Christy Prouty, a Ph.D. student in Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida, reflects on her recent visit to Belize and the 5Cs offices in Belmopan, Belize. Her area of research includes systems dynamics modeling which is used to understand the behavior of complex systems over time. She also enjoys internationally-focused research in water and sanitation.
Climate change, sea level rise, community perceptions, drinking water, sanitation, coastal erosion, water quality monitoring, coral reef degradation, nutrient management, STEM education, and community capacity building— these were some of the topics discussed last month (June 6, 2014) during a meeting between the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (5Cs) and a team of researchers affiliated with the University of South Florida’s Partnership for International Research and Education (USF PIRE) grant. During the introductions, the 5Cs shared insights about their field data and the ways it informed climate change models for predicting impacts across Central America and the Caribbean; the USF group gave an overview of the themes, interdisciplinary nature, existing international partners, and plans for future collaborations within the PIRE grant.
Dr Maya Trotz and Dr Rebecca Zarger of USF articulately described the PIRE themes in Belize as they discussed the integrated anthropology and engineering research that is underway throughout the Placencia Peninsula. One activity, in particular, was highlighted because it demonstrated a way for a University of Belize (UB) student to work alongside USF’s team in the field. The UB student studies sustainable tourism whereas the USF students are working in local schools to build capacity around issues of water and sanitation. Synergies exist as each group seeks to connect with local partners on issues concerning sustainability. In addition, the 5Cs and USF researchers discussed the Monkey River area, a decade-long field site for the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill’s CERMES program. The 5Cs’ own Mr. Earl Green, project officer, and Dr. Ulric Trotz, science advisor and deputy director, actually took some of the USF team there the next day to explore connections with the Placencia research site. Angel Navidad, the 2013 Sagicor Visionaries Challenge winner and his teacher Mrs. Shakira Gonsalez also joined the meeting.
The group brainstormed ideas about potential ways to collaborate (5Cs, USF, and UB) for future proposals so as to leverage the skills of each institution, foster knowledge sharing among partners, and build a holistic/well-rounded research team. Between the 5Cs’ expertise (an understanding of climate change impacts and modeling), USF’s best attributes (interdisciplinary work between engineering and anthropology), and the skills unique to the UB students and faculty (in-depth expertise of resources management/local contexts and access to research data), a cohesive partnership seems to be on the horizon. Should this combined research happen, all of the university students would benefit from the opportunity to work alongside their peers from different backgrounds, cultural identities, and academic fields, thus building their global and professional competencies. The 2014 Sagicor Visionaries Challenge also provides an opportunity for all of these institutions to connect with secondary school students in Belize as mentors for their innovative projects.