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From barrier reefs to dense tropical rainforests, the country of Belize offers much to attract the average American.

So while it wasn’t surprising to see a group of students and faculty from UT there during spring break or the second year in a row, their trip was anything but a vacation.


“Our group had a physically demanding week, but one that was rewarding both through the results of their efforts and through the culture they experienced,” said College of Engineering International Coordinator Judith Mallory.

Mallory led fifteen students on the College of Engineering’s Alternative Spring Break to the town of San Ignacio, Belize. The trip marked the first joint project between the College of Engineering and the Chancellor’s Honors Program.

Just over an hour from Belize City, the former capital and home to the country’s major airport, San Ignacio lies only twenty minutes from the Guatemalan border and in the middle of the country’s Cayo District, one of the four regions that make up Belize.

It was there that the team completed building a root cellar with earth-filled bags— work begun in 2015 by another UT group. A small dormitory will eventually top the cellar.

Though it takes much preparation and labor, such construction has two benefits: low cost and resiliency.

“Earth bag technology is appropriate for this part of the world because of earthquakes; they can accommodate shifts without causing the building to collapse,” said Mallory. “Additionally, because material is sourced by what’s available at the site, the overall cost to build this way versus traditional post-and-beam construction is much less.”

Mayan ruins_Belize2

The farm where the team worked will eventually serve as a home for girls who have aged out of the country’s foster system.

While at the work site, the students were visited by Paul Bunch, a mechanical engineering graduate of UT, and his wife, Madeline. The couple brought the team a picnic complete with homemade Belizean tamales, tropical fruit, roast chicken, and cupcakes bearing the Power T.

In addition to the hard work on the service project, the team got to experience some of the cultural highlights of the region, including a trip across the border into Guatemala to visit Tikal, the most significant Mayan archaeological site of Central America.

Students also visited a nonelectric Mennonite community with links to Polk County, Tennessee; swam at St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park; rode horses and had dinner at a ranch; and visited an iguana conservation project.

“It was certainly an experience that will help our students become more globally aware, as well as to value teamwork,” said Mallory.

Students taking part were engineering majors Camille Bergin, Nicolo Franceschetti, Daniel Garza, Katherine Krouse, Ryan Marine, Robert Nickel, Rhett Sexton, Samantha Thorpe, and Catherine Weiss, and Chancellor’s Honors nonengineers Kelly Arnholt, Quanita Choudhury, Lydia Cole, Bonnie Craighead, Jessica Martinez, and Victoria Webb.


David Goddard (865-974-0683,