Belize Project, 2007-2008


Mary Ann Studer, Assistant Professor of Physical Science, will analyze macro and micro nutrients in the agricultural fields of indigenous farmers on the periphery of the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area. This study will compile three years of soil testing to ascertain trends in nutrient levels for specific fields in an effort to promote more effective farming practices. Finally, Studer will also study the feasibility of installing a solar grid to provide electricity to the school in San Carlos, an agricultural village on the New River Lagoon, Belize.


Robin Kratzer, Director, Academic Resource Center, will act as videographer for the ground work in Belize, including compiling visual data from the past three years of the project and developing a data storage and management system. Kratzer intends to develop a documentary of the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area project. A secondary focus of her project will be research on the relationship between the educational system and individual economic progress. Finally, Kratzer will provide support and supervision for McMaster student Scholars.

Steve Smith, Division Chair, Arts and Humanities, will explore the potential for community economic growth through marketing locally produced handcrafts. The project will also explore possible funding mechanisms, the identification of potential markets, the level of local interest in developing a market for Mayan handcrafts, and the development of marketing strategies. Smith will also provide support and supervision for McMaster student Scholars.


Robin Diers, Senior, Environmental Science - This project will explore feasibility of introducing and cultivating shade grown coffee crops in Rio Bravo; test soils to determine levels of nutrients; and pilot a project to introduce more environmentally friendly crop and cultivation methods. Project includes plans to research sources of seeds for shade specific coffee species that will grow in Belize; the soil requirements of those seeds and a market analysis of demand for the product to be presented to farmers in the region.

Pam Gibson, Senior, Forensic Science - This project will conduct tests for intestinal parasites in the water supply with a focus on the water supplies that most directly affect the local population, i.e. wells and water sources used by schools and communities. This project builds upon and extends previous student research and includes a plan to develop a remediation protocol to return to the residents should intestinal parasites be discovered.

Matt King, Sophomore, Integrated Math - This project will test for acid rain damage in the local environment. The project specifically focuses on testing for low pH levels in stream water, rain-water catch, and proximal soils in a wide ranging survey of the conservation area. If low pH levels are found, further analysis of wind patterns will be made in an attempt to determine the cause and origin of the acid rain.

Valerie Munson, Senior, Social Work - This project will conduct a needs assessment of local social needs, especially in the areas of health care, education, nutrition and employment opportunities. Research will also be done on available resources to meet these needs in local communities. The project will devise an action plan for establishing local partnerships to meet those needs, focusing on using already available local resources as a primary way to meet identified needs.

Michael Rostocil, Senior, Forensic Science - This project will provide a baseline survey of the potability of drinking water in rural areas. The survey will include both ground water and surface water sources. In-depth analysis of the water will provide information on biological and chemical contaminants, hardness, and pH of the available drinking water in rural communities. This information will be used to assess the need for/ value of purification systems in rural areas.

Kyle Shong, Sophomore, Integrated Social Studies - This project will be expanding upon a previous project to document native plant species. The project will focus on medicinal plants, their identification and use as described by local individuals. The intent is to create an educational video involving local individuals explaining various plant usages and to provide this video to program for Belize for future use.

Alyssa Shuherk, Senior, Middle Childhood Science and Social Studies - This project will work with San Carols Government School to expand their book collection, create a reading corner, and establish scholarship fund. Efforts to expand the book collection will include a project called Child-2-Child encouraging children in the Defiance College community to contribute their favorite books and exchange information and photos with the children of the San Carlos Government School, thereby creating connections between the two communities and expanding the cultural horizons of local children.

Kaitlin Studer, Junior, Biology - This Project will continue previous research on the impact of habitat decline on levels of biodiversity in the region, specifically through a biodiversity estimate survey in plots in various ecosystems in and around the Rio Bravo. It will follow-up last year's project by distributing copies of the book written by Studer, "Leaving Wild, A Case for Saving the Yellow-Headed Parrot" to various community partner organizations. In response to previous research, the project plans to raise funds to purchase and distribute research field packs for educational purposes to the school in San Carlos.