The study abroad opportunity I was provided during spring break by the Honors College and the Center for Global Education at UTC was the most memorable, impactful travel experience I have ever had. The trip was centered around a research project as part of a Tropical Island Ecology and Geology class. Our focus was to update a trail guide published two decades ago which detailed a part of the interior bush of the island of San Salvador. We were able to spend a week living at the Gerace Research Center where we slept, ate, and conducted research alongside dozens of other university students and professors who came to the island with a similar purpose. It was humbling to be able to learn about the research interests of other students just like us from schools across the country and to be led by two amazing professors, Dr. Ford and Professor Novak, who are so entrenched in the culture and biology of such an amazing place. Every day we were tasked with exploring the trail and surveying the plant and animal life in varying types of environments. I learned how to successfully problem solve and work well alongside my peers while becoming acclimated to the harsh environment of the island and exploring.

We were given the opportunity to snorkel in several reef habitats and see countless species of fish, speak with locals about Bahamian culture and the uniqueness of their everyday life as an island people, and wake up to the sunrise and experience paradise every day. I’ve been fortunate enough to conduct research at UTC with several professors in the past, but nothing has compared to the field experience and real time research that we had the chance to be a part of in San Salvador. Through our project, my group and I were able to assess the lasting impacts of Hurricane Joaquin on the island and determine differences in habitat and plant and animal life as compared to studies done in the past. I am deeply grateful for the personal growth I received during this trip; I learned more about myself during a week on this island than I ever have before. This trip has solidified my interests to pursue a career centered around conservation and advocacy for the environment through scientific research and policy change.

Thomas Wiegand is double majoring in Environmental Science and French with minors in Biology and International Studies. He participated in a faculty led trip to the Bahamas during Spring Break, 2018. Thomas had the following to say about his time abroad, “My study abroad experience in San Salvador changed my life. It gave me a renewed interest for research that could only come from studying in such a picture perfect and unique place as San Salvador. Many thanks to my professors, the Honors College, and the Center for Global Education for making this experience possible.” 

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