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KNOXVILLE — While most college students spent the summer soaking up the sun or taking summer classes, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, junior Johannah Reed was helping to conserve wildlife in the Costa Rican rainforest.

She was working with Global Vision International (GVI), which runs volunteer programs in more than 40 countries around the world, including South Africa, Nicaragua and Romania. GVI is a leader in international volunteering and has sent more than 10,000 volunteers overseas to aid critical environmental and humanitarian programs.

“They offer volunteers the chance for a hands-on experience by personally contributing to important conservation initiatives and community projects,” Reed said.

Reed, with 18 volunteers and seven field staff members from 12 different countries, were a part of GVI’s research team and worked on a variety of long-term terrestrial and marine conservation projects in Costa Rica. Their work included conducting turtle population and jaguar predation surveys, using jaguar and other mammal camera trapping and helping with mammal and bird studies around the beach, canals and rainforests of the area.

Run in conjunction with partners such as the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) and the Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly the Caribbean Conservation Corp., the data collected was given to these organizations to aid in their long-term conservation efforts.

As an environmental studies major, Reed was especially interested in hands-on training in all aspects of the rainforest and coastline research.

“Our biggest project while I was there involved green, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles,” Reed said. “We tagged turtles, triangulated (marked) their nests, counted their eggs, measured their carapaces (shells), took general data on numbers and conditions of the turtles at night and later excavated hatched nests.”

Reed was the only UT student involved and the only person from the southern U.S.

She said the experience helped her learn a lot about other cultures.

“Just living with people from all over the world for five weeks can only help in your understanding of other cultures,” Reed said. “We lived in rugged conditions — bunkhouses and mosquito nets, running water only some of the time, no electricity, etc. — which helped me gain perspective on my own lifestyle choices. Actually living where you have to draw water from a well to have drinking and bathing water helps you more fully understand what the conditions are like for billions of people all over the world.”

Reed plans on participating in another GVI program in the future and encourages anyone who’s interested to look into this program or other volunteer programs.

“It does not have any real requirements except that you have an open mind and an eagerness to work, and you are physically fit enough to handle the rugged conditions,” she said. “You also must be able to learn the material and pass tests necessary to go on surveys and help collect data.”

Volunteer work is rewarding, Reed said, because it gives you an opportunity to change lives, including your own.

“This program is very important because certain wildlife species are becoming critically endangered, especially sea turtles,” Reed said. “I have become much more passionate and knowledgeable about conservation since participating with GVI. This program is helping to build upcoming leaders in the environmental field. Also, the beauty about volunteering is you don’t have to be skilled or a professional, you just have to be someone that wants to make a difference. ”

To find a GVI program and apply, visit


Bridget Hardy (865-974-2225,