For dance major Lester Gamez, ’19, a short-term study trip in 2016 led to a life-changing experience this summer. Gamez first traveled to Guatemala last summer with a group of students led by Associate Professor of Psychology Brien Ashdown and Associate Professor of Biology Meghan Brown.
“The focus was on cultural research in Guatemala,” says Ashdown. “The students spent a week taking Spanish classes and experiencing cultural things—historic sites, natural resources, etc. Then we spent some time doing focus groups and water-based biology research on a lake in the highlands.”
The group also visited Escuela Proyecto La Esperanza, or School of Hope in Jocotenango, a visit that had a profound influence on Gamez. “I had the best experiences working with the children and I knew for sure that I wanted to return to continue my work at the school,” he says.
True to his word, Gamez returned this summer to School of Hope, where he and the school’s resident music teacher created a dance curriculum for the school’s more than 500 elementary and middle school children.
While teaching dance to his students, Gamez also learned. “As a young developing artist, this experience pushed me to create more and to be prepared. Teaching the students and having them reciprocate what was taught validated my work.” He left the experience, he says, with more confidence in his craft as well as a more advanced set of skills in working with children.
Already fluent in Spanish, Gamez, who is a Guatemalan-American, says that adapting to the environment wasn’t difficult. He lived with several other volunteers at a local home and was able to travel and explore the country on his own.
“When I traveled by myself I had the liberty to choose what to do, but also the responsibility for being in charge of myself and being more independent,” he says.
Gamez credits much of his success in Guatemala with skills learned as a Posse Scholar. The Posse Foundation provides extra support to students from public high schools who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes. HWS has partnered with the foundation since 2012. He’s also grateful for funding provided by the Salisbury Center for Career, Professional and Experiential Education.
“Posse has helped me develop team building and facilitator skills,” says Gamez. “I applied these skills in class [in Guatemala] and that helped me build trust with my students.”