Feature Story

February 22, 2024 | By Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan's Associate Chaplain William Hayes (from left) visits Chile with students Abbie Kline '24, Grace Luxon '26, Etta Pierce '26, and Jack Payne '26 to study conservation and its growing system of national parks. (Photos courtesy of William Hayes)

Parks and Trek

Ohio Wesleyan Students Combine Service, Environmental Research in Chile

Tearing down old fences helped four Ohio Wesleyan University students build up their understanding of the power of service while they volunteered in Chile's Patagonia National Park.

Bishops Abbie Kline '24 of Fombell, Pennsylvania; Grace Luxon '26 of Dallas, Texas; Jack Payne '26 of Columbus, Ohio; and Etta Pierce '26 of Arlington, Vermont, traveled to South America for 12 days in January to learn about conservation in Aysén, Chile.

The students traveled with William Hayes, associate chaplain and director of Wilderness Ministry, who also visited Chile with two previous groups of Ohio Wesleyan students to study the growing number of Chilean national parks and the public-private conservation model used to create them.

Abbie Kline '24 and Jack Payne '26 work to dismantle old barbed wire fencing on Chilean land that is now a national park.

Etta Pierce's Reflections

"My biggest takeaway from my time in Chile was the impact that volunteer work, no matter how small, can have on a community," said Pierce, an Inclusive Elementary Education major and Psychology minor.

"Despite us doing the mundane work, such as disassembling barbed wire fences for hours on end, the locals that we were helping were incredibly thankful for our time spent with them," Pierce said. "Through this time spent, we were also able to learn their stories, why they're passionate about wildlife conservation, and what Patagonia means to them."

The national park is one of several created in recent years through the donation of private lands. In an ongoing exploration of Aysén's resulting "Route of Parks," Ohio Wesleyan students previously learned that the Chilean forestry service needs more volunteer help to manage and maintain the millions of acres of new parks, resulting in this latest travel-learning experience.

As for Pierce's favorite memory from the trip, she recalls seeing a small herd of llama-like guanacos in Patagonia National Park, one of which was giving birth.

"We were unsure of how long she had been giving birth before we arrived, but we sat in the car and watched her slowly push her baby out," she said. "An hour later, her baby was born and we got to see it take its first steps! It was honestly such an emotional and breathtaking experience.

"I was in awe and felt like I was watching a documentary on National Geographic, except in real life," Pierce said. "While I loved all of the hiking and wildlife conservation work we did, nothing beats getting to see the circle of life in a national park that I've always dreamed of visiting."

Etta Pierce '26 and Grace Luxon '26 work in a garden at Alma Verde Permaculture during a service and research trip to Chile.

Jack Payne's Reflections

"I learned that service without education is a negative approach because if you know about the area you're helping and the factors that play into your goal, then you can more effectively use your time for what matters along with building a personal connection with where/what you are doing," said Payne, an International Business major and Environmental Studies minor.

"The majority of our service was taking down old farm fences that were put up before the land was bought and declared a national park," he said. "We did this so that the wildlife in these areas can move between valleys and mountain ranges easier, which allows them to spread out the area their species inhabits and also allows them to have a better chance at survival as they won't be limited to as small of an area where predators can hunt them regularly."

Payne said his favorite moment during the Chile trip was spending the day at Alma Verde Permaculture in Puerto Guadal.

"Alma Verde is a self-sustaining permaculture farm that focuses all of its energy on restoring the earth around them both now and for the generations that will follow," he said. "[T]hey even had a 'shame bin' for anyone that had to throw something away instead of reusing it. …

"This really helped me put into perspective all of the things we do as a society both small and large that harm the planet both now and for the next generations, and that you should minimize the imprint you have on the earth in every aspect of your life."

Ohio Wesleyan students hike the national parks during an OWU Connection experience in Aysén, Chile.

Grace Luxon's Reflections

"I was able to use my Spanish in the 'real world,' which I have never been able to do before," said Luxon, a Zoology and Music double major and Spanish minor. "It was a good experience to not be able to use English as a backup and having to think of all the vocabulary on the spot. It made me realize I want to spend more time within South America (Chile and other countries) and learn about their specific fauna."

In addition to Chile, Luxon's passport also contains other two stamps marking OWU Connection experiences designed to help her achieve her career goal. Luxon's latest experience involves spending her spring semester down under.

"I plan to attend graduate school for Marine Biology," she said. "OWU is helping by allowing me to study abroad and take marine classes near the ocean in Turks and Caicos and now Australia."

As for her favorite memories of Chile, Luxon said: "My favorite moment of this experience was when we were hiking Cerro Castillo, and I saw condors flying above. I had never seen birds that big in person, and it was just mesmerizing to watch."

This really helped me put into perspective all of the things we do as a society both small and large that harm the planet both now and for the next generations.

Jack Payne '26

Abbie Kline's Reflections

Kline said the service-learning trip helped her to expand her classroom learning and solidify her career goal to become an environmental engineer.

"A lot of the conversations we had revolving around conservation and environmental stewardship tied back to my classroom learning in some way," she said, "especially going to a permaculture farm for a day. I was really interested in that, as sustainable agriculture and permaculture are two things I have grown a lot of interest in.

"These experiences fueled my passion for sustainability and environmental stewardship more than I already felt it," said Kline, an Environmental Science major and Spanish minor. "That is the reason that experiences like these matter. Having hands-on experience allows us to fully understand our passions, and realize what we can do to help our world."

Kline said she has two favorite moments from the Chile trip: witnessing the guanaco birth and chasing waterfalls.

"We stopped on the side of this road to see a waterfall, and we hiked to the base," she said. "I remembered someone saying something about walking up to the top waterfall, as there were two large ones right after the other, and so I ran further up the path to look. The path brought me out to the bottom of this huge waterfall that had a massive pool of water below it. There was mist everywhere, which I was soaking wet from a few minutes later. I can't put into words how amazing it was."

A Powerful OWU Connection

The students' trip to Chile was part of Ohio Wesleyan's signature program, the OWU Connection. Fully integrated into the University's curriculum, the OWU Connection is designed to help students understand issues from multiple academic and cultural perspectives; complete meaningful service; and gain hands-on, real-world research, internship, and other skills tied to their areas of interest. Their trip was supported by a Nault Service Grant awarded through OWU's Community Service Learning Center.

"This trip, I think, helped everyone to recognize what their limits were," Payne said, "and gave us a space where we could reach past these limits, which really allows for a lot of self-growth and self-learning. I think this is one of the most crucial aspects of trips like this that are offered through the OWU Connection."

Learn more about the OWU Connection program and the opportunities it provides for students to "think big, do good, go global, and get real" at owu.edu/connection.