Global Climate Change: Environment, Health and Behavior in Alcalá, Spain

Global Climate Change: Environment, Health and Behavior in Alcalá, Spain

 alcala promo flyer

Program Background

2018 will be the seventh year that SDSU will offer the Global Climate Change program in the historic city of Alcalá de Henares, Spain.  Global climate variation has profoundly influenced humans from the dawn of civilization to the current day. However, it is only within the last 100 years or so that human activity has exerted a powerful influence that may drastically change the global climate. The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia and human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” Climate change has begun to transform life on Earth. Around the world, seasons are shifting, temperatures are climbing and sea levels are rising.

map of Alcala in Spain

Alcalá de Henares is located 22 miles north of Madrid

Program Description

This course will  discuss the science and models used to understand climate change.  SDSU students will sit side by side with students from the University of Alcalá, as well as other international students, and will  take part in discussions, presentations and excursions.     The classroom component will include lectures, discussion and projects.   Health-related consequences of global warming will be discussed, such as emerging infectious disease and spread of pathogens.  The psychological aspects of climate change will be examined – what conditions cause people to ignore the issues,  why some view the issue more seriously than others,  how best to communicate the problem to various groups, and what motivates change.    Climate change impacts on ecosystems will be discussed, as well as policy options to counteract or to adapt to these impacts.  Impacts of climate change on the Mediterranean region, Spain and California will be discussed and comparisons made of different mitigation and adaptation strategies for these regions.  SDSU students will be paired with students from the Universidad Alcalá de Henares to work together on a final project.   Housing will be at the Alcalá student residence/dormitory. Two excursions are included:  a guided walk through the Tejera Negra Beech Forest Nature Reserve and a visit to a wind turbine farm.  Students will have evenings and the weekend free.

fortified castle -like building in Alcala

Laredo Palace, Alcala de Henares. Inspiration from a number of diverse cultures come together in the exceptionally intricate design of this 19th century palace, now a private residence which can be toured.


Course credit:  3 units Sci 596

Excursions:  (1) Medieval town of Siguenza, (2) Wind Turbine Farm, (3) Laguna Grande National Park in southern Spain.

Application deadline:  March 15, 2017

View a video about the Alcalá program

View a slide show about the Alcalá program

Program details and Application

Student talking to video camera at Alcala University

Each SDSU student is paired with a student from the University of Alcala, or other International student, to produce a final, collaborative project.

Dr. Allen Gontz at a beach

Dr. Allen Gontz, Professor and Chair, Geology

The faculty Leader


The Global Climate Change Program is an international collaboration of faculty from the University of Alcalá, and several SDSU professors:  Dr. Allen Gontz (Geology), Dr. Nancy Marlin (Psychology), Dr. Al Sweedler (Physics), and Dr.

Stanley Maloy (Biology.) Each faculty will present in his or her area of expertise.

Group of students on bench with statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

SDSU group squeezes onto the famous  Alcalá bench with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.


The City of Alcalá and Miguel de Cervantes

Alcalá de Henares, aka simply “Alcalá,”  is located 22 miles north of Madrid.   It  is the birthplace of Alcalá’s favorite son, Miguel de Cervantes, author of El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote De la Mancha.   The city celebrates Cervantes and his characters Don Quixote and Sancho Panza with statues and monuments throughout the city.  The Universidad de Alcalá de Henares  is acknowledged as a global leader in the study of Cervantes and his works. Every year on April 23, the anniversary of Cervantes’ death, the city of Alcalá hosts the ceremony awarding the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish speaking world’s  most prestigious award for lifetime achievement in literature. The award is presented by the King and Queen of Spain   at the University of Alcalá’s historic “Colegio de San Ildefonso.”  The ceremony attracts a wide range of dignitaries to the city including members of the Royal Family, the Prime Minister, and others. During this ceremony the citizens of Alcalá can be heard singing the city’s song, entitled “Alcalá de Henares.”

A mixture of cultural influences and architectural styles embellish Alcalá’s Laredo Palace, built in the 19th century.

University of Alcala de Henares

Universidad Alcalá de Henares, originally founded in 1499. The University of San Diego in our city is largely modeled after the architecture of the Universidad Alcalá de Henares.


At night the city comes alive with music – nightlife choices include dance clubs, and the more intimate tavernas. Flamenco, jazz, pop and rock can all be heard spilling into the streets of this vibrant university city.

Alcalá and Christopher Columbus

The historical center of Alcalá  is a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.  The name Alcalá derives from the Arabic word al-qal’a  for fortification or citadel.  In the 1480s, Christopher Columbus conducted his first meeting at the “Casa de la Entrevista” with the King and Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, who would later finance Columbus’s travel to the new world.


Alcalá: Historic Connections to our city of San Diego

saint-didacus etching on knees with crucifix, map behind him

St. Didacus (San Diego) of Alcalá de Henares, whose remains are in the cathedral.

Our city was named “San Diego” in honor of Saint Didacus of Alcalá, (or the more familiar Spanish San Diego de Alcalá,)  who was a Spanish lay brother of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscan),  Diego  served as among the first group of missionaries to the newly conquered Canary Islands. Diego died at Alcalá de Henares on 12 November 1463 and is now honored by the Catholic Church as a saint.  His remains are in the Cathedral at Alcalá.

  In 1601, Sebastián Vizcaíno was appointed to locate safe harbors in “Alta California”   for Spanish  galleons to use on their return voyage to Alcupulco from Manila. He was also given the mandate to map in detail the California coastline that Cabrillo had first reconnoitered 60 years earlier. Vizcaíno departed Acapulco with three ships on May 5, 1602. His flagship was the San Diego and the other two ships were the San Tomás and the Tres Reyes.

On November 10, 1602, Vizcaíno entered what is now known as San Diego bay.  Since he had landed on the Catholic feast day of San Diego, and San Diego was also the name of his flagship, Vizcaíno aptly named the region San Diego.

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá  was the first Franciscan Mission in “Upper California”. The mission and the surrounding area were named for the Catholic Saint Diego, the same saint buried in Alcalá de Henares. The mission was founded on July 16, 1769 by Spanish friar Junipero Serra in an area long settled by the Kumeyaay Indians.

  • Alcala plaza and Don Quixote statue
  • Flamenco dancers
  • Plaza and parway, Alcala de Henares
  • University of Alcala building, Spanish style, with flags
  • street scene, Alcala, flags criss-crossing street
  • man in black shirt playing stringed instrument
  • Alcala de Henares buildings
  • formal performers in Alcala cathedral
  • Don Quixote statue, Alcala
  • chef preparing meal in kitchen, Alcala
  • crowd gathered in Alcala square summer night
  • traditional spanish band playing stringed instruments