Tropical Conservation Semester
Galapagos ~ Andes ~ Amazon

Course Dates:
January 7 - May 22, 2025
16 (honors)
GPA 2.5, one semester biology or ecology
Apply by:
Friday, Oct. 4

Get out from behind your screens and join us for a field experience in the real world of forests and oceans! The Tropical Conservation Semester offers a one-of-a-kind adventure in Ecuador, where you will immerse yourself in Latin American culture and language, and explore some of the most pristine and wildlife-packed sites on the planet. Ceiba has teamed up with the University of Wisconsin to deliver an unparalleled semester in applied tropical ecology, conservation, and rural community development.  We join real-world conservation projects, and encourage you to blend the academic and applied realms, bridging the gap between classroom science and practical conservation. This one-of-a-kind semester is ideal for undergraduate students in biological and social fields who seek interdisciplinary training for careers in habitat protection, tropical ecology, environmental education, and international development. We invite you to rejoin the engaging learning environment that only happens when you study with an enthusiastic group, in-person and in amazing tropical locations!


"This is the ultimate study abroad program if you want the greatest diversity of biological and cultural experiences. Expect to be stimulated with newness every day." - Teal P.

Venture deep into the Amazon, discover the Galapagos, scale lofty Andean peaks, and explore mountainous cloud forests, then return to the comfort (and laundry!) of your host family in the sunny, cosmopolitan outskirts of Quito. You’ll spend more than half the semester away from campus investigating sites that include four weeks traveling and living in the world-renowned Galapagos Islands and two weeks at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the heart of the Amazonian rainforest. You also visit Ceiba Foundation project sites like the El Pahuma Orchid Reserve, now the centerpiece of a new UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Our goal is to keep classroom time focused and fast-paced, then move to the outdoors where you can apply the concepts you’ve learned to ongoing research, conservation, and community development programs.

Where We Go

Life Abroad

"Ceiba was a remarkable experience that truly changed my life. We have been given an opportunity through this program to use our skills toward the betterment of ourselves, our communities and the world." - Christa S.

Cultural Exploration

Your semester will be more than forest time spent searching for extraordinary wildlife, in Ecuador your exploration of Latin American culture and language literally will change your life. Whether interviewing park guards, joining community meetings, or discussing politics with your host family, you’ll be practicing Spanish (no matter your starting level) every day, and learning firsthand about how the rest of the world lives and works.

Studying abroad refines leadership skills, enhances creativity, instills adaptability, and teaches you to be sensitive to the needs and priorities of others. International experience is increasingly valuable, both to business and nonprofit employers as well as to graduate schools and scholarship committees. Students who study abroad return to their home university with superior foreign language abilities and go on to have higher GPAs, improved graduation rates, and greater employment opportunities: studies show that graduates with study abroad experience win 25% higher starting salaries and are twice as likely to land a job within a year of graduation.

Health and Safety

Study abroad programs are designed to take you out of your comfort zone, and often to far-flung locales that may lack the high standards of health and safety that we enjoy in the U.S. and Europe. In addition, there are certain ailments which are more common in developing tropical countries, against which one must be prepared. If basic precautions are followed, however, you will have a safe and healthy study abroad experience. Ceiba’s staff and Ecuadorian partner institutions continue to monitor and assess safety and security recommendations, and modify our programs as needed to maximize participant safety.

Health & Safety Details


Five courses give you 16 honors credits from the University of Wisconsin: Spanish, Terrestrial Ecology, Marine Biology, Conservation Biology, and a hands-on internship.

Course Summaries

Tropical Ecology – master the fundamentals of ecology, understand what makes the tropics unique, and explore these systems yourself during expeditions to rainforests, tropical alpine tundra, and montane cloud forests.

Marine Biology – discover the ecology of fishes, coral reefs, and shorelines, examine the influence of oceans on global climate, and dive deeply into fishery management, under the sun of Ecuador’s coast and the Galapagos Islands.

Conservation Biology – explore how protecting habitat for rare species works best when stewardship by local communities is encouraged, and investigate those links during field studies and community meetings.

Spanish Language & Culture – every day is a chance to improve your Spanish and immerse yourself in local culture, but you’ll start the semester with intensive language and conversation training, and practice with your host family.

Conservation Internship – learn by doing on a project of your choice; you may work at a Ceiba site, or select from partners focused on scientific research, wildlife rehabilitation, community education, or sustainable organic farming.

Course Descriptions

Instructors & Staff

Joe Meisel, Professor

Dr. Meisel received a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin, and is vice-president of Ceiba.  He has worked in Central and South America as a biologist and author for over 25 years,  His research examines the effects on tropical wildlife of land use conversion, and how to protect biodiversity on human managed landscapes.

