Preparing raised agricultural beds, learning about organic farming, and witnessing permaculture principles first hand is the way 14 freshmen started their Penn State college experience this summer. Students traveled to Ocho Rios, Jamaica for eight days as part of an international travel component of “Sustainability Research in Jamaica,” a course offered through the Learning Edge Academic Program (LEAP) and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS).
Dr. Neil Brown, research associate for The Alliance for Education, Science, Engineering, and Development in Africa (AESEDA), Ms. Kristin Thomas, director of global relations and promotions, and Ms. Kimberly Del Bright, Giles writer-in-residence for EMS team taught on the topics of sustainability, leadership, and communication.
The LEAP pride used the four sustainability principles adapted from “The Natural Step Framework,” a comprehensive model that helps organizations integrate sustainable development into their strategic planning. An interdisciplinary approach helped students explore their roles as leaders in a global society, examine the social, environmental, and economic challenges of sustainable development, and practice the art of effective rhetoric and composition (English 15) to better understand and respond to arguments related to sustainability.
During the seven-week long semester, students were encouraged to integrate classroom lessons to their real world experiences. Self-discovery and changing perspectives is a common thread among their comments about their educational growth gained from this LEAP.
Alicia Janocsko, an energy, business, and finance major said, “Going to Jamaica, I didn’t think I had much to offer. But I found through conversations with Jamaicans that we could respect each other, and this helped me see what they see. I gained a new perspective.”
“I learned everyone can contribute to a community,” said Sebastian Holler, a business major. “Even if you’re young and don’t know as much–I was inspired to find a way that works for the positive good.”
“Through taking freezing cold showers, using a compostable toilet, climbing Dunn’s River Falls, visiting the organic farms, talking to a lot of people, and eating ackee, plantains, and other foods–I think I learned a lot,” said Ryan Belz, a meteorology major, “but I learned the most about myself.”
Other students commented on changes in their worldview. “As Americans, I think we sometimes think we can copy and paste what we have to other places,” said Tyler Thompson, an agriculture science major. “We often have good intentions, but sometimes we do it without understanding the other parts of the culture.”
Adam Strickland, a biology major, was glad the group visited both tourist and non-tourist attractions. “The comparison showed us how we could see through different lenses. I didn’t realize there are various ways to view a country: one as a tourist and one as a student.”
To read more about what the students have to say about “Sustainability in Jamaica,” go to Penn State Live.
Additional Comments from Students:
Speaking with people who are involved with sustainability and organic farming in Jamaica made me realize that some of these practices might be more possible than I originally thought.
I liked that Neil told us that he didn’t bring us to Jamaica to make us feel bad. This made me feel okay to just be an observer. I didn’t have to make a judgment or feel like I had to fix something. We did end up changing a small plot of land; I think we did leave an impression.
When we were at the organic farms, they made us lunch from things they had grown. I made some of the connections to my own experience with gardening, and it made me think it wasn’t all that different.
I learned a lot about the U.S. and myself through this experience.
I don’t think we should come in as superiors and say let’s fix it this way. We need to work together if we want to help change and make sustainability work.
I think as Americans we sometimes think we are entitled to tell others what to do. We need to allow Jamaicans to make their own choices.
I think about the future more than I did because of this experience.
I learned it’s about credibility, and when we listened to each other’s viewpoints it was easier to establish our understanding and this helped with our credibility with our own group and also the people we came into contact with.
This past weekend I went home, and I told my friends and family about what I did, and they’re all so amazed that as a freshman in my first semester I had this kind of experience. It’s just fun to talk about.