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The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.

Overall Rating Silver
Overall Score 56.88
Liaison Dedee DeLongpre Johnston
Submission Date June 3, 2015
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.0

Wake Forest University
AC-5: Immersive Experience

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 2.00 / 2.00 Miles Silman
WFU Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability
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Does the institution offer at least one immersive, sustainability-focused educational study program that meets the criteria for this credit?:

A brief description of the sustainability-focused immersive program(s) offered by the institution:

Immersive Program in Sustainability: Biodiversity and Nature Conservation in Peru

The summer program in Peru is an immersive sustainability experience that takes students to some of the most important reserves in the western hemisphere for both biodiversity conservation and also the history of how these reserves are made, and the effects of humans on landscapes, extending back to the very first civilizations on the planet. The program combines Tropical Biodiversity with the History of Nature Conservation in Latin America.

Tropical Biodiversity is an introduction to the factors that structure biodiversity in terrestrial habitats, and travels from the absolute desert of the Atacama at Paracas, Peru, over the High Andes, and ends at Cocha Cashu in the Amazonian lowlands.

The students are asked this simple organizing question on the first day while standing in the desert at the edge of the Pacific, “How is it that we are standing in the tropics, at ~13 deg S latitude, in a spot where there is zero terrestrial productivity and nearly zero terrestrial biodiversity, yet just several hundred kilometers away, on the other side of the Andes, is the area with Earth’s highest terrestrial biodiversity and highest terrestrial productivity? What controls terrestrial productivity and biodiversity? How did this come to be through time? What are the services that ecosystems provide and how are the affected by climate and humans? What can we expect in the future?” As the groups moves across this gradient, students see how temperature and rainfall set these strikingly different biomes and set their biotic composition and control ecosystem function. It gives them a visceral understanding of how fine-scale changes in climate can have radical impacts on ecosystem structure and function and the potential impact of human-caused environmental change.

History of Nature Conservation in Latin America leverages these same sites to consider how different societies have used and conserved these lands over time. From the absolute desert in Paracas National Park to the cloud and rain forests of the Manu Biosphere Reserve, the group examines how humans interact with nature across the millennia, how and why we choose to protect areas, and the role of humans in landscapes, as well as the effect of landscapes on humans. Close contact with indigenous groups gives students powerful insight not only into history, but also the conservation and sustainability challenges of the future.

One of the powerful aspects of this combination is that the two faculty have structured the two courses in a way that closely parallels the environments the group is in. For example, in the Tropical Biodiversity course students learn about large-scale global climate patterns and ENSO, read primary literature on sea bird foraging in the Humboldt current, and visit guano islands in the Paracas Reserve. The history course then examines the history of the Peruvian economy and the role of guano, and the innovative conservation strategies employed by Peru to protect its industry, all in the light of larger trends in the development of Latin American states. This occurs at all of the locations during the course. The students read the primary literature to see how we have shaped and will shape the very environments that they are experiencing. More than that, it gives them a paired knowledge of scientific and historical/social science views of issues central to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services.


Ecology and Conservation Biology of Coral Reefs is a 4 hr upper-level undergraduate seminar course. The course is a case-study and immersive experience in the ecology, sustainability, and conservation biology of one of the best preserved coral atolls in the western hemisphere. The course covers the Geology, Oceanography, Ecosystem Ecology, and Autecology of coral reefs, and then transitions into understanding how human activities on local-to-global scales influence the sustainability functioning of marine ecosystems, including private for-profit activities and their effects on reefs. The course is based on readings from the primary literature compiled into an e-book developed at Wake Forest.

The purpose of the program is to give an in-depth view of the various biotic and abiotic components that come together to structure the biodiversity and ecosystem function in one of Earth’s highest biodiversity environments, and one most threatened by human use and climate change at all spatial scales. We specifically link the on- and off-campus components as they give students a tangible view of the results of certain scientific studies or management components. You can read about marine reserves and the effects on fish and conch recruitment, and then actually going to a marine reserve and looking across the boundaries will drive home the magnitudes and temporal scales of the effects. The same can be said with nearly all of the components from the geology and oceanography to the autecology.

The website URL where information about the immersive program(s) is available:

The "Biodiversity and Nature Conservation in Peru" experience is just one of the many sustainability immersive opportunities available to Wake Forest students. Information about the university's Center for Global Programs and Studies can be found at http://cis.wfu.edu/.

Ecology and Conservation Biology of Coral Reefs site: http://adapagroup.org/lighthousereef/tiki-index.php

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