Park Scholars Explore Biodiversity through Belize Experiential Learning Trip 2015

In May 2015, Khari Cyrus ’16 and Marcel Souffrant ’16 led the fourth iteration of the Park Scholars’ Belize Experiential Learning Trip, a two-week service-learning initiative in which Evan Brooks ’18, Allie Dinwiddie ’18, Donnielle Jones ’18, Zach Jones ’17, Jeremy Nortey ’18, and Adrienne Williams ’17 also participated. This year’s trip, coordinated in partnership with NC State’s Center for Student Leadership, Ethics & Public Service (CSLEPS) and its Alternative Service Break programs, received partial funding from Park Enrichment Grants.

When a group of Park Scholars founded the Belize Experiential Learning Trip in 2011, they developed an infrastructure for the trip to encourage future Park Scholars to build on their established relationships and community projects, such as with the Belize National Zoo. Within the context of this infrastructure, each subsequent group of coordinators have tailored the focus of their trips to align with the unique interests of that year’s participants.

Despite the diverse academic pursuits of this year’s participants, they were united in their desire to engage with an international community through service. Belize Experiential Learning Trip 2015 examined the intersection of biological and cultural diversity through sustainable farming, traditional medicine, and preservation of the natural landscape.

During the first week of this year’s trip, participants returned to the Belize National Zoo, where they refurbished harpy eagle habitats and visitor walkways. They spoke with employees about the zoo’s growth and gained insight into the surrounding communities. The group also spent a portion of the first week at the Savannah Trails, laying gravel for walking paths to accommodate increasing visitor traffic. They stayed at the Savanna Guest House, hosted by National Geographic videographers Richard and Carol Foster.

Following each taxing workday, the group conducted nightly reflections about service, leadership, and character. Souffrant described these exchanges as “an opportunity to be introspective and challenged by your peers, creating an environment where we can all learn from each other through experiences and conversation.”

The second week of the Belize Experiential Learning Trip, based in Punta Gorda, afforded participants opportunities to learn firsthand about methods of sustainable farming from a local man, Gomier. Gomier shared his knowledge of veganism, herbal tinctures, and cultural preservation as the students helped plant garden beds at his farm. Themes of plant life and culture carried over into the trip participants’ visit to a Mayan community, where they heard from traditional medicinal healers. The group continued its nightly reflection sessions throughout the second week.

“By having the opportunity to travel to Belize with seven other Park Scholars,” said Williams, “I was able to gain so much knowledge about the importance of maintaining biodiversity, how service work can truly impact a community, and how immersion in different cultures can foster growth by altering your perspective.”

Brooks agreed. “The Belize Experiential Learning Trip gave me the opportunity to apply the four pillars of the program in an international setting,” he said. “Because of the trip, I have a stronger realization of my leadership qualities and potential and how I can apply my knowledge and skills to empower and serve people from backgrounds different than my own.”