Sixteen freshmen started their Penn State experience this summer with an excursion to Jamaica for nine days as part of an international travel component of “Sustainability in Jamaica,” a course offered through the Learning Edge Academic Program (LEAP) and the Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS).
Led by Dr. Neil Brown, research associate for The Alliance for Education, Science, Engineering, and Development in Africa (AESEDA), Ms. Kimberly Del Bright, Giles writer-in-residence for EMS, and Ms. Kristin Thomas, global engagement coordinator for Global programs, students studied sustainability, communication, and leadership for five weeks on campus before traveling to Jamaica. This year, students examined sustainability on three scales: global, local, and interpersonal. Once in Jamaica, they were challenged to apply their classroom knowledge to hands-on projects, to live in sustainable ways, and to be engaged global citizens.
“Jamaica provides a good case study for examining sustainability issues because it has economic issues from high-density tourism that can cause problems with infrastructure and natural resource use,” said Kyler Gordon-Rees, an incoming energy, business, and finance student.
In the classroom, students studied obstacles to achieving sustainable solutions. “When we arrived in Montego Bay and drove to Ocho Rios, I could see the huge walls built around the luxury resort compounds. I was seeing the actual physical barriers between the all-inclusive resorts and the rest of Jamaica. I realized the effects of tourism are more complex than I had originally thought,” said Ryan McCann who plans to study petroleum natural gas engineering (PNG) in the fall.
“Living in three very different sustainable locations and making day trips to both tourist locations and sustainable developments made me more conscious that there are choices to the way we eat and live and the impact it can have on the environment,” said Annie Rodden, a meteorology major.
Students stayed four days at the eco-friendly, Jamaican owned and operated Crystal Ripple Beach Lodge. They conducted research by interviewing local shop owners, fishermen, and residents. They took several day trips including ones to Dunn’s River Falls, a 600 foot waterfall visitors and locals climb, and to Jacobs Ladder, a 100 acre home for children and adults with disabilities that practices sustainable agriculture to feed its residents.
After staying at Crystal Ripple, the students travelled inland from the coast to a small five-acre sustainable eco-village and organic farm. For four days, the students worked in teams with on-site help from Lyse Charron, one of the owners, to design and implement a natural chicken garden using permaculture principles. Communication and leadership skills were put to the test.
“This was one of our biggest challenges during the trip,” said Bryan Wood, a materials science and engineering major. “It was not because of the heat or the physical work; it was just trying to find consensus among people who all had different ideas. I know the same thing happens when trying to find solutions on larger scales to environmental issues.”
The last stop was a luxury sustainable resort in Port Antonio, the Hotel Mocking Bird Hill. “I saw here that sustainability can even mean upscale, but it can be very expensive. We learned that 86,000 gallons of rain water has to be collected from some very costly rain barrels for use, and the water can be used for up to six weeks. Plus, even though the hotel has been in existence for over 20 years, they constantly look for new ways to make the human impact on the environment smaller. This made me think of sustainability more of a process than a finished deal, “ observed Evan Lunak, a PNG major.
Many connections between classroom lessons and real-life applications were made, but students commented that one of the best aspects of their summer was the connections they made to each other through their LEAP experience.
“I am happy to say that I have made lasting friendships with my fellow students. Forming these ties is the highlight of my summer,” said Grant Senft a PNG major. “I am certain that the friends I made will last throughout my college years.”