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Student Becomes Teacher During Biology Trip to Costa Rica

Lebanon Valley College biology major Tyler Vokes studies in Costa Rica.

Biology major Tyler Vokes ’22 had always dreamed of exploring and studying the forests and reefs of Costa Rica but was never able to participate in his high school’s annual trip to the Central American country. However, Vokes’ dream became a reality this past summer with the help of his John Bowman Allwein Scholarship, and Laura George, his high school environmental science and genetics teacher. 

Vokes teamed with George as a chaperone for the high school trip, excited to collaborate with the teacher he credits with inspiring his love for the biological world. 

“Ms. George truly inspired me to accept the challenge of her biology course and learn about the natural world,” he recalled. “Her passion for biology sparked my own interest, and I found myself excited to go to class each day.”

Together, Vokes and George worked with LVC to determine that his Allwein Scholarship allowed him to use the annual stipend scholars receive to defray the expenses of an educational trip. LVC awards the Allwein Scholarship to high-achieving students who receive full tuition and three stipends to help with research and study expenses associated with study abroad, internships, and/or collaborative research.

While in Costa Rica, Vokes visited the El Zota Biological Research Station, met a native tribe, swam in the reef, and explored the rain forests to discover living organisms.

“My favorite moment was visiting the Bri Bri, an indigenous tribe, to learn about medicinal plants,” he said. “They invited us to play against their women’s soccer team, gave us jerseys, and the game was on! None of us spoke the same language, but we laughed and played.”

With the knowledge gained in his LVC classes, Vokes assisted George and taught ecological concepts to the high school students on the trip. He gained valuable first-hand experience with endangered and threatened species and the physical impact of global warming and increased tourism on the rain forests and reefs.

“I saw so many endangered and threatened species that may not be around in a few years,” said Vokes. “We saw a two-toed sloth, great green macaw, howler monkeys, capuchins, and spider monkeys. My favorite organism was the Leaf Cutter Ants because their social life is incredibly interesting to observe!”

As Vokes moves forward in his remaining years at LVC, he hopes to pursue a terminal degree in the field of biology. 

“Although unsure about my specific concentration, I hope to conduct research and continue to learn more about the world we live in and the mechanisms that make us tick,” Vokes said.


-- Parker Gallagher, Marketing & Communications Student Assistant