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Galápagos: Islands of Change

Visit the realm of giant tortoises; study the forces of evolutionary, geologic, and social change; contribute to sustainable solutions for this astounding archipelago.

Course Overview

The Galápagos Islands are a spectacular natural treasure and one of the best places on Earth to appreciate change. To biologists, a trip to the Galápagos is something of a pilgrimage to sacred evolutionary ground, for it is here in 1835 that Charles Darwin witnessed how giant tortoises, finches, and other taxa each varied from island to island across the archipelago, observations that, among many others, shaped Darwin’s ideas on evolution. Darwin upturned the prevailing view of life by pointing out–with an uncommon amount of evidence, logic, and persistence—that individuals within the same species vary from one another, that some of these differences are inherited, and that from the differential success of these inherited variations, over time, emerge new races and species.

The Galápagos islands are also the product of geologic change. A hotspot deep below the Pacific Ocean fuels the creation of new Galápagos islands, while the oldest islands, succumbing to the forces of erosion and subsidence as they move eastward on a tectonic plate, submerge and become underwater seamounts. This cycle of island birth and death changes the member set of islands within the Galápagos archipelago, and so alters the landscape for evolution. Some Galápagos species alive today may have evolutionary histories on islands that have long ago sunk beneath the waves.

However, the most powerful changes impacting the immediate future of the Galápagos are of human origin. People are an increasing source of habitat destruction, overexploitation, and introduced species, but they are also the source of heroic efforts to save the Galápagos, and the work of government agencies, researchers, NGOs, educators, and other informed citizens provide some measure of hope.

This course is a true multi-faceted collaboration undergoing several important organizational shifts over time. To offer the EE Galápagos course, Dragonfly partners with ECOS, a newly established local Galápagos organization grounded by its start as a program of Ecology Project International (EPI). EPI, and now ECOS, are champions of inquiry-driven field science and sustainability, partnering with the Galápagos National Parks Service and others local experts on ecological education. Dragonfly actually began this course collaboration with the Houston Zoo and EPI to further continuing commitments to conservation in the Galápagos. These partnerships supported a Global Conservation Fellow from Ecuador to earn a master’s degree with the Global Field Program and our ongoing work together continues.

Students in this course should be prepared to explore the forces of change in the Galápagos and contribute directly to sustainable solutions to current issues. The course takes place primarily on Isla Santa Cruz with a few days spent on Isabela Island.

Prior to and following the field experience in the Galápagos, students will complete coursework via Dragonfly Workshops’ web-based learning community as they apply experiences to their home institutions.

Course Details
In-person travel dates:

July 7-16, 2024

Students arrive at least one day before and depart on last day of course. Add 1-2 days travel time as most flight plans have a required overnight in mainland Ecuador first. 

On the Web: Pre-travel preparations: February-March
Login to online course: April
Summer course: May 16-August 9
Fall course: Late August- early December
Credits: Summer course: 5 graduate credits

Follow-on Fall course: 2 graduate credits

All Miami University credits can be applied to the GFP or AIP (or other programs if approved)
Costs: Summer course: $3,550* + $1,000 additional transportation fee + your own airfare to Baltra/Santa Cruz
* $3,550 calculated as = $455 per credit tuition x 5 graduate credits + $1100 program fee + $175 Miami global fee


Course Themes

  • Conservation issues and solutions in Galápagos
  • The theory, study, and teaching of evolution
  • Island biogeography
  • Inquiry-driven learning
  • Participatory education
  • Community-based conservation

A typical day is likely to include:

  • Study at field conservation sites
  • Open inquiries
  • Interactions with Ecuadorian scientists, educators, and community members
  • Student-led discussions of key course topics
  • Journal writing

Galápagos Student Reflection:

"I enjoyed the opportunity to sit and observe nature in silence for extended periods of time. I was counting birds and marine iguana sneezes in each of the inquiry projects, but it was more than that.  I was observing details of nature, which is something I don’t often take the time to do" -Christie Miller

Christie Miller

Planned Sites in Galápagos

Google Earth image of Galapagos with three locations marked. A second image shows the marked locations zoomed in and labeled Isla Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora, and Isla Isabela

Isla Santa Cruz

The second largest of the Galápagos islands, Santa Cruz’s ecosystems include lush, high-elevation forests with lumbering giant tortoises; arid scrubland with tree-sized opuntia cactus; the dark tubular habitats of the island’s lava tubes; rocky intertidal zones dotted with marine iguanas; and turquoise seascapes patrolled by pelican squads. Isla Santa Cruz is also home to the most sizable human population in Galápagos archipelago, making it the best place to study human impacts and conservation solutions.

