Image-446893809_10155632238306262_5520751868516499456_o+IhmVYhSTFmLOFGDaPyTZA_thumb_2468hikingBy Carlee Berkenkemper

Elm Staff Writer

Every fall, a group of environmentally-oriented students embark upon the Chesapeake Semester, a four-course immersion experience that allows students to study the Chesapeake Bay in depth.

According to the Center for Environment and Society website, “Participants will have the opportunity to study the ecosystem in depth, analyze solutions to environmental problems, and explore the nexus between science, policy, and people’s everyday life.”

The program culminates during the final two weeks of the fall semester, when the group travels to Central America, integrating everything they’ve learned by comparing the Chesapeake Bay estuary to the ecosystems of Guatemala and Belize.

“There were surprising amounts of similarities between Belize and the Chesapeake Bay region, so it was really interesting to be able to compare and contrast both their cultures and the environmental issues that they face,” sophomore Olivia Butler said.

The group began their adventures in Guatemala, where they explored the Mayan ruins of Tikal. After hiking in the jungles of Blue Creek, Belize, they concluded their experience at South Water Caye, an island that lies directly above the Belize Barrier Reef.

“A trip to Central America at the end of our study was truly eye-opening. Being exposed to new plants and wildlife was an experience I’ll never forget,” junior Mitchell Evans said.

Sophomore Samina Soin-Voshell reflected on the personal and academic benefits of participating in the program.

“One of Chesapeake Semester’s catchphrases was ‘challenge by choice’ and the unique format and subject matter of the program really did cause me to push myself to grow in so many ways. The program as a whole was an amazing and life-shaping experience for me,” she said.

From exploring the regions of the bay by canoe to hiking through jungles and holding tarantulas in Blue Creek, this past semester’s eight students formed a unique friendship.

“I gained some very close friends and an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. I could not have asked for better group of people to spend my time studying with,” sophomore Emma Dodsworth said.

Butler also found the trip to be a bonding experience, citing one moment during their last night at South Water Caye.

“It started pouring rain and we all ran out in it onto the dock and got absolutely drenched. It was a great way to end the most amazing trip ever. This trip allowed me to step way out of my comfort zone and experience some of the many tastes and natural wonders of beautiful Belize,” she said.

Designed as an interdisciplinary approach to environmental science, the curriculum focuses on not only the land, but the relationship between people and their surroundings.

“Students from the Chesapeake Semester typically go on to get exciting internships and careers in their chosen fields in their chosen fields. Through this experiential study, they become more adept at understanding and solving some of the most complicated environmental and social issues of our time,” Benjamin Ford, program manager, said.

For Evans, observing these challenges in the field took learning to a new dimension.

“History comes alive when you are standing inside a 17th century building or looking across the paths forged by Colonial Americans. You can talk about climate change all day long in class but riding a bike on a flooded road on Smith Island and interacting with the resilient people who live there, makes the issue so much more urgent,” he said.

The CES is currently accepting applications for the fall 2019 semester. To apply, visit the program website under “Chesapeake Semester.”

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