Skip to main content

Back from Belize: WVU students expand worldview

Photo of person in river

Students in the West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design took the opportunity to fly to Belize in spring of 2023 for a week of immersion into culture, education and understanding. 

Working with the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education, the students gained valuable insight into the conservation efforts to help threatened species and improve environmental conditions. Going to the Foundation allowed the students to see where their education could take them in their careers and in the world. Led by Charlene Kelly, teaching associate for forest resources management, she will lead the trip again in spring 2024. 

Photo of dirt road in Belize

“After this trip, students said how much they loved having the chance to disconnect from their screens and immerse themselves in a new environment and culture,” Kelly said. “There is so much to see and experience: the rain forest ecology, birds, insects, wildlife and plants. Learning about the Mayan culture and sustainable use of the natural environment without distraction was really impactful.”

For Cassandra Fink, a rising senior in the wildlife and fisheries program, the trip was an opportunity to see unique amphibians and reptiles, particularly the Hickatee Turtle, in their natural habitats and learn more about them. 

The Foundation raised Hickatee Turtles there, some to be released in the wild and some for breeding to ensure the species’ future. She and her peers also learned the important role the turtles play in the ecosystem, providing microbes to streams and ponds. 

“My time in Belize helped confirm that I’m in the right field,” Fink said. “I got to see how the conservationists were making a difference. “All I want to do is contribute to what they’re doing in the world.”

Ethan Gress, a senior majoring in environmental soil and water science, had his own reasons for going to Belize. Never having traveled far beyond West 

Photo of plants

Virginia, he wanted to expand his cultural knowledge and further his self-development – an opportunity he was glad to get before graduating in December. 

“This opportunity really gave me an inside look into other cultures outside the U.S.,” he said. “I expected to learn a lot, but I learned way more than I imagined—about myself and others."

What impressed Gress most was the Belizean plant life and the knowledgeable guides that led the group during their journey.

He and his classmates enjoyed beautiful hikes, interesting fruits like cashew fruit and cacao, climbing observation towers at sunrise, walking through the only zoo in Belize and introducing the Belizean people to “Country Roads.” 

For transfer student and senior Ivelysse Gracia, the trip was about more than the flora and fauna; she was there for the microorganisms. 

She learned about the country’s ongoing research in the agroforestry industry to optimize rainforests for farming, starting from the ground up, by focusing on bacteria and fungi. Researchers there are looking into arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and how it interacts with the plants and affects production. 

“I didn’t expect a place like Belize to be researching fungi,” Gracia said. “Seeing and learning about the research first-hand was incredible – especially being in the middle of the jungle.”

Photo of woman and landscape

Being a transfer student, Gracia hadn’t gotten to know many people at WVU; however, in her class journal for the trip, she noted “I’m so sad to leave Belize, but I’m excited to come back and hang out with these people some more.”

The trip not only gave Gracia confidence in the career path she had chosen, the remarkable adventure and bonding opportunity with her peers also confirmed she had selected the perfect university to continue pursuing her education. 

"I genuinely think I found my little niche here at WVU,” she added.

Students interested in going to Belize will have the opportunity in Spring 2024. Consider studying abroad using scholarships offered through WVU Office of Global Affairs.

The Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design envisions a world sustainably fed, clothed and sheltered. To learn more about the Davis College, visit Keep up with the latest updates and news on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram and YouTube by following @WVUDavis.



CONTACT: Leah Smith   

Communications Specialist 

Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design