Puerto Ayora

This tropical town lies on the southern shore of Isla Santa Cruz and is the island’s economic and cultural center. Puerto Ayora is a relaxed, open, and sunny place where you can encounter sea lions on the docks or be visited by some of “Darwin’s” finches while you eat breakfast at an outdoor café. Important locations in town include the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galápagos headquarters of Ecology Project International.

Isla Isabela

Isabela Island is the largest of the archipelago and one of the youngest geologically. Isabela is home to many plant and animal species amidst its active volcanoes. Notable species on the island include Darwin’s finches, fur seals, flightless cormorants, and the well-known Galápagos penguins endemic to Galápagos.

2024 Costs Include:

In addition to covering the price for five graduate credits of Miami University tuition, field course costs cover all basic expenses, including:

  • Meals (incidental snacks and drinks not included)
  • Lodging
  • Field station fees
  • Course activities (optional activities are not included)
  • Ground transportation (van, boat, train, etc., as needed)
  • Park entrance and guide fees

Course costs do not cover personal expenses, such as airfare to the course, personal gifts, or ancillary costs, such as passport fees, country entry fees, required course readers, and any additional course texts.

Airfare: To estimate fares applicants may wish to visit an online fare finder or call a travel agent. Bear in mind that airlines have seasonal fluctuations in fares.

Miami University also requires all international workshop participants to purchase travel health insurance for about $40. (Successful applicants will receive more details in their web-based learning community course workshop.) In some classes an additional textbook is required. In some countries, you may have to pay entrance and departure taxes/fees at the airport.

Please note the current fee for entry onto the Galápagos Islands is $100 and is subject to change.

Because of support from Miami University, the course costs listed above are a fraction of actual program costs. Earth Expeditions recommends that accepted applicants to the program check with their school district or employer to see if professional development funds are available to further offset costs. 

We offer some further ideas on Helping to Fund your Degree and Scholarships for Current Dragonfly Students

U.S. Students and Students Living Abroad

To support involvement by a broad range of professionals nationally and globally, Miami University discounts tuition for participants accepted to an Earth Expeditions graduate course. Applicants must be over the age of 18 and hold bachelor’s degrees. Upon successful completion of both the field and Web-based components of the Earth Expeditions course, participants earn seven graduate credit hours.

Students Seeking Undergraduate Credit

Undergraduate students at Miami University or elsewhere may apply for an Earth Expeditions course and earn five credits for the field component, with the option to complete two additional credits for the fall Web component. Normal Miami tuition rates apply, as do eligible summer tuition waivers and scholarships. Contact Project Dragonfly for more information.

Course Options for Miami Students

Are you a current Miami University undergrad or grad student interested in participating? Check out our Miami Students page to learn more about program requirements.

*Note that costs shown above are for graduate students only. Course costs for undergraduate students are based on each student’s tuition rate. If you have questions regarding your tuition promise rate, please contact the Bursar.

Inquiry & Action Follow-on Course

The 2-credit follow-on course, Inquiry & Action, puts the Earth Expeditions course ideas and concepts into practice. Students in this course will choose a research topic and construct a multidisciplinary semester-long project of their choice that includes inquiry-driven learning, participatory education, and community-based conservation to experience and promote action in real-world contexts. Students will connect and collaborate with peers and their instructional team throughout the semester working to make a positive difference in their local communities. This class is a required part of the Global Field Program (GFP) master's course sequence. Inquiry & Action is recommended though optional for non-GFP students.

Course cost: $910 (2 credits)


Do you have questions? Go to our Frequently Asked Questions page for some answers.
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Galápagos: Islands of Change

Visit the realm of giant tortoises; study the forces of evolutionary, geologic, and social change; contribute to sustainable solutions for this astounding archipelago.

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