The collaboration between MSU and the University of Costa Rica increases enrollment numbers, as well as research initiatives in biosystems and agricultural engineering.
Starting almost a decade ago, Ajit Srivastava, a Michigan State University professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering, has been integral in helping the University of Costa Rica (UCR) transition its agricultural engineering program to a biosystems engineering that has grown substantially since 2010.
In 2019, there are 8,785 total applicants at URC and about 10 percent of those applicants indicated they wanted to major in biosystems engineering.
“As a result these efforts, biosystems engineering is now the second largest enrollment degree program after the business management program at the University of Costa Rica,” Srivastava said.
At MSU, biosystems and agricultural engineering is a joint MSU College of Engineering and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources program that integrates principles of engineering with biology to address societal issues connected with food, agriculture, natural resources and the environment in a systems context.
In 1995, MSU changed its agricultural engineering program to biosystems and agricultural engineering to address broader societal issues. Based on support of that transition, Srivastava was invited to the UCR to review their program by Jose Francisco Aguilar, who was the director of the School of Agricultural Engineering at that time.
“MSU determined we could help with their program in Costa Rica, but we needed to build teaching capacity and joint research projects,” Srivastava said.
In 2012, MSU and UCR came across grant opportunity from the U.S. Department of State that led to the first joint research collaboration working with people in rural areas of Costa Rica to test and develop ways to convert waste into energy on a small scale using an anaerobic digester with the goal to expand more broadly.
Srivastava is the principal investigator leading the MSU, UCR and U.S. Department of State-funded project to improve access to clean energy in rural Central America using solar bipower. This two-year, $1 million grant was awarded in 2011.
As part of that grant, three UCR faculty members – Mauricio Bustamante, Beatriz Mazon Villegas and Ronald Esteban Aguilar – earned their Ph.Ds. at MSU and then returned to UCR to help build teaching and research capacities in the biosystems engineering program.
“This collaboration facilitates important work toward global food, energy and environment solutions,” Srivastava said.
MSU and UCR will host the American Society of Agricultural Biological Engineers conference in 2020 in Costa Rica as a way to share those ideas and solutions.