Spring break is always a nice intermission to the semester for all students, and for the BIO 220 Field Natural History class, it was nothing short of an adventure.
Dr. Mark Mills lead 27 students plus two other chaperones, including his wife Louise Mills and Dr. Robert Nulph, to Belize for the duration of the break.
BIO 220 is a class that anyone in the department can teach. Professors wishing to teach it must submit a proposal and destination. The class curriculum is then based off of the landscape and wildlife of whatever country or location is chosen.
This year the trip was planned for Belize. Dr. David Ashley usually leads the class and the trip, but due to some personal health issues, he was unable to teach the class. Mills took over the class and lead the students on the trip.
“Dr. David Ashley was the instructor and I was just going to go along to learn the ropes. He has been doing it for years. To go from being an observer to, hey I’m in charge, the game changes a little,” Mills said.
Regardless of the plan changing suddenly, Mills said that the trip was great and that it was a wonderful experience for himself and the students.
“Even though it was a biology trip, we were learning about the culture and the history. There’s more happening on one of these trips, its the pinnacle of applied learning.”
Mills expressed the importance of applied learning repeatedly. One cannot learn the same things in a classroom that they can learn actually going to a place like Belize.
Tammy Glise, the trip coordinator, spoke about what all goes into planning one of these trips. Students have to sign a series of documents, get passports and provide emergency medical information before going on a trip.
There are usually between six and eight trips like this every year.
While travel abroad experiences are a fun cultural experience, there is always an educational side to them.
“There needs to be an academic component. We want the students to be able to earn credit hours, and of course we’re not a travel agency. We’re here to provide a travel experience that is a learning experience and fun, we hope, too,” Glise said.
Jordan Snook was one of the students who went on the Belize trip. For her, going was one way to ensure that her senior year would stand out.
“I decided to go because of hearing about it, and this being my last semester, I wanted it to be one big event. This was like a once in a life time opportunity to learn down there and I’ve never been out of the country,” Snook said.
Snook was moved by the things she saw while on the trip. She talked about the differences between America and the third world poverty-stricken country of Belize. The cultural differences were both interesting and shocking to her.
Belize is covered in national parks and everything is very well preserved. Most of the places the group went were protected areas such as Mayan ruins and coral reefs.
“Seeing how they preserve and care about everything around them. They’re really protective of their environment and I think that’s really cool because I don’t think we focus on that enough here,” Snook said.
The group stayed on the mainland for part of the trip and on the island of San Pedro for the second part. While there, they explored Mayan ruins, jungles and the second largest coral reef in the world.
For Snook, learning about and experiencing the ruins was her favorite part of the trip.
“My favorite part is probably different from other people, but I really liked the Mayan ruins.
Just walking up and realizing these were built before Christ walked, and we were able to see how they lived and picture in our minds what they have still yet to uncover. It just felt like sacred ground,” Snook said.
Mills found his most memorable experience from the trip to be under the water.
“Seeing all the coral reef fish was tremendous. I’ve seen pictures of them and I’ve seen them in aquariums, but to see this fish out there on the reef is tremendous. As a herpetologist probably seeing a sea turtle in the ocean. But to see them, to be swimming with them in the water, frankly was almost like an out of body experience. I don’t even know how to describe it. You feel like you’re outside of your body experiencing it,” Mills said.
There are opportunities available for all students. Regardless of major, anyone who has had one science class on campus can sign up for BIO 220. Other departments offer study abroad experiences as well.
Study abroad trips are ones that will create life long memories. Not only are they learning opportunities, but life experiences as well.