There’s a first time for everything
By Jessa Barnard
August 28, 2018

Three years ago this month, a close mentor of mine (and now predecessor) invited me to consider leading a section of the ACES freshmen discovery courses which included a study abroad program over winter break.  Thinking about how I’d never been to that country and certainly wasn’t a subject matter expert in the field of study, I felt severely inadequate and underqualified to venture into this unknown territory.  Well, you know how this ends. I decided to take the challenge, hoping the reward would be similar to what I had witnessed in previous programs I had co-led through my role as experiential learning coordinator in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. 

The reward I’m referring to is a front row seat to students’ lives being changed, worldviews being challenged, and comfort zones being stretched.  Research is more evident than ever that international and cultural experiences are leading to students being better prepared for the workplace, specifically in a global workforce.  Study abroad experiences during the freshman year are proving to lead to higher college retention rates, and a better understanding of a student’s role in the ACES ecosystem.

This fall semester, the College of ACES will be offering three separate freshman year winter break experience programs led by academic staff and instructors who play an influential role in our students’ lives.  Students will have an opportunity to delve into the topics of agricultural production systems and environmental sustainability in the region of Latin America. They will learn about history, culture, and even employment policies. Then they will get to travel to either Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, or Panama, to see for themselves how farms operate, policies govern, people form communities, and so much more. It is from these experiences that we continually see students making radical decisions to engage in the international community, build relationships and networks, and learn more than they ever could have inside the four walls of a classroom on campus.

I imagine these students feel much like I did three years ago: inexperienced, unsure about the unknown, anxious, and excited.  I’m so thankful that my mentor invited me to lead that program to Guatemala three years ago; for it is through that journey that I experienced growth and challenge.  I am hopeful and excited for our freshmen students that are about to embark on a journey of their own.