Opening a new world to students


Megan Storton plays with preschool students in Matelot.
Megan Storton plays with preschool students in Matelot.
Jaelyn Whaley digs into fresh honey straight from the wax comb.
Jaelyn Whaley digs into fresh honey straight from the wax comb.
Robert Swank works with site foreman to lay the base of the tutoring center.
Robert Swank works with site foreman to lay the base of the tutoring center.

LCCC's student services and agriculture departments collaborated to offer a service-learning trip to Trinidad and Tobago in May 2016. The team of eight students immersed fully in the culture of the Caribbean Island and gave back to that community through service projects.

"It's incredibly difficult to articulate exactly what happened with these students over a short time," said advisor Jill Koslosky. "The change was much deeper and more personal than any one activity."

She led the group along with LCCC agriculture instructor Bryan Wilson.

It started with a tour of the cashew trees and pomegranate bush-filled gardens in Port of Spain, followed by a trek to the remote village of Matelot, with its stunning views of the rocky coast. After meeting the Dorcas women who hosted the students, the team ventured to the river to cool off from the intense heat and humidity – much different than a typical Wyoming day in May.

The group toured school, meeting the children and learning about the country's education system. The LCCC students then worked on the construction of a new community tutoring center, eventually building out a larger storage area and finishing ahead of schedule.

Students later explored the rainforest, with each step offering insight into flora and fauna. From almonds and plantains to cinnamon and nutmeg, students harvested and tasted the food from the forest.

"A huge hit was fresh cocoa out of a pod," Koslosky shared.

Wilson helped lead discussions with local producers about agriculture production in Trinidad. The students engaged in conversations that, although they spanned thousands of miles and ocean, were similar to the challenges facing agriculture producers in the United States.

"The world is much smaller than we make it seem," said LCCC student Jaelyn Whaley, agriculture major. "I've learned more about where I came from by being somewhere far from home."

Additional immersion opportunities for learning included watching leatherback sea turtles lay their eggs at a local sanctuary and helping release newly hatched turtles into the ocean.

The group toured the Coroni Bird Sanctuary and watched hundreds of Scarlet Ibis birds nesting in the verdant trees. On their last day, they toured the Carmel Valley Estates' diversified agriculture operation.

A crop production area with drip irrigation and a need for cultivation only every five years captivated the students, who then explored farming operations including apiculture, or beekeeping. Also as part of that excursion, water rights and other issues of production agriculture were examined.

All in all, it was a fascinating opportunity for the entire team.

"This was way more than a service trip," said Megan Storton, agriculture major. "I learned things not just about myself, but about others and about nature."

The students reflected on the experience and considered what lessons they would take back home. Some of these included having stronger and more intentional conversations, spending less time on social media, encouraging others to travel, and having less reliance on material objects.

"These people were the wisest and happiest people I have ever come to know. The advice that they gave me will stick with me for my entire life," shared Garrett Barton, agriculture major. "This has been an experience of a lifetime. My hope is that students of all majors at LCCC can experience something similar."