As temperatures in East Tennessee drop below freezing, the idea of traveling South is most appealing, but for six members of the Tusculum College faculty, there is more on their agenda than sunny skies and warmer temperatures as they embark on a trip to the Central American country of Belize in February.
Robin Fife, assistant professor of social science at the College, is coordinating the trip that includes Dr. Katherine Stone, assistant professor of mathematics and geology; Robin Tipton, assistant professor of chemistry; Dr. Geir Bergvin, director for the Center for Global Studies; Dr. DiAnn Casteel, associate professor of education, and Dr. Tom McFarland, associate professor of business administration.
According to Tusculum College’s Interim President Dr. Russell Nichols, one of Tusculum’s highest academic priorities is the advancement of opportunities for students to have one or more international experiences before graduation.“It is envisioned that all Tusculum students and faculty, in five years, will be assured of that opportunity, regardless of their financial ability, and this goal has been embraced by faculty, students and Trustees,” said Nichols.
The Center for Global Studies was formed in spring 2008, with the mission to “enhance the capacity of individuals and organizations to address local and global challenges through building relationships with communities, institutions of higher learning and organizations globally.”
“Our first step in meeting these new college goals regarding international travel and experience is getting the faculty to travel and become familiar and motivated to bring that aspect into their courses,” Fife said.
Fife has led student trips to various parts of Belize on four different occasions and will work with the faculty on this venture to specifically relate their visit to a personal goal for the courses they teach.
She added that Belize is an ideal setting for an international experience for faculty, staff and students of Tusculum College. Only three and ½ hours from the U.S., it is an English speaking country with diverse cultures that offers authentic real world work and learning experiences. Belize is located on the Caribbean coast between Mexico and Guatemala.
Each of the traveling faculty and staff participating on the visit to St. Ignacio, Belize, will be researching international opportunities in their own field of expertise and looking for ways to incorporate a learning experience in the country into their current educational curriculum.
Bergvin, as director of the newly-created Center for Global Studies, will be looking at the overall international experience and for ways to provide cross-over experiences among the disciplines and student experiences.
Casteel will be developing a possible practicum site opportunity for education students at the College, with plans to integrate teaching and research opportunities for undergraduate students in junior and senior level courses. This program would introduce education faculty and students to multi-cultural aspects of the country and southern region of Belize.
Through living and teaching in Belize, pre-service teachers should develop a level of cultural literacy that will enhance their ability to strengthen academic achievement levels for a diverse population of children in their own classrooms.
McFarland will be meeting with economic development officials about the possibility of having majors visit Belize for international business experience. If the program is developed, students would learn how to develop, implement and monitor strategic, marketing and/or operational plans during their study of Belize. According to McFarland, this applied business opportunity will give students a chance to learn about both the Belize culture and economy.
Tipton will be looking at ways to integrate a visit into her environmental sciences course as a service learning project, and Stone will be researching internships and undergraduate research opportunities. Plans are to create an Environmental Science Service-Learning course that will meet the objectives of a service learning graduation requirement, while specifically focusing on environmental issues that will provide field experience and develop skills necessary in these fields of study.
“We hope to provide the faculty with an understanding of the educational, environmental, economic and social needs of Belize and to develop partnerships that will result in opportunities for integration into future courses, internships and undergraduate research,” Fife said.
Fife will continue with her trips to Belize and will bring her students back later this year. “We try to connect students to their fields of study through their service projects while we’re there,” Fife said. “Everything we do in Belize is to enhance and build on what students have learned in the classroom and provide them with an opportunity to experience the world in a way they might not otherwise have the chance to do.”
As an added element for the trip, Fife is working with Tusculum View Elementary School on a partnering project with the Belize schools. Students at Tusculum View are collecting school supplies as a service project and will send the items with the Tusculum faculty to be distributed to public schools in need in Belize.
In addition, Tusculum View art students will send drawings of Tennessee habitats and animals with the Tusculum College students traveling to Belize in March, who will then bring back drawings from the Belize children of their rainforest habitat and local animals which are very different, Fife said.
The trip is coordinated by Proworld Service Corps., an organization that specializes in international experiences for students and mission workers focused on sustainability. Fife also hopes to strengthen the College’s relationship with ProWorld, which has broad connections to the southern Belize community. According to Fife, these relationships will give Tusculum College faculty and students opportunities to develop and execute both academic and service learning projects connected to their fields of interest.
ProWorld has staff that lives in the community and help to provide long-term consistent development of projects for a broad spectrum of student learning, she said.