Abroad Program Yields Research Projects - Hobart and William Smith Colleges
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Students, Associate Professor of Biology Meghan Brown and her son, Griffin, stop for a photo before hiking Volcano San Pedro.

Abroad Program Yields Research Projects

Mary Buck '17 helps out during lunchtime atDuring a short-term study abroad trip to Guatemala in the summer of 2016, seven students began research projects confronting a range of ecological and social challenges facing the country.

The project by Marilyn Buck ’17 and Tyler Sutherland ’18, “Perceptions of Short-Term Volunteer Workers in Guatemala,” explores the impacts of “voluntourism,” in which short-term visitors perform service work. Working with Assistant Professor of Psychology Brien Ashdown — who led the trip with Associate Professor of Biology Meghan Brown — Buck and Sutherland set out to understand perceptions of voluntourism and the short-term volunteer workers.

“We’re hoping that these interviews will help us understand why the volunteers go to Guatemala, how they view their work and how the locals view their work,” says Ashdown, noting the more than 30 interviews with volunteers, Guatemalans and long-term residents working in social welfare fields, who often collaborate with the short-term workers.

Buck, who has drawn on the interviews for her Honors project, will present the findings in March at the annual conference of the Society for Cross-Cultural Research in New Orleans.

With “Ecology and Psychology in the Lake Atitlán Region of Guatemala,” Hannah Nichols ’17 examines connections between changes in the culture, ecology and psychology of the Lake Atitlán region and the lake’s pollution.

Since returning from Guatemala, Nichols has been coding transcriptions and recordings of focus group interviews, identifying patterns and themes among citizens’ observations about the pollution and its effects. Nichols will also present her findings at the Society for Cross-Cultural Research conference.

For several years, Ashdown and his students’ research has helped secure and maintain grant funding for Amigos de Santa Cruz, an organization devoted to improving education and health in a village battling high rates of poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy. Using surveys and interviews from the organization, Ashdown and his HWS students then analyze the data, which is used in progress reports and evaluate policies and practices for the Amigos de Santa Cruz’s benefactors.

Now in the project’s fifth round of data collection, Cailey Mastrangelo ’19 and Shengyuan “Sharon” Tong ’18 are looking at the success of Amigos de Santa Cruz’s attempt to boost health and literacy by developing a sex education program in local schools.

Their work thus far in “Determining the Effectiveness of a Sex Ed Program in Guatemala” is having wide-ranging impacts on student knowledge, Mastrangelo says, from understanding about types of cervical cancer tests to domestic abuse survivor resources.

In “Assessing a Model Classroom Program in Guatemala,” Samantha Bowers ’17 and Carlos Robles ’18 also collaborated with Amigos de Santa Cruz on an early childhood education program.

Since Amigos started a pre-K program in the village several years ago, HWS students have been studying the differences in student performance between Amigos-affiliated classes and those with no connection to the group. Using an interview process Ashdown helped develop, the data collected at the end of each school year was sent to Geneva and analyzed by Ashdown and students, like Bowers, Robles and Kristin Ressel ’16, who later conducted an Honors project,  “Modeling Education: The Effectiveness of a ‘Model’ Classroom for Early Childhood Education in Guatemala.”

For Bowers, the immersion in such research has made her appreciate the “small changes like teacher and parent involvement in the classroom” in boosting student interest and behavior. “I am glad to be working on an ongoing research project that has already made such a valuable impact on these children and that has the potential to make even more of a difference on their lives.”

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