Austin Peay State University recently launched the inaugural APSU Goes Global program, an international service-learning opportunity now open to juniors in the President’s Emerging Leaders Program (PELP) and TRiO Student Support Services.
APSU Goes Global is led by Dr. Matthew Kenney, director of the President’s Emerging Leaders Program and associate professor of political science. This year’s destination was the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost island nation in the Caribbean located seven miles from the coast of Venezuela. Nineteen students and three faculty members from APSU participated in the project during spring break in early March.
Partnering with Habitat for Humanity Trinidad and Tobago, the students worked to complete the foundation of a house for Anita McPherson, a resident of KPland in Valencia, Sangre Grande, Trinidad, along with her daughter and five grandchildren. Currently, the McPherson family is living in a dilapidated house along with McPherson’s two sons.
The work that the students did included shoveling sand and gravel, carrying and stacking concrete blocks, and mixing and pouring concrete for the foundation of the house.
While working on the house was important, some of the most memorable work for the students was making connections with the local community. Mason Yost, physics major and member of PELP, commented on a connection he made with Daniel, a young boy from the community, who shared his desire to be a reporter.
“(Daniel) wants to be a reporter so that he can write down people’s stories,” Yost said. “Hopefully, we gave him some stories of his own that he can write down and tell his kids about.”
In addition, students made important contacts with members of the Habitat for Humanity Global Village team, as well as the Habitat for Humanity chapter at the University of the West Indies (UWI) St. Augustine Campus.
Molly Mitchell, PELP junior and education major, was encouraged by the visit to UWI. “It was nice to see people our own age that were doing the same thing that we’re doing, and it was great to see their involvement with Habitat for Humanity down there.”
The trip to Trinidad and Tobago affected the students’ desires to continue working with those in need. Aubrey Harris, a PELP junior and chemistry major, said the trip has helped to reinforce her decision to go to medical school.
Mitchell also said the trip helped to solidify her own career choice as a teacher, and that the experience she had in Trinidad would affect the way that she addresses diversity and need in her classroom. While in Trinidad, she and three other members of the build team were able to visit the classroom of one of the boys in the McPherson family to donate school supplies.
“Their enthusiasm struck me the most, just because they have so little as far as resources go in their classroom,” Mitchell said. “They seemed very inquisitive about us and they loved to learn.”
Students are also taking steps to revive the campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Kenney said he hopes to start further projects to build on the APSU Goes Global experience.
“There would be a continuity between doing that work here locally and then the international project junior year,” he said. “It would work together.”
Drew Kerr, a junior member of PELP and physics major, noted the importance of the program to both the President’s Emerging Leaders Program and APSU.
“I think this is an important feature of the PELP experience, and helping to reinforce and reemphasize our program’s mission and goals, and especially to tie into APSU Goes Global and this impact that Austin Peay wants to have internationally and on the service level,” he said.
Yost also commented on how the program was filling a specific need in both the leadership program and for the University at large, as well as the need for more practical experience outside the classroom.
“It’s hard a lot of the time to step out of your boundaries, and that’s how you really are going to test what you’ve done in class,” he said. “It’s hard to press those boundaries, but this is the perfect way.” - written by APSU student Mary Barczak