NASSAU, BAHAMAS – It’s not common for a university class to pack their bags and head overseas to conduct hands-on research during the summer, but a group of students who were recently enrolled in a three-week summer Environmental Science class at the Decatur campus of Georgia State University (GSU) got the opportunity to do just that
The Environmental Science class, which comprised of junior, sophomore and senior students, hopped on a plane and headed to Nassau, Bahamas, with the hope of applying all that they had learned in the classroom in a ‘real world’ setting.
The 3-week study abroad class, implemented by Georgia State University’s Environmental Science Professor A. Steinau, who is also a Bahamian native, spent one week in The Bahamas assessing the marine water quality of New Providence and some of the Island’s indigenous plants and animal species.
The students – all females – also got the opportunity to immerse themselves in the rich culture of The Bahamas.
Steinau explained that the class, “The Scholarship of Teaching: Environmental Science without Borders”, offered in-depth experiential learning and provided a global practice for each student.
“We collaborated with Professor Chisholm-Lightbourne’s students at the University of the Bahamas (UB) to analyze the marine water quality and ecology,” Steinau said. “We also identified and compared various seagrass beds at Goodman’s Bay and Montagu Beach.”
“Together, the students toured Bahamas National Trust Retreat, where they studied native flora and fauna as well as the medicinal value of endemic Bahamian plants and bush teas.
“Students snorkeled at Bone Fish National Park, where they studied four types of mangroves found in The Bahamas and also enjoyed another outdoor learning experiences at the 7.5-acre broadleaf coppice ecosystem at Primeval Forest.”
The GSU and UB students also partnered with the Department of Environmental Health Service and its Control and Environmental Officers to conduct field visits in the “Over-the-Hill” community. Here, the students inspected properties in regard to cleanliness, water supply, mosquito and rodent breeding and other environmental infractions.
But that’s not all.
The GSU students also got the opportunity to not only “swim with the pigs,” but while doing so, considered the impact of the water quality.
“While there, we saw a pig defecating in the water, so the students wanted to do a water quality test, as it is an Environmental Science class to promote relevant learning and critical thinking,” Steinau explained.
Students also interviewed local fishermen about the conch population in The Bahamas and received a wealth of knowledge on sustainable fishing practices.
Zeyue Goodwin, a sophomore at GSU said the class gave her an excellent opportunity to conduct “hands-on” labs in the environment, rather than in the classroom.
“Here [in New Providence] we snorkeled for what we were looking for and we observed organisms in their own habitat and found out what nature gave us,” Goodwin said.
Jasmine Rainer, a sophomore at GSU said the environmental science class gave her a better understanding of how to assess the environment. “I never saw myself walking in forests and assessing the plants or seeing a snake skin and the actual presence of a snake being there,” she said.
Brittany Wroble, a junior at GSU said her most memorable experience in New Providence was visiting the “Over-the-Hill” areas of New Providence to look for rodents and to assess these areas for contamination. “I thought this was really interesting as well as the effort of the students to try and help to prevent malaria,” Wroble said.
Mollette Jackson said in addition to enjoying the experience of assessing the environment of New Providence, she also developed a greater appreciation of the rich history of The Bahamas after touring the historic Clifton Heritage site and the “sacred space” statues.
Clifton Heritage is the landing site for some of the first African slaves who were brought to The Bahamas and the “sacred space” are elegant carvings of women that are bent towards the ocean and to Africa. Their eyes delineate the space and the metal bells in the trees carry their voices back to Africa.
Tiyana Brown, a sophomore, was also awed by the Clifton Heritage site and its garden. “We learned a lot about how the reefs were affected as well as the medicinal plants of the Clifton Heritage garden. I was very influenced as I would like to get more into health science and wholistic medicine,” Brown said.
Kaye Odwin, a sophomore, said while she loved every aspect of the class, she mostly enjoyed snorkeling to observe underwater marine life as well as interacting with local residents.
“We learned a lot from the Department of Environmental Health about how they have an infestation of rodents and mosquitoes and I actually learned a few things that I would check out in my area and around my house for mosquitos. I also enjoyed shopping at the straw market.”
And as the six days of classes wrapped up for the 10 GSU students, there was one day of downtime at the end of the week where students got the opportunity to shop at the straw market and visit the Atlantis Resort to experience Junkanoo.
Meanwhile, Steinau, who hosted the students for the first time ever on an international fieldtrip, said she would most definitely plan another week-long Study Abroad trip for her Environmental Science students next summer.
“It has been a rewarding experience for me. It was a learning opportunity, and this was my first time doing it, and I definitely enjoyed the group of students that I had,” she said.
“I think that at the end of the seven days those students have not only had a memorable life-educational experience away from home, but they have actually had the ability to work with so many people such as UB [students] and others that treasure the environment and hope to increase sustainable practices.
“It will definitely be a lifelong knowledge for them that is extraordinary, and it has been rewarding, so I will definitely bring another set of students back.”