SRU service-learning projects send students to Jamaica, Puerto Rico


Puerto Rico Skyline

Two groups of students from Slippery Rock University will travel to Jamaica and Puerto Rico in January 2019 for separate community service-learning projects, one of which includes restoring mangroves along the Puerto Rican coast that have been depleted because of the tourism developments.

Dec. 18, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - A pair of global service-learning programs organized through Slippery Rock University's Office of Community-Engaged Learning will provide SRU students, faculty and staff a transformative experience that will outshine the Caribbean sun. A group of nine people representing SRU will travel to Jamaica, Jan. 3-13, while a second group of eight will visit Puerto Rico, Jan. 3-17, to conduct service projects, connect with natives to understand the issues they face and inspire civic action.

"The purpose of the programs is to create an environment of introspective and intentional learning about shared global issues that will help catalyze students' understanding of the need for social change, as well as enhance their own sense of agency to effect it," said Jeffrey Rathlef, SRU director of community-engaged learning. "(These experiences will) challenge a person's assumptions and preconceptions, as well as their beliefs and values, affecting how they understand themselves, others and the world."

Both programs will be conducted in partnership with Amizade, a nonprofit organization based in Pittsburgh that facilitates international service-learning experiences through an ethical approach known as Fair Trade Learning. SRU has previously partnered with Amizade for global service-learning programs, including a January 2017 trip to Jamaica, through a model that emphasizes reciprocal partnerships, community-driven development, equitable compensation and professional development opportunities for all parties.

Samantha Hauser


The group visiting Petersfield, Jamaica, will learn about the social and economic drawbacks of traditional tourism in that country, such as international companies owning most of the coastal resorts, and how communities like Petersfield are developing a more sustainable form of village tourism that has increased the standard of living in the local community.

"There are very few Jamaican-owned resorts, so the money doesn't stay in Jamaica when tourists spend it there," said Laura Villers, assistant director of community-engaged service and leadership, who will be traveling to Jamaica with seven students and Corinne Gibson, SRU director of inclusive excellence. "This new model will look at how this community has reframed tourism to expose visitors to actual Jamaican life. We'll look at how communities can empower themselves through their partnerships and learn what our responsibility is to make more equitable decisions that align with our values."

Students will live with homestay families and provide direct service with some of Petersfield's ongoing community development projects, which in past years has included improving a playground and planting vegetables for school gardens. The students will learn from community leaders and transform their knowledge and awareness through daily critical reflection. They'll also experience the culture, which during their stay will include the Accompong Maroon Festival that celebrates the signing of a 200-year-old peace treaty between the Maroons and the British.

The group traveling to Puerto Rico will stay at group hostels in San Juan and assist with ongoing Hurricane Maria relief efforts from the Category Five storm that hit the island in 2017. Partnering with a local nonprofit organization called CARAS de las Americas, seven students and Becky Thomas, assistant professor of parks, conservation and recreational therapy, will focus on community development and environmental sustainability. The direct service component will involve planting trees and restoring mangroves that are being deforested for tourism and are vital to mitigating the effects of hurricanes.

"We'll examine environmental justice and cultural identity in Puerto Rico as they relate to hurricane relief and social issues," said Sam Hauser, a graduate student majoring in student affairs in higher education from Slippery Rock, who is one of the two students serving as experiential learning facilitators for each trip. "We'll be asking questions like, 'Are we doing justice to the Puerto Rican community with our hurricane relief?'"

The global service-learning programs organized through the OCEL and Amizade are unlike many programs that college students experience because participants must be accepted into the program, attend several pre-departure sessions and engage in conversations to build a sense of civic identity and leadership to benefit both students and the communities.

"There are high expectations," Hauser said. "(We develop) group dynamics, the culture of humility and having conversations to prepare students, not just the nuts and bolts, but understanding the inner workings of the sites and everyone getting to know each other. That's a huge dynamic when you are in country, especially for two weeks."

SRU students traveling to Jamaica are:

• Dayne Fields, a junior health and physical education major from Harrisburg.
• Alyse Fowlks, a freshman exploratory major from Pittsburgh.
• Dallas Kline, a senior sport management major from Hanover.
• Kimberly Nickle, a senior secondary education major from Carlisle.
• Niyah Pope, a junior early childhood education major from Turtle Creek.
• Constance Van Scoter, a junior social work major from Poland, Ohio.
• Kayla Wallace, a senior early childhood-special education major from Bessemer.

SRU students traveling to Puerto Rico are:

• Nikol Damato, a junior dual major in history and biology from Ellwood City.
• Jordan Hare, a sophomore secondary education major from Bethel Park.
• Sam Hauser, a graduate student majoring in student affairs in higher education from Slippery Rock.
• Malachiah Koehler, a junior dual major in psychology and criminology/criminal justice from Slippery Rock.
• Rebecca Krawczak, a junior psychology major from Pittsburgh.
• Ellie Schiappa, a senior geography major from Grove City.
• Sarah Thomas, a junior environmental geoscience major from Vienna, Ohio.

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