Kent State Stark Students Go Global for Spring Break 2022

Over spring break 2022, eleven Kent State Stark students traveled to Mexico City for a week-long interdisciplinary exploration of sustainability and economics. Led by Sarah Schmidt, the Assistant Director of Global Education Initiatives at Kent State Stark, and Dr. Vaneet Kaur, Assistant Professor of Management and Information Systems at Kent State Stark, the expedition had the main theme of sustainable gardening and how two different sample groups use agricultural practices to uphold and promote economic inclusion, poverty reduction, and cultural preservation.

Schmidt says that the program was an exploratory study for everyone involved. When the group arrived, student participants led interviews with farmers in the area to gain a better understanding of the region. Of the two sample groups, one was an indigenous community descended from the Aztecs. They live in an area of Mexico City called Xochimilco and maintain an ancient agricultural technique called chinampas. Another group interviewed was a resettled community of refugees in the Mexico City area.

Kent State Stark students visiting an urban garden in Mexico City.

The project is grant-funded by an organization called 100,000 Strong in the Americas, supported by the Fundación Banorte, Fundación Gruma, and the U.S. Department of State. It helps provide funding for student travel scholarships and new international partnerships. 

The program is in partnership with Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City. That means that Kent State Stark students traveled to Mexico City, and soon, ten students from Universidad Panamericana will visit Akron, Ohio, to study a refugee-run urban farm. “I think there will be some learning moments that we can translate back into the Mexican context to make recommendations that could get at issues that the communities face,” Schmidt said. The Ohio phase of the project will include Chris Post, an Associate Professor of Geography at Kent State Stark who also assisted with predeparture sessions.

When the project is complete—once the Panamericana students conclude their studies in Akron—the group will send the United Nations their recommendations that address issues based on the interactions with the communities. A major part of the project is its conjunction with the United Nations, which helped connect the project leaders with refugee communities.

Students and faculty during a class session in Mexico City. Everyone is standing in two lines while Sarah Schmidt provides directions from the middle.

Schmidt has worked with 100,000 Strong in the Americas—the organization funding the project—before, so when she saw a call for proposals from it, she acted quickly. The proposals asked for projects that look at issues of sustainability, and Schmidt’s mind went immediately to gardening. Specifically, sustainable gardening as it relates to cultural preservation and economic inclusion. Schmidt’s proposal won $25,000 in funds, much of which has gone to travel scholarships. Every student participating in the project is partially funded by the grant. The rest of the funds will go to special projects when the Panamericana students are in Akron.

Grants like this one continue to bring opportunities to students at regional campuses. Schmidt said, “[This grant] paves that road for access so that students have the opportunity to take part in a travel experience…That way it prevents students from having to take out more loans, seeking fundraising, or balancing additional work hours to pay for [the program].”

Kent State Stark students posing for a group photo in front of a water way at an urban garden in Mexico City.

As participants of the project, Kent State Stark students receive academic credit for their work. They can get three geography credits plus an optional workshop credit. However, they are gaining much more. “Of course, there is the learning content that naturally comes with a typical class. They have the academic content that they learned about in these three areas--economics, immigration, and sustainable gardening,” commented Schmidt. “But, in addition to that, we’re tackling a social issue. We’re working with and learning from marginalized communities in these two regions--Mexico and Ohio. That impact will attempt to address barriers to economic access and cultural preservation related to gardening and agriculture. I think that is just another important facet of this program; being involved in finding a solution to a social issue.”

With Kent State Stark’s studies wrapped up in Mexico City over the spring break, the project will conclude once the students from Universidad Panamericana complete their studies in Akron. The final step is communicating with the United Nations and providing recommendations that support the refugee communities in Mexico City and Akron, as well as the indigenous community of Xochimilco.


POSTED: Wednesday, May 18, 2022 02:17 PM
UPDATED: Thursday, December 08, 2022 01:47 PM
Arden Miller, Kent State Department of English and OGE Spring Intern