Honor Summer Snapshots: Ellen

Ever wonder what Honors students do during the summer? Honors Ambassadors and students will be taking you into their 2017 summer routines via photos. Honors junior (and your HSB President) Ellen Meis spent part of her summer at Iowa State’s outpost in the U.S. Virgin Islands:

Hi everyone! My name is Ellen Meis, and I’m a junior in Biology and Environmental Science with a minor in Emerging Global Disease. This summer I was really fortunate to be selected for a 6-week service learning study abroad in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Though the EARTH (Education and Resilience through Horticulture) program is technically through the Horticulture Department at Iowa State, the program offers a lot of flexibility in what you do (so you don’t actually have to know much about plants because I don’t). Each person who goes gets to choose a project to do – I decided to create educational resources on mosquito-borne disease in the islands to be integrated into the health class at Gifft Hill School, the private school the program works with down in St. John. Besides the project, we helped in the school gardens and with the farmer’s market and Farm-to-Table class; composted organic waste from some of the restaurants in Cruz Bay, the main town on St. John; worked in the soup kitchen at the church; learned about the island’s history through cultural hikes; and explored the beaches around the island. It’s hard to squeeze all the experiences I had into a single blog post, but here are a few pictures to give you an idea at least!

First, let me briefly introduce you to the other students in the program – on the left is Whitney, a dietetics major; to my right is Lia, an environmental science and globe major; and on the far right is Jasnique, a math major from the University of the Virgin Islands (Whitney and Lia are fellow Iowa Staters). I’m so grateful to have met them all – I gained three new friends and we had some great adventures.


The top picture here is the school garden I was responsible for taking care of every day. It had eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, greens, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, and more. The left one shows our set-up for the farmer’s market every Wednesday – it was off-season and winding down so we only had one table of produce. And on the right is an adorable tortoise that showed up in the gardens one day, so we fed it a banana. It kind of (but not really) makes up for my lack of a picture of the sea turtles I saw while snorkeling.


These are the dorms the four of us stayed in while we were there. The school was conveniently right across the road, and our professor, Dr. Minner (aka Doc), lived in an adjacent cottage. The deck allowed us an amazing view of St. Thomas (the big island in the pictures) and some gorgeous sunsets. We ate a lot of our meals out there and generally sat around until the mosquitoes or heat drove us inside.


We spent a lot of time working on our projects too. The bottom pictures show our (air-conditioned!) office at the school, and the top is the bottle wall we built together in the garden as part of Jasnique’s project.


Like I mentioned before, we did a lot of exploring the island and its history. Here is one of the several Danish sugar plantation windmill ruins on the island, the trail on the hike back from Ram’s Head Peak, St. John’s famous petroglyphs carved by the Taino people around 1200 AD, and some lovely pink frangipani flowers.


And finally, here is my cheesy High School Musical jump, featuring the turquoise water, white sand, and palm trees I’m sure you were expecting to see when you read “Virgin Islands” at the beginning of this post. Thank you for reading! I’ve had a great start to my summer and I wish you all the best for the rest of yours! Hope to see you in Jischke.


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