In the summer of 2000 I had my first opportunity to visit the amazing world of the tropical rainforest. I spent 7 days traveling through Costa Rica with a friend. During our vacation we visited several of Costa Rica’s national parks. It was then that I was first introduced to the amazing biodiversity that can only be found in a tropical rainforests. A Bachelor and Masters degrees worth of biology classes did little to prepare me for the experience I had during my week in the tropics. Prior to my trip I had spent countless hours sitting through lectures and reading texts on the tropical rainforests and the biodiversity that can be found in the tropics. It wasn’t until I was able to immerse myself in the sights, sounds and smells of the rainforest that I was able to begin to truly appreciate this amazing biome.
My interest and desire to learn more about the rainforests has only continued to grow since. Fortunately my wife suggested that we visit Belize on our honeymoon. When she first mentioned Belize I had the same reaction most people have “Were the heck is Belize?”. The wise women that she is, my wife promptly produced the Lonely Planets Travelers guide to Belize. Out of this guide we panned a honeymoon that would ultimately lead me to working with the Sibun Education & Adventure Lodge. During our stay in Belize we spent time at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Adventure Lodge. As fate would have it on our last day there I was given some information about the Sibun Education & Adventure Lodge. After touring the facilities I was determined to bring student groups to Belize to see the wonders of a tropical rainforest.
When I began my fulltime tenure track position at Lincoln Land Community College I was given the opportunity to teach a Marine Biology field course. During my first outing I was fortunate enough to shadow an instructor who had previously taught the course. This shadowing opportunity was crucial in allowing me an easy transition into the challenges of teaching field courses. After the first trip I was hooked. I then proceeded to develop a Biological Field Studies (Bio 209) course that would provide every professor a basic course template that would allow them to teach a general field studies course. My first Biological Field Studies course was to Costa Rica. After running the course in Costa Rica I decided to relocate the course to the Sibun Education & Adventure Lodge I had discovered in Belize. The staff at the Sibun Education & adventure Lodge made his transition a smooth and easy process.
The first ever Lincoln Land Community College Belize trip was conducted January 2- 7, 2007. I had a group of 23 students and 2 professors. The success of the first trip to Belize has inspired me to continue to offer field courses to Belize using the Sibun Education & Adventure Lodge. The change I witnessed in the students that went on the field course was incredible. Many of them had never traveled outside of the U.S. while some had never even traveled outside of Illinois. Belize offered them an amazing opportunity to experience a new world. The students were exposed to a completely new ecosystem compared to the one in Illinois but they were also exposed to a completely different culture. The educational opportunities experienced by students who take field courses will go well beyond the actual course itself. An increase in their level of confidence, maturity, changing their world view, and having a greater appreciation for the things we have in our lives are only a few of the changes I have witnessed in students who have attended a field course. The results of the Belize trip firmly convinced me to shift all of my field courses to the Sibun Education & Adventure Lodge.