Winter break in the tropics

Amina Gibic of Fort Worth (left) and Victoria LaFleur of Port Neches take a brea

Ten students of LU’s Reaud Honors College are taking on the spring semester with a new perspective thanks to their studies on sustainability in Belize over the winter break.

“It was really eye opening,” said Taylor Marshall, a junior biology major and Spanish minor from Saratoga. “The culture and the wildlife and the challenges that Belize faces were all so new to me, but those same issues affect a lot of people.”

The trip was part of a fall 2016 honors seminar course offered by the Reaud Honors College titled “Tropical Sustainability.” The class introduced sustainability challenges in developing nations to students of diverse majors to promote systems literacy, or the ability of people from distinct disciplines to collaborate for effective global solutions.

“Now, students can assess themselves and our society from a new and more enlightened perspective,” said Matthew Hoch, associate professor of biology and instructor for the course. “I know some were challenged by our activities, but all the students quickly learned to work well together as a team and keep high spirits.”

The group studied tropical wildlife, sustainability issues, and creole and Mayan culture through their many activities: nature hikes; a canoe trip; snorkeling; visits to caves, rivers, waterfalls and a hydroelectric dam; exploration of ancient Mayan ruins; and a tour of a Mennonite farming community that emphasizes best practices.

Hoch, who has been teaching and researching in Belize since 1997, says that his desire to further incorporate sustainability into the university’s curriculum was his inspiration to create the new course for all majors.

“I wanted a sustainability course open to any discipline, so I approached Kevin Dodson, Reaud Honors College dean, with the idea of an honors seminar course on tropical sustainability. The focus on the tropics, which is where most developing nations are located globally, was to expose students to societies with greater developmental challenges than our own and to understand our role in global society,” Hoch said.

“Typically, study abroad programs are opportunities for students in a specific discipline to add a global dimension to their knowledge base. The Belize program was something completely different, and therefore very unique in study abroad programming,” said Jeffrey Palis, director of Global Studies and Study Abroad. “As an institution, we are willing to think outside the box in how we provide intellectual and cultural opportunities that will be prepare our students for the world today.”

The Reaud Honors College of Lamar University engages high-ability students within the university and community. It facilitates honors students to reach their goals by offering enriched classes and seminars, opportunities for independent study, honors contracts and the honors thesis. Honors students enjoy smaller classes taught by some of the university’s top professors and are supported to do community service, internships, research, and study abroad. Students who complete one of two plans may become Honors College Graduates.

Belize is a small country on the eastern coast of Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea. The Belize Barrier Reef is part of the world’s second largest barrier reef system, and the country’s biodiversity and abundance of terrestrial and marine species give it a major role in the globally significant Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Belizean society is a blend of cultures and languages due to its historical interactions with many nations, and over half the population is multilingual. Belize is a popular location for recreation as well as study for people worldwide.