The scholars played African drums while learning about St. Kitts and Nevis’ culture.

Nine honors students explored diverse ecosystems, helped locals preserve their rich history and refurbished a school’s labs during a service-learning trip to the Caribbean.

The UCF President’s Scholars spent two weeks on St. Kitts and Nevis following four weeks of lectures about the island nation. Students learned about and experienced the country’s history, culture, politics, economics and people.

“From spending time with the youngest students on St. Kitts, to hearing the stories of the older generations on Nevis, I felt connected to the people of the Islands as a whole,” said sophomore Chemistry major Nomi Sherwin. “In hiking in the rainforest, learning to play cricket and helping to find nesting sea turtles, I have to say that my eyes were opened to a whole new world.”

The scholars played African drums and witnessed folklore in the form of a masquerade. They also learned the art of gathering oral histories and interviewed several community elders.

Students shadowed doctors and nurses making their rounds at a local hospital. To generate more interest in the sciences, they also refurbished and painted the science and computer labs at a primary school.

“With the presence of both a rainforest and the ocean, it is imperative that the students of St. Kitts become interested in science,” Sherwin said. “Students flock to careers in business, but few, if any, pursue careers in the sciences. It is our hope that, with the new science and computer labs, students will learn more and want to go into science-related fields.”

UCF students also helped to design gardens that are part of Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College’s alternate farming project, which uses minerals from water instead of soil to grow crops. This technique conserves space, cost and resources, expanding agricultural production.

In its seventh year, The President’s Scholars Program provides a study abroad experience to UCF’s highest-achieving honors students. This was the program’s third trip to St Kitts and Nevis. Students in prior years studied in Italy and England.

“This year was especially important because of the deeper impact and the sustainability of our projects in education, public health, sustainable agriculture, oral history and African drumming,” said Kevin Meehan, an associate professor of English whose research focuses on Caribbean literature.

The program enriches the students’ education at UCF and strengthens their applications for scholarships, said Martin Dupuis, assistant dean of the Burnett Honors College and an associate professor of Political Science. Meehan and Dupuis, both of whom have organizational and family ties to the island nation, organized the trip and traveled with the students.

Their travels included a hike up the tallest mountain in St. Kitts, Mt. Liamigua, a volcano with a water-filled crater where students enjoyed a refreshing swim.  While most of the students hiked up almost 4,000 feet, one student experienced the volcano tour quite differently. Sophomore Nursing major Kristi Ray put on her scuba gear and dove from the Atlantic coast through caves, eventually reaching the volcano’s crater pond. On the way, Ray swam with hammerhead sharks and leatherback turtles.

Students monitored sea turtles during another part of the trip, and they encountered a mother leatherback who had just laid eggs.

“I crawled into the ocean next to her as she made her way back into the sea,” said Brittany Broder, a sophomore Mechanical Engineering major. “It was a life-changing night that really opened my eyes to the beauty and wonder of nature.”