Honors Students Take Interdisciplinary Action in the Caribbean
University of Central Florida junior Amy Crawford traveled to St. Kitts and Nevis earlier this summer expecting a study abroad experience that would combine her interest in travel with her academic goals.
But the trip, part of the President’s Scholars Program offered through the Burnett Honors College, proved to be more than a talking point on her résumé. She said it was an immersive experience that allowed her to broaden her global awareness and cultural sensitivity through a variety of academic and community service projects.
“I think the Honors College has a great emphasis on interdisciplinary learning and this program really embodied that in terms of combining the different disciplines in the projects we did,” said Crawford. “It was interdisciplinary studies in action.”
UCF President John C. Hitt initiated the The President’s Scholars Program in 2004 to provide a study abroad experience to UCF’s highest-achieving students. Initially, the program was focused on European culture and history. It took students on study abroad trips to areas such as Cambridge, England and Bergamo, Italy.
The program evolved into a two-week trip to St. Kitts and Nevis in which up to 12 honors students participate in an interdisciplinary approach to service-learning.
The trip followed five weeks of lectures at UCF that focused on the environmental challenges small island nations face. The study abroad element challenged students to tackle issues head-on, considering policy solutions and recognizing the impact tourism and agriculture have on the environments of Caribbean nations.
This year’s scholars participated in a variety of activities, including snorkeling among sea urchins and attending the St. Kitts Music Festival. The majority of the trip, however, was spent working on service-learning projects in conjunction with Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College in St. Kitts.
Kevin Meehan, an associate professor of English at UCF, became involved with the program in 2008, the first time the President’s Scholars traveled to St. Kitts. In 2009, Meehan became a trip leader and combined his community contacts on the island with the professional contacts of the other trip leader Martin Dupuis, assistant dean of the Honors College.
“Between the two of us, I think we created a powerful combination of networks so that the students would have access to everything, from top to bottom,” Meehan said. “One of the strengths of this program is that we have built up really strong partnerships over there in the past four years. This opens up a lot of doors to collaboration and service projects.”
This summer’s trip divided students by major, challenging them to work on projects related to agribusiness, construction and public health.
During the second week, the students regrouped in Nevis to work together on an oral history documentary on local agriculture practices. Students interviewed farmers and fishermen, then compiled and presented their findings at a roundtable discussion with representatives of the Nevis Department of Agriculture.
“The trip benefited my leadership and academic skills, and it also gave me the opportunity to look into the government policies, public opinion, history, entertainment, and journalistic outlets of the islands,” said junior Jessica Gottsleben, whose team developed and hosted a four-day workshop for the new agribusiness department at Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College.
Meehan said he and Dupuis tailor the projects to meet the needs of their partners on the islands, creating work that is just as relevant for participating students as it is for the communities. This year, the program also offered full participation to four students from St. Kitts and Nevis.
To learn more about the President’s Scholars Program, visit http://honors.ucf.edu/students/about.