Penn State Berks' Scarpaci helps to lead sustainability program in Jamaica

August 27, 2015

As part of the college’s and University’s commitment to sustainability, Betsy Scarpaci, assistant director for Student Affairs/Residence Life at Penn State Berks, recently helped to lead a trip to Jamaica for a group of incoming Penn State students through the "LEAP in Jamaica: Sustainability Research Abroad" program.

LEAP in Jamaica is geared toward allowing students to gain a better understanding of sustainability while engaging with the world around them. Students explore their role as global citizens, as well as the impact of human behavior on the environment.

Under the guidance of Neil Brown, assistant professor of geography at Penn State's University Park campus, Scarpaci helped lead the group on the excursion. Brown has years of experience leading sustainability research courses and study abroad programs, from his successful "Parks and People" program to the embedded course LEAP program that he provides for incoming freshmen.

“We want to engage students on multiple levels in global learning, right out of the gate, and create learning opportunities that are holistic and appropriate for where they are in the process of learning,” said Brown. “The idea of travel abroad should not be reserved for any group. It should be affordable and open to first-year students so they have an opportunity to explore their options early.”

The group of 16 incoming students, four student mentors, one alumnus, and five faculty members arrived in Jamaica on July 25 and departed on Aug. 1. Every day, the group met for morning discussions in the outdoor classroom, followed by excursions where they visited various sites, such as Durga’s Den Sustainability Centre and Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency, and learned about sustainability firsthand.

Durga’s Den is a collective effort of people from around the world who have left their mark with various projects promoting the use of permaculture principles. While there, the group viewed and discussed several sustainability initiatives, including compost toilets that used sawdust, solar and wind power generators, and composting stations, just to name a few.

During a visit to Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency, the group learned about the impacts of chemicals, pesticides and mining in the Cockpit Country, Jamaica's largest remaining contiguous rainforest.

Scarpaci explained that the Cockpit Country has a rich ecosystem, which is plentiful in bauxite, an aluminum ore that is the world's main source of aluminum. However, the mining of bauxite would destroy the ecosystem of the region.

Students also witnessed wildlife in Jamaica. Scarpaci wrote in an online blog entry, “Several of our students had quite an evening as they were able to experience sea turtles laying eggs. We watched for over an hour as the turtles found the perfect spot to dig holes, lay eggs, and finally cover up the babies. This incredible experience helped our students engage in a thoughtful conversation about the impacts of human and wildlife interaction, as well as the importance of protecting our wildlife.”

For students attending the trip to Jamaica, the Earth and Mineral Science first-year seminar was the second course in a two-course series dealing with human interaction with the environment and eco-tourism. The first course, Rhetoric and Composition, dealt with sustainability and communication.

Scarpaci also accompanied Brown on the Parks and People course to South Africa in the spring of 2014. While there, the faculty communicated with students in a geography course at University Park campus using Skype technology.

Students at Penn State Berks will soon be able to experience sustainability initiatives in South Africa and other countries without leaving campus, thanks to the efforts of Brown and Scarpaci. They have been instrumental in bringing an interactive kiosk to campus where students will be able to experience global sustainability with other Penn State students. Penn State Berks is the only campus in the Penn State system to have such a kiosk.

The kiosk, which includes an iPad and flat-screen television, was part of a Penn State Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) grant, written by Brown and colleagues. The grant proposal included Penn State Berks, which became the pilot campus for the initiative.

“We are hoping to build a bridge between learning overseas and students,” said Scarpaci. “We hope to start a global conversation about citizenship."

  • head shot of Scarpaci
    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated August 27, 2015