Lycoming College faculty and students make an impact in the Dominican Republic

Lycoming College faculty and students make an impact in the Dominican Republic

Lycoming College students and faculty in the Dominican Republic, May 2018

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Travel to the Dominican Republic provided an interdisciplinary approach for Lycoming College faculty and students in the departments of political science, chemistry, and education, as well as the Center for Energy and the Future, in May 2018. Participants continued to advance the Warrior Coffee Project, studied reliable drinking water sources and the chemical composition of green coffee, helped bring impoverished populations more reliable access to energy, and developed improved pedagogical programming.

Caroline Payne, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and director of the Interdisciplinary Program in the Dominican Republic and the Warrior Coffee Project, introduced students to the Warrior Coffee Project, through which Lycoming College buys the community’s coffee at a fair price. Payne first developed the project in 2013 as part of her course, “Globalization in the Developing World.” Joined by Karl Fisher, owner of Alabaster Coffee & Tea Co. in Williamsport, Pa., and roaster of Warrior Coffee, Lycoming students and faculty conducted a coffee cupping (or tasting) with local coffee farmers to better understand the demands of the international coffee market in order to expand their sales networks and increase incomes in the future. “This cupping serves as another step in preparing farmers to represent themselves on the international coffee market and acquire additional buyers besides Lycoming, thus achieving economic independence,” Payne said.

Jeremy Ramsey, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry, was joined by two student research assistants, Paige Rockwell ’20, a chemistry major, and Cayla Treaster ’20, a biology major in the ecology track. The group researched the characterizing sources of drinking water with respect to bacterial content and the remote measurement of chemical properties of agricultural products related to coffee. “We spent our time in the Dominican Republic asking more detailed questions about the water sources that are used in the homes of residents in Peralta and Las Terrenas, more specifically how development in the Dominican Republic impacts their sources of drinking water,” said Ramsey. “In addition, we performed remote measurement of antioxidant capacity of coffee berries using smartphone photography in an effort to characterize the chemical markers of flavor quality in coffee beans during processing.” The group tested the antioxidants in green coffee. Payne explained that most chemical analyses of coffee are done on either green coffee that has been dried and stored for months or on roasted coffee beans, so this is possibly the first time that measurements of this nature have been performed in an actively growing coffee field.

Jonathan Williamson, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of political science and director of the Center for Energy and the Future, worked with seven students to explore how solar power can provide access to reliable and affordable energy in the developing world through the course, “The Politics of Energy.” Participants installed a solar system on the Las Terrenas International School, which educates children of European, Canadian, and American ex-pats (who pay tuition) alongside scholarship students from the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The savings realized from solar energy will allow them to invest more in student opportunities and further their goal of educating the next generation of diverse Las Terrenas leaders together.

Participants also assisted a local entrepreneur in Peralta, Rady Ramirez, launch his solar business. “We used profits from Lycoming’s Warrior Coffee Project to purchase small, pico solar systems that serve as his initial stock. As a result, Rady is able to sell these much-needed products to local residents and receive small, micro payments back over time, thus making the products affordable and accessible,” said Williamson. “As Rady’s business grows and he is able to repay Lycoming for the cost of that original stock, we will find other projects where those funds can both enhance Lycoming student learning and the quality of life in these Dominican communities.”

The students from Williamson’s course further enhanced their understanding of energy in the developing world by learning to install a small, off-grid solar system at the apartment in Peralta where Lycoming Fellows live year-round while working to advance the full range of Lycoming’s projects in the Dominican Republic. Not only will this system provide more reliable electricity to the fellows, but it will serve as a demonstration project for Ramirez’s business to work with members of the community who may look to upgrade to systems with additional capabilities beyond what pico solar products offer.

Finally, the students conducted needs assessment interviews with the members of the community of El Jamito about their energy needs, access, and affordability. The results of this needs assessment work will shape future collaborations in El Jamito by groups of Lycoming students and faculty traveling to the Dominican Republic.

Students enrolled in the “The Politics of Energy” course included: Evan Armstrong ’21, political science and economics double major and energy science minor; Brittney Gross ’18, Spanish and international studies double major and political science minor; Caleb Herrin ’21, political science major and energy science minor; Karina Leal ’19, political science major; Lilian Muhoza ’18, political science major and French minor; Mikayla Schappert ’20, biology major in the ecology track and German and energy science double minor; and Zach Staver ’21, undeclared major.

“We also launched the second year of the Lycoming College International Development Fellowship Program,” said Payne. The program allows two recent Lycoming graduates to live in Peralta, work to advance existing College projects like coffee and solar, and initiate their own sustainable quality of life projects to address pressing community needs. Furthermore, the apartment the fellows live in now has solar power, thanks to the installation provided by the “Politics of Energy” students during this trip. Payne added, “Not only is this needed for the fellows — given power is usually only available 8-12 hours a day here — but it will serve as a demonstration system for Rady when he is ready to begin selling larger solar systems.”

“The students’ work with our Dominican partners to provide access to solar photovoltaic systems in a variety of local contexts gave them an extraordinary opportunity to better understand the energy challenges particular to the developing world,” said Williamson.

Emily Sampsell ’19, a Spanish major pursuing early childhood teaching certification, served as a research assistant to Rachel Hickoff-Cresko, Ed.D., assistant professor and chair of education. Their research involved conducting needs assessments of the educational systems in the Peralta and Las Terrenas regions. The data collected will serve to inform education-related projects during a May 2019 travel course for students in the education program. Sampsell’s experience is part of the College’s Student Research Grant program, and she will present her research as an on-campus poster in the fall. Sampsell and Hickoff-Cresko also plan to present the information at a scholarly conference.

A Lycoming education creates global citizens with the adaptability, cross-cultural competency, and deep appreciation for truth and lifelong learning that powers business and fuels democracy. Study abroad experiences, such as this field experience to the Dominican Republic, provide students the ability to deepen their intellectual curiosity and expand their worldviews to understand the most important human and societal questions that define their local and global communities.

“My trip to the Dominican Republic has really provided that global and cultural awareness that Lycoming values,” said Armstrong. “This experience has not only shown me other ways of life, but it has made me realize that mine is just one of many that isn't necessarily any better or worse. That idea is reflected in the work we do down there, focusing on sustainable development to improve the quality of life, rather than change the way of life."

All photos were taken by Jeremy Ramsey, Ph.D.