Student Stories: Agricultural, extension education major does research in Belize

Olivia Murphy-Sweet was alone when she ventured into San Jose Succotz, a rural village in the Central American country of Belize.

To supplement her coursework as an agricultural and extension education major and international agriculture minor, the senior made the five-week trip last summer to conduct research under the guidance of one of her professors.

"By talking to the locals and observing existing programs and customs, I researched whether a long-term agricultural education program was feasible," she explained.

The results of her research are still to be determined, but if they show that Belizean natives are interested in agricultural education, eventually a program such as 4-H would be introduced to the rural Belizean society. It would teach youth about farming practices and promote the field of agriculture.

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A Mechanicsburg native, Olivia Murphy-Sweet -- shown here with a youth group in Belize -- investigated whether a program such as 4-H could be introduced to the rural Belizean society. It would teach youth about farming practices and promote the field of agriculture.

Image: Penn State

The Mechanicsburg native quickly became integrated into the community, partly due to her accommodating host family and also due to the mainstream English language. "It was easy to get acquainted because most people spoke English as well as Spanish -- no language barrier," she said.

Though Belize is an impoverished country, Murphy-Sweet's host family was rather fortunate.

"They owned the town's restaurant, had two cars and a nice home. I got my own room, and they took care of all my meals and laundry, whether I wanted them to or not!" she recalled.

Her research was fully funded by grants given through the College of Agricultural Sciences and the international agriculture minor. She even had a surplus of funding and was able to collect a stipend for the time she spent working.

This semester, Murphy-Sweet is student teaching at Walter Biddle Saul High School in Philadelphia, a school that specializes in agricultural science. "I love it! I teach environmental science to seniors and animal science to sophomores," she said.

Though she enjoys being in a structured high school, she will teach "in the field" this year, as she plans to join the Peace Corps for a two-year commitment.

"I've received an invitation for a program centered in Senegal, Africa, where I will be a sustainable-agriculture agent. I will instruct the locals in planting methods and nutrition, and I'll also teach agriculture in local high schools," she said.

Whether it is to Belize, Senegal or the United States, Murphy-Sweet will take her passion for agriculture and education wherever she goes.

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Last Updated April 14, 2016