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The Tropics: Opportunities and Challenges Campus 

The Tropics: Opportunities and Challenges

Vanier College is known for its amazing programs and courses. The college is continuously updating the courses offered on campus, and one of the newest ones is the universal complimentary course titled “The Tropics: Opportunities and Challenges – An Exploration of Human-Environment Relationships in Belize”. The teachers of the class for the Winter 2016 semester, the first semester that it is being given, are Myriam Mansour (Geography, Coordinator of the Sustainability Major) and Quentin Van Ginhoven (Coordinator of the Environmental and Wildlife Management program, and chaperone for the trip to Belize). The teachers for the coming semesters will most probably be Myriam Mansour and Brandee Diner (Environmental and Wildlife Management), who was actually the one who came up with the idea for the class, but who recently fell ill and sadly won’t be able to be a part of it for this semester.

The class consists of examining the opportunities and challenges that tropical countries face even though they may be rich in natural resources and have a high population density/population growth. The main country of focus for the course is Belize, due to its many unique characteristics: it has the lowest population density but the second highest population growth rate in Central America, along with a wide variety of wildlife and ecosystems. Not to mention the fact that 60% of its landmass is covered by beautiful forests, and it is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world (which are quickly disappearing), and finally, its strong environmental protection policies.

The course is appealing to many students because it covers different topics, such as resource sciences, sustainability, biodiversity, culture, economics, geography, international development, sociology, history, tourism, and the list goes on. That’s why there is a complicated process behind who gets chosen to be a part of the course. Whoever wants to take this course has to apply by a deadline, the semester before they would be taking the class. They must write a 200-word letter of intent explaining why they would like to take the course and what they would contribute, and submit it to the two teachers who will be leading the class. Follow-up involves an hour-long interview with both of the teachers. After all the letters have been submitted and all the applicants have been interviewed, the teachers sit down to discuss who will be accepted. The process seems more threatening than it really is; if you work well with others, have a good personality, and a passion for the environment, there’s nothing to worry about.

As stated above, if you have a passion for the environment, this is the perfect class for you because the material focuses on the ecosystems, environmental policies, sustainability, and biodiversity of Belize. The learning process is taken very seriously, and the teachers in this class expect each and every one of their students to participate to the best of their abilities. Evaluation is based on various assignments and activities such as trip journals, ecological footprint analyses, class presentations, and group projects.  Since the course includes a field trip to Belize to gain a better understanding of the relationship between the humans living there and their environment, the students have to get along very well, and form a tighter bond than they would with people from their other classes, which is why it is very interactive.

Finally, the fieldtrip to Belize; this is where the theoretical meets the practical. The students will be studying the human-environment relationship of Belize for the first part of the semester. Half-way through the term, they will be enriched with an intensive study experience, where they will have the opportunity to experience what they’ve covered in class in a hands-on and personal kind of way. Students are allowed to choose who they want to bunk with, and all are expected to include anyone and everyone. Participants must be physically fit and ready to get down and dirty, because the trip includes many strenuous hikes in the tropical rainforest, as well as exploring the barrier reef, wildlife preserves, Mayan ruins, and agricultural production sites. Once the fieldtrip is over, the final project combines what each person learned in class with what they learned hands-on in Belize.

For more information on the course, have a look at this PowerPoint presentation on the Vanier website:

By Kirstin Lachance

Originally Published: February 2016

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