Virginia Tech has established a research, education, and outreach center in the Caribbean that will serve as part of a broad strategy to create international centers of scholarship around the world. The Caribbean Center for Education and Research (CCER) in Punta Cana, on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, will allow Virginia Tech faculty to conduct research as well as instruct students on biodiversity, environmental and social sustainability, global issues in natural resources, and hotel and tourism management.

Virginia Tech has partnered with the PUNTACANA Ecological Foundation (PCEF) and the PUNTACANA Resort and Club to set up the Center. The PCEF is a not-for-profit foundation organized to preserve the natural resources of the area while contributing to sustainable tourism. It maintains a 2,000-acre natural forest reserve, 14 kilometers of protected coral reef, and freshwater lagoons and coastal mangroves.

“I’m excited about the establishment of the CCER,” says S.K. De Datta, associate provost for international affairs at Virginia Tech. “We had already been doing a lot of valuable research and community development projects in the Caribbean, but this will allow us to create a more solid base for our efforts.”

De Datta, who has oversight responsibilities for CCER and Tech’s other regional strategies around the world, adds, “We hope to develop the CCER such that it becomes a recognized international center of excellence for research, education and outreach in the Caribbean.”

The Dominican Republic, because of its geographical location and climate zone, provides an ideal location to study biodiversity, one that cannot be replicated on the Virginia Tech campus. The country is home to a wide array of plant species and has the highest incidence of native species, or “endemism” in the Caribbean—the highest in the world when considering relative geographic size. The country is also home to the highest and lowest elevations in the Caribbean.

The location also allows Virginia Tech to leverage its nationally renowned hotel and tourism curriculum by studying ways to provide sustainable tourism in developing countries.

Tech professors have already offered the following semester-long courses at the Center: Geography of Middle America, Physical Geography, Tropical Ornithology, Biotech Entrepreneurship, Global Issues in Natural Resources, the Rise of Modern Latin America, Introduction to Spanish-American Culture and Civilization, Environmental and Social Sustainability in the Dominican Republic, and Introduction to Travel and Tourism Management.

In addition to offering courses, Tech faculty have worked with graduate and undergraduate students to perform a housing survey in a settlement where resort employees live, and have also conducted a health care survey of the same community.

Virginia Tech students have also taken the initiative in piloting research and service projects in the area. Currently, a team of students in the Engineers Without Borders-USA-at Virginia Tech club is working on a project in this same community that addresses sanitation and water quality concerns.

From May 31 – June 2, Virginia Tech, with funding from USAID, is hosting a Biodiversity Conservation in Agriculture Symposium at the Center. This symposium serves to promote the inclusion of biodiversity conservation objectives in agricultural development activities.

Future collaborative efforts include an executive certificate program in hospitality and tourism management for hoteliers in the Caribbean, a joint program with the Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia, and cultural exchanges between Virginia Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Program and the Punta Cana community school.