Blissful Findings in Belize

Diving in Belize

Laura Kloepper, assistant professor of biology, teaches a marine biology course and had the opportunity to take ten students to Belize to further their studies. She spent a great deal of time researching places with regard to marine life. When deciding the appropriate place for students Kloepper had to consider three circumstances: Weather conditions in the month of March due to visibility and water clarity, location accessibility, and a healthy, vibrant coral reef.

Belize is a half-mile long and an eighth of a mile wide, making it an ideal safe environment. “We were the only people there and it was a great location with an eco-lodge environment.”

Research

Dr. Kloepper prepared the students prior to their trip by teaching them about the marine life they could possibly encounter.

“As a class we...collected data on the overall health of the coral reefs and submitted it to Belizeans to update their database.”    

Professor Kloepper believes one of the objectives of her trip coincides with CWIL’s focus on intercultural competence, and “Helping the girls understand the complex relationships we have with the environment, which I think was an essential part of this trip.”

“The experience of travel as a whole is very empowering. It was a professor and student together creating a collaborative experience you can’t get in the classroom.”

Kloepper recalls the most rewarding moment of her trip. A “proud professor moment” took place during one of the first snorkels. “I was swimming ahead and there is a beautiful reef on the left.  Suddenly I hear students yelling, ‘We see ctenophores!’ They are similar to jellyfish but don’t sting. Defining moment of the class.”

A Student’s Perspective

Kamryn Yerga ’20, a first-year biology major and Spanish minor who was one of the ten students on the trip, was introduced to the possibility of studying abroad by Professor Kloepper through her marine biology class.

Yerga explained the independent research she conducted while in Belize. The class learned about the ecosystem, coral reefs, and the different organisms they would soon encounter which led to independent projects. Yerga’s group tested the effect of food deprivation on hermit crabs and their competition for their shells.

As a first-year student Yerga did not expect this opportunity because many of the girls who were going on the trip were upperclassmen, but confidently Yerga said, “I had the opportunity and I was going to take it and I’m glad I did because I learned a lot.”

Professor Kloepper made the trip smooth and “It was awesome to see a professor open up and be more comfortable.”

“I knew Saint Mary’s made me feel more of a student when I found out about studying abroad and how hard they work for you to get the best prices and feel the safest.”

Yerga’s favorite part about the trip was “Getting to know the locals on the island, they taught me more than I expected. They taught you what it was like to live there in regard to the coral reefs and what they do in order to survive on the island.”

“Being able to stay there for a week with no cell service, being more present in the moment made me more comfortable to expand my horizons and encouraged me to want to study abroad again.”