Students Travel to Caribbean for Summer Service-Learning

Students Travel to Caribbean for Summer Service-Learning

By the time Chelsea Liles starts her junior year of college, she’ll have already traveled to another country to shadow a doctor in a rural clinic, participating in the diagnostic process and helping him take patient histories.

Liles is among the nine students from the University of Central Florida who have spent part of the summer studying technology, business and medicine in St. Kitts and Nevis.

“I think many of the things you learn from trips like this are not exclusive to the field you study,” said Liles, a biology major. “Traveling to a new place and meeting all kinds of people opens your perspective to a whole other way of living so different from your own. A dream of mine has always been to work in global health, and experiencing the health care setting of a different country was an amazing opportunity.”

The trip to the West Indies was part of the President’s Scholars Program, which provides a study-abroad experience to students in UCF’s Burnett Honors College. The college has partnered with Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College in St. Kitts for more than six years for the program, which started in 2004. It was initially focused on European culture and history but evolved into a two-week trip to St. Kitts and Nevis in which students tackle service-learning and interdisciplinarity head-on.

The trip followed five weeks of lectures at UCF that focused on the challenges small island nations face.

In St. Kitts and Nevis, students built solar panels to power a hydroponics facility, developed the design for an organoponics shadehouse, led a hybridponics entrepreneurship workshop for students and completed other projects. Students also made trips to the rainforest and explored colonial-era relics in addition to presenting their work to a government panel and being featured on local television news.

For junior Lucien Charland, who is majoring in international and global studies and economics, the trip was an opportunity to take his studies outside of the classroom and apply what he’s learned to a real-world setting.

“I was able to experience firsthand some of the difficulties facing developing nations. More importantly, I saw how partnerships and investment can address those difficulties,” Charland said. “I learned about the inner workings of a few of the government ministries and departments on the islands and developed a recommendation proposal to help them become more cohesive and to advance in areas like agrotourism.”

In May, two alumnae of the President’s Scholars Program returned to Nevis with UCF professor Kevin Meehan to present their work on sustainable agriculture at the UNESCO Conference on Environmental Policy Formulation and Planning in the Caribbean Region.

Charlene Kormondy and Jessica Gottsleben presented on sustainable farming and the businesses of hydroponics, respectively, based on the research they had completed with faculty and students at Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College.

Meehan has led the President’s Scholars trips for the past five summers, helping students research hydroponic, organic and hybridponic agriculture and develop and install sustainable agriculture systems.

The partnership with Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College has attracted attention across the Caribbean, which Meehan says will pave the way for future UCF students to get involved with service-learning.

“Our students were recognized as regional experts at the UNESCO conference, and we recently received funding from the Organization of American States to implement our shade house system in Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana and Haiti, with additional interest from four other countries,” said Meehan. “With these projects to complete, there will be further opportunities for President’s Scholars alumni to return to the field and gain additional experience implementing projects and presenting research at international development conferences.”