Teal Guetschow, Professor

Teal is completing a Ph.D. in Marine Biology at Arizona State University, and has led field courses to Belize and Ecuador. She has worked on marine conservation and fisheries management in Belize, and is currently studying the nesting behaviors of loggerhead turtles in Trinidad and Tobago.

Catherine Woodward, Professor

Dr. Woodward was awarded a Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Wisconsin, and is the current president of Ceiba.  She has conducted research and traveled extensively in Ecuador and Latin America for over 20 years.  Her current research interests include the impacts of forest fragmentation on plant population genetics and reproduction.

Staff Bios

Dates & Costs

Eighteen weeks isn’t nearly enough to explore all Ecuador has to offer, but it’s all we’ve got! You’ll arrive in early January, skip the worst of winter, and return just in time for the start of summer.


The semester gets underway with three courses:  Terrestrial Tropical Ecology, Conservation Biology, and intensive Spanish.  After Spring break we dive into Marine Biology, and continue Conservation Biology, now with a decidedly marine flavor.  Conservation Internships fill the final month, and then the course wraps-up after a whirlwind 18 (and a half!) weeks.  Here’s the schedule outline:

calendar by week

Key Dates

Please note that the schedule below is necessarily tentative, but we will finalize all dates before participants begin booking flights.

Arrive in Ecuador:  January 7, 2025 (you’ll be met at the airport by your host family)
Program Orientations:  January 9 & 10
Classes Begin:  January 13
Classes Conclude:  May 21
Depart from Ecuador:  May 22


Our study abroad programs are highly competitive, particularly when you consider our extended explorations in remote and incredible locations like the Galapagos Islands and Amazon rainforest.  Once in Ecuador, virtually all your expenses are covered, except for lunches while on campus and any weekend activities you care to plan — other than that, it’s all included: in-country housing, meals, campus resources provided by Universidad San Francisco de Quito, the Galapagos cruise (which is about 1/4 of the total cost), and travel to all sites.  Here’s a breakdown of the costs:

Ceiba 2025 program tuition: $24,800 (*estimated; costs finalized in July)
University of Wisconsin credit fees: $1350
CISI Insurance fee (required by UW): $250
Total tuition:  $26,400

For many UW students, the TCS program ends up costing less than a regular semester at UW-Madison.  Note that tuition does not include international airfare.  We don’t arrange a group flight, preferring to let you decide whether to come early or stay late, and take a bit more time to explore South America!

Thanks to a special agreement with Colorado State University, CSU students can enroll directly through the Ceiba Foundation and our Ecuadorian partner USFQ; contact Ceiba for additional details on application procedures and reduced tuition costs.

Refund and Cancellation Policy

Program tuition for students enrolled in the Tropical Conservation Semester will be refunded, less a $1000 cancellation fee, should the student choose to withdraw their enrollment from the program prior to 1 December of the application year.  After that date, no refund can be given as most funds will already have been committed to in-country expenses. If the program is cancelled by Ceiba or the University of Wisconsin for any reason prior to that date, tuition will be refunded in full to all participants.

Course Packet


Applying could not be simpler, just submit online forms to Ceiba and Wisconsin by September 28th. Need to plan your semester sooner? Ceiba now offers provisional early acceptances to qualified candidates.

Deadline:  Apply by Friday, October 4th for the 2025 Tropical Conservation Semester. Or to secure your space sooner, submit your materials at any time and request an early application review!

How To Apply:  Applying is a simple two-step process!  First, click the Apply button below and fill out Ceiba’s online application form. After that, you will need to go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison program page to fill out their application and upload your transcript.

Program Eligibility:  Qualified applicants should (a) have taken one semester of biology or ecology; (b) have a 2.5 cumulative GPA; (c) be able to swim; (d) prior Spanish coursework or experience recommended but not required.

Early Acceptance:  You are welcome to request an early review of your application (contact us, and send your undergraduate transcript). Ceiba issues provisional early acceptances to strong candidates, which virtually guarantees you a spot in the program as long as you meet University of Wisconsin-Madison eligibility requirements. See the UW Study Abroad program page for more detail.

Financial Aid:  Participants in Ceiba programs are eligible for any financial aid and scholarships offered by the University of Wisconsin or other sources to support your college studies; see the Wisconsin Scholarship Hub (WiSH) for more information, or contact Matt Geisler ( and Lindsay Heiser Barger ( at the UW Study Abroad office to explore a wide range of available options.


Apply Now!