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Faculty Profiles: Dave Unander, Tropical Agriculture & Missions

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Dec 02, 2014

David Unander has always been a practical man. He began his scientific career as a plant breeder, studying genetics, agronomy and agricultural ecology while completing his PhD at the University of Minnesota, and then spent several years at the University of Puerto Rico, investigating disease resistance and harvest quality in vegetables and dry beans. That introduction to the study of disease led Dave to the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, where he combined his interests in botany and medicine by studying tropical plants with potential antiviral effects.  Joining the faculty at Eastern University (Pennsylvania) in 1992, Dave was soon teaching not only core courses in science like ecology, but adding electives like Medical Botany and Tropical Biology. He has taught Au Sable’s Tropical Agriculture and Missions course in Costa Rica since 2003.

A Trustee on the Boards of multiple Christian mission organizations, Dave knows from both study and firsthand experience how critical it is for missionaries and Christian development workers to have real environmental knowledge and earthkeeping skills to create sustainable agricultural systems, address issues of medicine and community health and contribute to establishing sanitary living conditions. Fluent in Spanish, Dave often travels to Latin American and Caribbean countries on behalf of Christian mission and development organizations like Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO), Plant with Purpose (formerly Florista) and Hope Seeds. A man who lives as well as teaches the integration of faith, learning and science, Dave has been an invited speaker at many scientific and missions conferences in these countries. 

Dave’s Au Sable course, Tropical Agriculture and Missions, is truly a culturally immersive experience. Dave and his students travel to the Vara Blanca region of rural Costa Rica where they spend three weeks on the campus of the Christian development organization ADE (Association for Development through Education), a group dedicated to redevelopment of post-disaster regions and economically marginalized communities. The Vara Blanca region suffered economically from the effects of an earthquake in 2009, but its biodiversity remains unparalleled, with the ADE campus located at the edge of a mountainous tropical cloud forest. Working intensively with, as well as learning from local farmers, ADE workers and employees of Costa Rican government agencies, students learn not only the fundamentals of tropical sustainable agriculture but its applications and interfaces with government and culture in a Latin American community. Because both the human and ecological communities he works with are so dynamic, every course is a new experience, part of the reason Dave continues to return to this work. The need for environmentally knowledgeable and skilled people to engage the work of Christian mission and holistic development has never been greater. This May, Dave Unander and the class of Tropical Agriculture and Missions 2016 will again learn by entering the fray. And once again, Dave is looking forward to it.