Madagascar Field School

Madagascar Field School

Madagascar Field School

Students at PennWest California have an opportunity to attend the Madagascar Field School, an exciting study abroad opportunity in Madagascar, a large island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa.

The field school is led by Dr. Summer Arrigo-Nelson, of the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, who has conducted research in Madagascar for more than a decade.

PennWest California sponsors the program in collaboration with the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments - Stony Brook, N.Y. and The University of Antananarivo - Antananarivo, Madagascar.

Students from any major are welcome to apply for this program, which is offered in summer of even-numbered years. The next Madagascar Field School is scheduled for Summer 2020.

About the Madagascar Field School

Students will first complete a one-week online orientation to prepare for the trip and then spend four weeks exploring Madagascar. 

Once in Madagascar, students will live alongside scientist and scholars at the Centre ValBio Research Station in Ranomafana National Park as they explore the unique ecology and biodiversity of a tropical rainforest and gain hands-on experience in the research techniques used by professional field biologists, natural resource managers and conservationists. 

Classes take place in a combination of settings, from traditional classrooms to the heart of the forest and in traditional Malagasy villages. Learn about the Centre ValBio Research Station.

The program also includes cultural excursions in the capital city of Antananarivo, a cross-country trek to explore Madagascar's famed spiny desert, the Western dry forests and coral reefs, and concludes with the completion of two research projects focusing on biodiversity conservation.

Students also gain the experience of living within a new cultural environment and meet grass-roots conservation leaders who are working to preserve both the unique animals and plants of Madagascar and the culture of the people who call the island home.

View the tentative program for 2020

View Photos From Past Field Schools
Click on thumbnails below.

Important dates for 2020

  • January 27: Applications become available (rolling admission until deadline)
  • March 20: Final application deadline
  • April: Purchase plane ticket
  • April 20 and May 1: Program fee due (in two parts)
  • June: Program orientation site launches
  • July 5 - August 1: Madagascar travel 
  • August 20: Final papers due

Instructional Modules

Students attending the Madagascar Field School study abroad program complete these instructional modules: 

  • Assessing Biodiversity: Students explore Madagascar’s unique plant and animal species and practice methods used by field biologists to study biodiversity within tropical forests. Instruction includes exposure to techniques such as behavioral sampling of non-human primates, mist netting of understory birds, stream ecology assessment, botanical sampling methods, pitfall trapping of invertebrates, small mammal trapping and herpetological assessments.
  • Comparative Ecosystems Excursion: A cross-country trip provides students with the opportunity to explore and compare ecosystems as diverse as rainforest, dry deciduous tropical forest, spiny desert, mangrove swamps and coral reefs. At each stop, students learn about regional climate and geology, the evolutionary adaptations that make that region unique, and current conservation threats to local biodiversity. Students will also have the opportunity to directly compare biodiversity within rain- and dry forest, using the research techniques that they have learned.
  • Malagasy Culture and Language: Students attend formal classes with Malagasy researchers employed by the Centre ValBio to learn about the country's fascinating history, culture and language. Outings to meet with local authorities, community and school groups, and the participation in a variety of cultural activities within the villages that surround RNP, give students an opportunity to practice their skills and expand their understanding of what it means to be Malagasy.

2020 Trip Costs

 Students participating in the program are responsible for the following costs:

  • Program fee: $3,500 (includes all program costs while in Madagascar)
  • Round trip airfare: ~$2,800 (exact cost to be determined at time of booking)
  • PennWest California tuition for 6 credits of off-campus instruction
  • Incidentals: passport/visa fees, textbooks, personal equipment, spending money, travel insurance, etc.

Learn more

For more information about the Madagascar Field School, contact Dr. Summer Arrigo-Nelson at