Sustainability in Belize:
Saving the world’s most beautiful landscapes
Belize is a stable, English speaking democracy on the Caribbean coast of Central America. It has extensive areas of tropical forest, many Mayan cultural and archeological sites, and the second longest barrier reef system in the world.
This field course takes focus on Belize’s tropical rain forest and coral reef ecosystems and how local communities are working to save them. Students and their faculty visit and learn about conservation in a pristine world.
Meet Our Alumni
- <div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_profiles_headline"><a href="/live/profiles/688-robby-boles"><p> He Works Where the Devil Dances </p></a></h4><div class="lw_profiles_description"><p> Robby Boles graduated in 2008 with a double-major in Environmental Science and Geography. He always had plans to work for the Department of Forestry, but he thought it would be in timber management. These days he only thinks of fire.</p><p> Robby is a Natural Resource Specialist and Forestry Technician for the Virginia Department of Forestry, but he prefers to call himself a wildland firefighter. He gets excited talking about fire, its behavior, how to stop it, what it accomplishes. “It fascinates me,” says Robby. And listening to him describe the work he does, you can tell he’s a complete adrenline junky. He says he loves fire season, and loves being on duty for 24 and 36 hours straight. He loves being the guy who rushes into a giant blaze. Forty-foot flames don’t make him cower – they excite him. When you ask him to tell a story of something wild and dangerous he struggles for an answer because all of it seems like normal day’s work.</p><p> He loves the team of firefighters he works with – others who get excited about the danger and the challenge. He describes a recent trip home to Midlothian when he visited with an old friend who is doing similar work. He says they both talked excitedly about how much they loved their jobs and talked late into the evening telling stories of recent fires. Meanwhile, their other high school friends talked about how much they hate their jobs, and they simply don’t seem to understand these guys whose faces light up when they talk about their work.</p><p> Robby says this is not something he had to learn to like. “The joke is that ‘they put a drip torch in my hand and I fell in love.’” (A drip torch, by the way, is a firefighter’s tool used to ignite fires for the purpose of supressing a fire.) So while many of Robby’s environmental studies classmates are working to keep the land green, Robby is on hand to take care of the land when it’s burning red and charring to black. </p><p> Although he works for the Virginia Department of Forestry, he and his team get sent all over the country during fire season in order to work in the places where the most help is needed. This is part of the reason Robby loves the job so much. “I get paid to go to places that others never get to see; to hike and camp. The scenery is beautiful.” So in addition to the Virginia counties of Buchanan, Russell, Tazewell, Bland and Dickenson, he’s also been to Idaho and North Carolina and all parts in between.</p><p> Robby is a certified squad boss and incident commander which requires a lot of training and study, but he now is qualified to “run a fire” which means he will continue to get opportunities to travel to choice locations. He’s proficient with a chain saw, can operate a bulldozer, and knows how to run a Type 6 Wildland fire engine. And in addition to all the work with fire suppression, he also gets called in for work after natural disasters – like the tornado in Glade Spring in 2011.</p><p> While Robby sounds like a bit of a daredevil truthfully, he’s just a regular guy. His sparetime activities are just what you’d expect: he likes to hunt and fish and read non-fiction tales of military history. And, of course, his favorite work suit includes pants with a high ignition point.</p></div><a href="/live/profiles/688-robby-boles" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div>
- <span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/profiles/708-mary-beth-tignor" title="Mary Beth Tignor" aria-label="Mary Beth Tignor"><img src="/live/image/gid/2/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,300,200/358_MaryBethTignor.rev.1500388800.jpg" alt="Mary Beth Tignor" title="Mary Beth Tignor" class="lw_image" width="345" height="225" data-max-w="300" data-max-h="200"/></a></span><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_profiles_headline"><a href="/live/profiles/708-mary-beth-tignor"><p> Love for the region keeps Mary Beth Tignor’s future local. </p></a></h4><div class="lw_profiles_description"><p> Her love of this region and her passion for education are the fuel to her daily work. </p><p> Mary Beth was a part of the first Emory & Henry Honors Program cohort that graduated in Spring 2013. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy and Community Service. Currently, she is working as an AmeriCorps with Appalachian Sustainable Development and pursuing a Master’s degree in Education with a focus area of Middle School Science. </p><p> Serving the community of this region has always been one of Mary Beth’s passion and love. As a student at Emory & Henry, she served as a volunteer of an on-campus after school program called Highlands Project. She said, “Through this program and some of my courses, I developed a passion for education and the children in this area.” Since then, she has created and is the current coordinator of a after school program at a local elementary school. Her most memorable experience in the Honors Program is going to New York City as an upperclassman leader with First-Year Honors Scholars. After her first trip to New York City, Mary Beth had learned a lot from her experiences and really enjoyed sharing them with the First-Year Honors Scholars. </p></div><a href="/live/profiles/708-mary-beth-tignor" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div>
- <span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/profiles/684-kadie-britt" title="Kadie Britt" aria-label="Kadie Britt"><img src="/live/image/gid/2/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/146,20,818,692/334_Kadie_Britt.rev.1499783122.jpg" alt="Kadie Britt" title="Kadie Britt" class="lw_image" width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/2/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/146,20,818,692/334_Kadie_Britt.rev.1499783122.jpg 2x" data-max-w="1000" data-max-h="692"/></a></span><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_profiles_headline"><a href="/live/profiles/684-kadie-britt"><p> Making Big Strides With a Tiny Bug</p></a></h4><div class="lw_profiles_description"><p> When <strong>Kadie Britt ’13</strong> tells people she’s studying entomology, she gets mixed reactions. “I know they think I’m at home alone playing with cockroaches, but I promise I’m one of the coolest people you’ll ever meet!”