Bob Clark, an HVAC and refrigeration program coordinator at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and student Matt Rohde traveled to Belize with other participants to learn about sustainable energy and its uses in Central America.

The trip, which involved hands-on installation of renewable energy systems, was offered through the college’s Global Education Initiatives program at the Field and Experiential Learning, Study Abroad and Global Education office.

“When I tell people that I went to Belize, they think I was sitting on a resort 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.”

The study abroad service learning experience was administered by Wisconsin-based Madison Area Technical College and included 11 participants from four community colleges. During the trip, students were engaged in the hands-on installation of renewable energy systems and also learned how issues involving 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 Rohde, who’s completing the building environmental associate degree program at the College of DuPage. “I’m 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, who works at Tradewater, a company dedicated to improving the environment and creating economic opportunity through the collection and destruction of greenhouse gases, explained the focus of the trip was mostly technical. The group, he said, performed maintenance and installation of photovoltaic modules.

“We also had the opportunity to tour an existing large-scale PV system at the University of Belize,” Rohde added.

For Clark, he saw the trip as a great opportunity for the students to be immersed in another culture and gain firsthand experience working with sustainable energy technology.

“In third-world countries, there is a direct correlation between their 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. After that point, I became ‘America Bob’ to the residents.”