Student Learns About Sustainable Energy in Belize

Matt Rohde

By Mike McKissack

College of DuPage student Matt Rohde, with HVACR Program Coordinator Bob Clark, recently visited Belize for hands-on work with sustainable energy and its uses in Central America.

According to Clark, the trip came about through the encouragement of fellow educators and a successful application to the College’s Global Education Initiatives program available through the Field and Experiential Learning, Study Abroad and Global Education office.

He noted, however, that the trip was no day at the beach.

“When I tell people that I went to Belize, they think that I was sitting on a resort and drinking Mai Tais,” Clark said. “It was more like sleeping in harsh conditions, working in the heat of the day, and experiencing life as a Mayan villager. Our group experienced both island cultures and inland cultures. We were not on vacation, we were there to work."

Administered by Madison College, this year’s study abroad service learning experience included 11 participants representing four community colleges. Students had the opportunity to learn about renewable energy technologies while making a difference in the lives of people in the developing world. During the trip, students engaged in hands-on installation of renewable energy systems, while learning about the geography, history and culture of Belize and the Central American region, as well as learning how issues of energy, the environment and economy in developing countries differ from those in the United States.

 “When I heard about the trip to Belize I jumped on it,” said COD student Matt Rohde. “I am very passionate about sustainability and renewable energy, so the ability to help people while also learning about one of my passions sealed the deal and made me decide to go.”

Rohde double majored in economics and management and earned his bachelor’s degree from Elmhurst College, graduating Summa Cum Laude. Currently employed at Tradewater, a company dedicated to improving the quality of the environment and creating economic opportunity through the collection and destruction of greenhouse gasses, he is also completing the Building Environmental Associate degree program at COD. He described the trip as a “robust blend of technical and cultural learning.”

"The primary focus was technical in nature; our group performed maintenance and installation of PV modules," Rhode said. "We also had the opportunity to tour an existing large-scale PV system at the University of Belize. However, when we weren't working we often stayed in Mayan villages, which is where the cultural piece came in. The history books often teach us that the Mayans are long extinct, which isn't true. They continue to have a rich culture as well as many struggles, which is true of many indigenous people."

Rohde said that while he and the other participants felt the impact of resource constraints almost daily, working under the challenging circumstances did provide benefit.

"I think experiences like this are beneficial in two ways," he said. "First and foremost, it helped me realize how incredibly lucky we are in the U.S. I can drive over to Home Depot any time I need something, but this is not the case in most of the world. Beyond that, the issues we faced forced us to be creative in solving problems, which is an invaluable skill."

Clark said the trip was a great opportunity for students to not only experience another culture and gain hands-on experience with sustainable energy technology, but also to see how valuable their education and knowledge is to people in a third world country.

"In third world countries, there is a direct correlation between the standard of living and technical and skilled workforce education," Clark said. "During the trip, we were able to troubleshoot and repair the entire electrical system for the University of Belize's Marine Research Center. Once we were ready to turn the power back on, there was a bit of doubt by the locals that the electrical systems would work. I looked at them and said 'America' before i threw the switch. The power came on and after that point I became 'America Bob' to the residents.

Click here to learn more about the HVACR program at College of DuPage.

College of DuPage is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Serving approximately 27,000 students each term, College of DuPage is the largest public community college in the state of Illinois. The College grants nine associate degrees and offers more than 170 career and technical certificates in over 50 areas of study.

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