</p><p> She really never intended to study insects. She was taking two summer classes at Wingate University and took human biology which sounded fun (she was bored stiff) and entomology because she didn’t have a choice (she was captivated and hooked). “I didn’t want to learn about ants! But now look at what I’m doing!” Kadie will finished her master’s degree in entomology at the University of Tennessee in August 2016.</p><p> She is getting some real acclaim for her work with the kudzu bug. Classified as a “true bug” (because it has piercing and sucking mouth parts) it feeds primarily on the juices found in the stems of kudzu plants. If it only ate kudzu, we might give the insect a trophy and call it our best friend. Unfortunately, it loves other legumes and is a particular problem for soybean growers.</p><p> The tiny but problematic bug has only been in the U.S. since fall of 2009, starting around northeast Georgia. Now it can be found all across the south, as far west as Arkansas and Louisiana and as far north as parts of Delaware. Kadie’s research has forced her to spend arduous hours in patches of kudzu where she netted the bugs, brought them back to the lab, counted them, and divided them into categories of maturation levels (there are five nymph stages before they reach adulthood). She averaged just under 200 bugs per kudzu patch per week.</p><p> In its natural environment in Asia, the bug would have natural predators that keep its numbers in check. Here, it is invasive because there is nothing in nature that will kill or eat it, giving it the potential to spread very far.</p><p> Well, that’s what they thought until recently.</p><p> There are two hopes for controlling this pest. Ironically, for the E&H grad, one of those things is a <em>wasp</em>. There are literally thousands of different wasps in the ecosystem, and each one has a pretty specific job. The <em>Paratelenomus saccharalis</em> wasp lays its eggs in with the kudzu bug eggs, and her hatched babies will eat the kudzu bug eggs for nourishment. Part of Kadie’s research involved looking for evidence of these wasps but her work revealed no evidence of the helpful wasps.</p><p> However, she did accidentally run across evidence of the second great hope. There is also a fungus that kills adult and nymph kudzu bugs, and she was gleeful to find this fungus in all of her research sites. “I didn’t know what it was at first, and the person with me told me it was spider eggs. But a closer look showed it was kudzu bugs covered in fungus. I was so happy!” Continued research shows the fungus is having good success in spreading to other kudzu patches, and good success in dramatically reducing the kudzu bug population. Kadie and her team are now working on a paper about the discovery.</p><p> Truthfully, not many people in the United States are studying kudzu bugs. So this young E&H grad is a leader in her kudzu-covered field. And you can hear her enthusiasm when she discusses her work. “People ask why study insects, and I say ‘WHY NOT study insects!?’”</p><p> She wants people to understand that not all bugs are bad. Some, for example, are pollinators and are responsible for the food we eat. “We need to be more aware of how much insects impact our lives.”</p></div><a href="/live/profiles/684-kadie-britt" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div>
- <span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/profiles/699-adam-taylor" title="Adam Taylor" aria-label="Adam Taylor"><img src="/live/image/gid/2/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,690,390/349_1527816929680e27a0e49d882ebbfa5b_f1858.rev.1500320057.jpg" alt="Adam Taylor" title="Adam Taylor" class="lw_image" width="345" height="225" data-max-w="690" data-max-h="390"/></a></span><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_profiles_headline"><a href="/live/profiles/699-adam-taylor"><p> Graduate Heads to Africa to Aid in Environmental Awareness</p></a></h4><div class="lw_profiles_description"><p> It’s a far distance from Emory, Va. to Lusaka, Zambia but Adam Taylor (class of 2008) is no stranger to a long journey. It was during a successful thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail during the summer of 2009 when Taylor would make a decision that would send him thousands of miles away from home to use the skills he learned while in Emory.</p><p> Taylor has been accepted as a Peace Corps volunteer and will be contributing to a project in Zambia known as LIFE – Linking Income Food & Environment. As part of the project, Taylor will serve as a Forestry Extension Agent. He will be working with rural farmers to incorporate agroforestry into their farming practices with a focus on soil and water conservation. He also will be working with local schools to set up environmental awareness groups that will try to raise critical environmental issues within the community, while working on ways to correct them. Taylor also will be working with small business entrepreneurs to help create a market for their products within their community.</p><p> Taylor was first introduced to the possibility of volunteering with the Peace Corps while sitting outside the office of Dr. Ed Davis, an E&H geography professor. Later, while hiking the 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2009, he met a former Peace Corp volunteer.</p><p> “We were able to spend a few days together and I questioned him about it the entire time,” Taylor said. “After he had told me what a positive impact it had made on his life, I knew that it was something I wanted to do. When I returned home after the hike, I applied, and a year later, I am on my way to Zambia.”</p><p> It might have taken this meeting on a footpath to get Taylor to officially sign on, but his foundations for volunteerism were built at Emory & Henry. As an environmental studies major, Taylor learned about the ever-changing environment and how to bring his knowledge to others for the sake of preserving the planet. He credits the E&H Appalachian Center for Community Service program for helping him to see the importance of service.</p><p> “I originally got involved in the ACCS to start a semester-long community service project within my fraternity at Emory, Beta Lambda Zeta,”Taylor said. “After the first project, I was hooked on the rewarding feeling I got from contributing to the community without expecting anything in return, and I realized that it was something that I wanted to dedicate my life to.”</p><p> Taylor says he is most excited about being a stranger in a foreign land during the next two years. He is embracing the opportunity to learn and adapt to a new culture. And he is dedicated to “doing his very best to address issues that have made the Zambian people’s walk through life more difficult than it has had to be.”</p><p> He’s looking forward to the possibility that his experience in Zambia will change him. “I want to come back from this experience with a new perspective on the world, and how we should try to relate to it no matter how different or odd it might seem to us outside of our own little piece,” Taylor said.</p></div><a href="/live/profiles/699-adam-taylor" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div>