Most people don't realize the impact of the environment on everyday life for developing countries, but one Central Michigan University student is keenly aware of it.
Taylor Crowley, an environmental studies major from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, spent a month and a half in the Central American nation of Belize helping orphaned Belizean girls build a better life by constructing a greenhouse to grow food.
"Being able to go to Belize and apply things I learned at CMU to help others was an amazing feeling." — Taylor Crowley, environmental studies student
It wasn't glamorous work: physical labor, no internet, no air conditioning or hot water — and even days with no water at all — but Crowley was inspired by the experience.
Her labors of love abroad only strengthened her resolve to be a champion for the environment.
"It was incredible. I came back feeling a lot calmer and more focused. The trip really solidified that this is what I want to do with my life," Crowley said.
Crowley's internship in Belize was centered around helping the orphaned Belizean girls, who grow food to survive and to sell at the market.
They rely on the harvest, but multiple environmental factors stand in the way of success. Crowley and her supervisor created an efficient and sustainable greenhouse to provide food security for the girls.
Crowley fought the hot sun, scarce water and bugs. The intense heat makes growing certain crops difficult, so they had to find the best materials to cover the greenhouse and work strategically on placement of seedlings. Protecting the crops was equally important, since aphids destroyed an entire season of crops before Crowley's arrival.
"In Belize, sustainability is more a matter of cost and maintenance rather than environmental stewardship," Crowley said.
Planting new ideas
When Crowley wasn't building the greenhouse, she was working with her supervisor, an engineer, to brainstorm solutions to environmental barriers with minimal resources. One of her biggest victories for the greenhouse was implementing a new and more efficient water system.
It happened after her supervisor said the village soon would need to raise the cost of water.
Crowley knew her supervisor's idea — a sprinkler system — would give little control over the amount of water used and the direction of the water. She worried most of the water would be lost to evaporation or wind.
Instead, Crowley suggested hanging a retractable hose from the ceiling, saving valuable floor space and providing complete control of the water flow.
Her idea also prevented damage to plants caused by dragging hoses around the greenhouse. Most importantly, the simple solution provided a low, budget-friendly cost.
Growing outside the classroom
Before going to Belize, Crowley worked as a research assistant to biology faculty member Hunter Carrick in researching algae in Michigan's lakes.
While in Belize, she encountered algae blooms with similar characteristics.
Because of her experience, she was able to write to the Belize Tourism Board and the Ministry of Environment explaining her knowledge of potential solutions.
This pattern continued with most of the work she did in Belize: She was able to apply knowledge from CMU to help make the greenhouse as efficient as possible.
"Being able to go to Belize and apply things I learned at CMU to help others was an amazing feeling," Crowley said.
Nourishing her love of learning
For many students, internships are a great way to explore a career path. In Crowley's case, the internship solidified her love for her chosen path in environmental studies. She returned to CMU more excited about her major than ever.
"Interning in Belize kept my love of learning alive. Getting out of the classroom and applying my knowledge reinforced how much I love what I'm studying," Crowley said.
Written by Abby Fischer, CMU Communications intern