A number of groups of Abilene Christian University students and faculty, and some alumni, devoted their Spring Break week March 9-15 to travel for academic experiences, often with missions opportunities. Several shared their experiences and images with us.Dr. Tom Lee, professor and chair of ACU’s Department of Biology, took his General Mammalogy class to the Big Bend region of Southwest Texas. The group of 18 stayed at the Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area, where they experienced rare sightings of desert bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope herds maintained there. “We studied the desert habitat, including the vegetation, but focused mainly on the mammal population,” said senior Rachel Ritchie. “We observed the species of rodents living in that environment, including kangaroo rats, pocket mice and ground squirrels. We also spent a day at Big Bend hiking and discussing the unique geology of the park.”
Throughout the week each student kept notes about what they saw and learned in a journal on which they will be graded. “This was my third trip with a biology department class,” said Ritchie, who plans to study biology at the graduate level. “Field trips like this one are a priceless opportunity for students to observe and learn field techniques.”
Three students accompanied Dr. Alan Lipps (’93) of ACU’s School of Social Work to the Chickasaw nation on Native American lands near Ada, Okla. They were hosted by former ACU marriage and family therapy professor Dr. Waymon Hinson, who is executive officer of the Chickasaw’s Division of Family Resources.
Senior Abbie Rose, freshman Casey Ellis and sophomore Astrid Tzoc met longtime Chickasaw nation governor Bill Anoatubby; discussed history, culture and language with Joshua Hinson (’01), director of the tribe’s language revitalization program; experienced cultural sites; visited with Department of Family Services secretary Jay Keel; met local social work clients; and gained an understanding of how local, state and federal programming intersects on the Chickasaw nation.
Nine pre-health professions majors were joined by Dr. Greg (’80) and Dr. Cynthia (Barton ’81) Powell from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry on a trip to Haiti to serve as support staff at LiveBeyond, a multi-facted humanitarian relief effort coordinated by trauma surgeon David M. Vanderpool, M.D. (’82) and his wife, Laurie (Stallings ’81), and their family. Students from Texas A&M University and a group from the Clifton (Texas) Church of Christ also were a part of the team.
LiveBeyond, formerly known as Mobile Medical Disaster Relief, is based in Thomazeau, about a two-hour drive from the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The nonprofit organization provides medical care, clean water and nutritional support to those who are devastated by natural and man-made disasters. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and was devastated by a major earthquake in 2010 that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Since then, infrastructure repair has moved slowly, and the country has been plagued with the highest cholera rate in the world.
About every three weeks, a medical clinic trip to Haiti is organized by LiveBeyond for volunteers who assist Vanderpool and his staff. The ACU group helped with intake of patients, assisted at a scabies clinic and in general, provided “an extra pair of hands” to physicians and nurse practitioners. They also filled bags with rice and beans they later handed out to Haitian families, and visited an orphanage.
The first week in April, ACU nursing students and faculty will participate in the next medical clinic trip to LiveBeyond.
“Students who visit Haiti have the opportunity to be challenged about the way they think about nearly everything, and to consider how to use their gifts to help others in need. It’s an eye-opening experience to be in a third-world country so near to our own, and see the challenges everywhere you look,” said Cynthia, associate professor of chemistry and health professions advisor at ACU. “I was very impressed by the comprehensiveness of the Vanderpools’ plans. David and Laurie are people willing to follow their passion and make sacrifices to do what they think is right. They are great role models for our students.”
About 30 students majoring in nursing and other health professions gained some valuable hands-on experience when they joined physicians and nurses from Abilene and across the nation in a Guatemalan “medical evangelism” mission sponsored by Health Talents International.
Senior biology major Andrew Tate was accompanied to Guatemala by his father, Mark Tate, D.D.S. (’80), on one of the 10 surgical team trips HTI conducts annually. “Being able to do medical missions with my father and watch him use his skills was incredible,” Andrew said. “I know it was a rare opportunity to assist him while learning skills I can apply one day to my own career. We’ve been blessed with a fantastic friendship and being able to serve together did nothing but build upon it.”
Other ACU students assisted orthopedic surgeons or ophthalmologists during surgery at Clinica Ezell or on HTI mobile medical/dental clinics in surrounding communities. Students also prayed with patients, read scripture and sang for them, and played with children.
“Here in the U.S. it is so easy to take for granted all of the physical blessings we have, like houses to shelter and keep us comfortable, clean water, smooth roads, readily available food, consistent electricity, and so on,” said Andrew. “I had a pretty good preconception of what we were going to see in Guatemala but it was still a slap in the face to experience it first hand. The people we met were unbelievably joyful and grateful about everything, yet they had nothing. The Guatemalan people showed me that joy is not dependent on your situation but on your decision to choose happiness and contentment.”