iMedia partnerships with indigenous in Costa Rica enter third year

A group of iMedia students and two faculty members travel in January to Puntarenas, Costa Rica, to collaborate with indigenous groups as part of the graduate program's "Fly-In" component.  

On Jan. 5, a group of eight iMedia students enrolled in “Interactive Project for the Public Good” will travel to the Puntarenas, Costa Rica, for the program’s third year of collaboration with indigenous groups.

The students, led by Associate Professor Amanda Sturgill in the School of Communications and accompanied by Professor David Copeland, will be working to create a website for an indigenous group interested in developing a tourism industry.

It is Sturgill’s third trip to the region with iMedia students. Previous groups built and, both projects intended to showcase the cultures of different indigenous groups for audiences in Costa Rica and abroad.

The students will be working with the Teribe group again this year, developing a site focused more on tourism opportunities in the region. The group’s situation is dire, as there are plans to build a hydroelectric dam that would flood the group’s land, including important agricultural and sacred sites. 

“In the past, native peoples’ naivete has been used to trick them into giving up their land,” Sturgill said. Things like phone service and Internet access has become essential to survival for these groups, she said. “These things cost money.”

The ability to develop tourism serves two purposes:

1. Tourism lets the indigenous peoples share their unique culture with outsiders so that the outsider can respect what might be lost if they are forced to leave their lands or modify their lifestyles. “Respect builds allies, which the minority indigenous groups really need if they are to survive,” Sturgill said.

2. Tourism also brings badly needed income into communities. Paying for electricity and school tuition and uniforms and other modern conveniences is expensive, so groups have to participate in the market economy. As the pressure on the land increases, the ability to pay through these things through agricultural sales gets stretched. “Tourism can also help,” Sturgill said, “So we are going to help make tourism possible.”

All of the iMedia group websites will be available on Jan. 28. Sturgill said you can find the group’s new site at