several cows.
"Here (in the U.S.), a small farm has 200 cows," said Herrera.
Dr. James Umphrey, a professor at animal sciences at UF and overseer of Murillo and Vasquez's internship, said that Murillo and Vasquez learned not only about running a large dairy farm, but practices that they can implement in their own country to produce a higher dairy product.
Umphrey also said that Earth's students, especially those who are unfamiliar to methods of American farming, contribute back to their workplaces.
"The main thing that they're giving back is an opportunity for that farm to explain the possibilities of what they're doing to the students. In answering the students' questions, they (the farm) has to re-evaluate constantly what they are doing," said Umphrey.
Wide-ranging lessons Lu's Barqu'n, another Earth University intern this past semester, said he feels that the program also taught him about using academic techniques.
"I worked this semester to measure the water quality of Frog Pond near the Everglades and ... one of the most important things I have learned is how to take care of data. (The data) have to be constant and you have to make a lot of measurements to make a good conclusion," said Barqu'n.
Barqu'n plans to continue in graduate school as an environmental engineer.
"Costa Rica has one of the greatest percentages of water available in the whole world. I want to learn how to use it efficiently, use what the plan (for our country) needs," said Barqu'n.
The internship program further provides time for students to get hands-on experience in specialty work.
Fanny Then, also an Earth intern, worked at Lee County Extension Service Parks and Recreation.
Then wants to get an advanced degree in horticulture. She helped Lee County to design a butterfly garden, a fragrance garden, a park with a miniature railroad, and put in plants and signage.
"I like gardens and have contacts in the Dominican Republic (my home country) for the tourist industry," she said.
Earth and UF's connection is about more than cooperation and training for Earth students.
Dr. Jerry Sartain, a professor in Soil and Water Science at IFAS and a program coordinator for Earth interns, said that many of Earth's students will return to large plantations in Central America or Caribbean countries armed with the technology to run them more efficiently.
"They can then extend the information that they use to campesino (farmworker) organizations," said Sartain.
Zaglul looks forward to UF's participation in continued exchange and research.
"While they (our students) participate in the programs at UF they have the possibility to compare and learn from other educational systems, to understand other cultures and learn that the world is interdependent, and that we need to live in harmony with one another," said Zaglul.
"They also share their experiences and knowledge with people in the United States. It is a two-way bridge," said Zaglul.

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