We have compiled a list of some frequently asked questions that will help prepare you for the UCF REU/RET Site.  Please feel free to ask us additional questions at belizereusite@gmail.com.

2016 REU team presenting at the Smithsonian Field Station on Carrie Bow Caye, Belize.

What Type of Undergraduate Students and K-12 Teachers Do We Want in Our REU Site?  We want participants with the following traits:

  • a passion for community-based research and education
  • a desire to engage in a life-changing international field research and educational experience
  • a strong and creative work ethic
  • a willingness to challenge yourself, while having fun, and being committed to collaborative learning
  • an interest in living in Belize for the majority of the summer
  • a desire to learn more about all aspects of research
  • a willingness to step outside of your comfort zone, learn about yourself, and challenge your world views
  • a desire to work with youth in education and outreach activities

How Much Funding Will Participants Receive?  With generous funding support from the National Science Foundation, each REU/RET international community scholar will receive a competitive funding package, including: a $4200 stipend for successful participation in the entirety of the REU/RET Site, up to $750 in travel support to/from Orlando and Belize, up to $750 for post-REU/RET conference presentations, room and food money in Orlando and Belize.

What are the Dates of the Belize REU/RET Site?

Our REU/RET Site runs from June 8 to July 23, 2020.

First week at UCF, 28 days in Belize, then last days at UCF. Participants must be available for all dates within the program, Accepted participants must be available for all parts of the REU/RET Site including the Orlando and Belize portions of the program.

  • REU/RET Part 1 in Orlando: Arrive in Orlando, Florida on Monday, June 8 by 3 pm EST. Participants must arrive in Orlando on the UCF campus for Part 1 of the REU/RET Site.  This week of field preparations will provide students with training in international fieldwork methods.  Students will be housed in UCF campus dorms as part of their NSF support.
  • REU/RET Part 2 in Belize: On June 15, REU /RET scholars will depart from Orlando on a group flight to Belize for Part 2 (flight costs paid for as part of NSF support).  The team will live together in shared housing with other REU/RET scholars and program assistants until July 13.
  • REU/RET Part 3 in Orlando: Students will then return to UCF on July 13 for Part 3 and complete the REU/RET Site on July 23.  For this portion of the REU/RET, students will be housed in UCF campus dorms as part of their NSF support.  The PI and Co-PI will live on site in Belize as well.

What is the Application Deadline? The Priority Application Deadline is Friday, March 27, 2020 at 5 PM EST.  A complete 2020 application includes: 1) an application form through our Google Forms and 2) submission of a personal statement (limited to 3 double-spaced pages) to belizereusite@gmail.com.

Where Can I Find the Application Form?  

The application link for undergraduates can be found in our Google Form at REU Undergraduate Application Form.

The application link for K-12 in-service teachers can be found in our Google Form at RET K-12 In-Service Teacher Application Form.

What Should Go in My Personal Statement? 

For undergraduate students applying to the REU Site, including pre-service students enrolled in an undergraduate program, the 3-page personal statement must include: 1) a description of research interests, including how international work fits into these interests; 2) an explanation of what it means to engage in community research and education in a developing country; and 3) a discussion of post-graduation plans.

For K-12 in-service teachers applying to the RET Site, the 3-page personal statement must include: 1) a description of education interests, including how international work fits into these interests; 2) an explanation of what it means to engage in community research and education in a developing country; and 3) a discussion of how you and your students might benefit from lessons and data created in the program.

Are References Required? At time of application, we only ask you provide the name and contact information for a reference. If you are selected for a video interview, we will ask for the reference to be submitted then. This reference should ideally come from a faculty member, advisor, or mentor who can speak to your course experience, real-world experience, and/or your qualifications for the REU/RET. 


Who are the Faculty Leading the UCF REU/RET Site? The faculty leads are internationally-recognized scholars, are committed to student mentoring, have vast experience in international research and teaching, and have a passion for their work.

  • Timothy L. Hawthorne (PhD in Geography, The Ohio State University) is the Principal Investigator of the NSF REU/RET Site. Tim is trained in community geography and GIS, PGIS, mixed methods, and geographic education. Tim is an Assistant Professor of Geographic Information Systems in a new, high-profile GIS Cluster Initiative at the University of Central Florida. Tim has served as PI of this REU Site since 2016. From 2012-2015, Tim was also PI of the nation’s first REU Site in Community Geography and GIS where he mentored 42 students (NSF Award #1156755). His community geography, GIS, and STEM education work has been funded by several additional sources, including the National Geographic Society and the Verizon Foundation. In early August 2015, he was named The National Geographic Educator of the Week. Previously at GSU, he received the GSU Honors College’s most prestigious distinction being named the 2015 Faculty Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year. In 2010 he received the AAG’s national award for his work with students and community partners in his cartography and GIS service learning course. Hawthorne has traveled to Belize over 25 separate research trips and is the Program Director for the Belize GIS research study abroad course and co-founder of the Belize GIS Exchange.
  • Dr. Hannah Torres (PhD in Geography and Environmental Science and Policy, University of South Florida) is the Co-PI of the NSF REU/RET Site. Dr. Torres has contributed to multiple NSF research grants including work on a project about climate change adaptation and resilience (metropole.marine.usf.edu) as well as her current work on a project about restoration and sense of place in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida (http://sciences.ucf.edu/sociology/cnhcc/). She also created an app to document inland sources of marine litter through a NOAA-funded project to prevent marine debris through outreach and education. Dr. Torres has earned awards for teaching excellence in a STEM field, having taught a variety of undergraduate courses including cultural geography, geography of Latin America, water resources management, and environmental science, which included a field component in the Florida Keys. Dr. Torres’ research is interdisciplinary, and centered around the themes of environmental sustainability, disaster resilience, and human-nature interactions.

Are the Faculty Prepared to Lead Me in Belize? The project team recognizes the challenges of conducting community-based research in an international setting, especially since the PI and Co-PI have already navigated these challenges successfully in the first three years of the REU Site in Belize. Such challenges include: researcher positionality, length of stay in the study site, educational and cultural barriers, local knowledge or lack thereof, insider/outsider perspectives, health/safety concerns, interpersonal conflicts, and ethical treatment of human subjects. Having an existing relationship with UB faculty and students and the Smithsonian, and strong pre-program training can mitigate some of the challenges. The PI and his team expect and understand these challenges, but do not take them lightly. In fact, the PI and his colleagues have published on such obstacles in one of geography’s most prestigious journals, The Annals of the Association of American Geographers, offering the first account of a methodology known as “critical reflection mapping” connecting journaling, critical reflection, and sketch mapping. The methodology provides foreign researchers (including undergraduates from the PI’s previous Belize programs) an opportunity to discuss the challenges/emotions faced as they engage in community geography research abroad. The PI also wrote the first article on the challenges of international community geography with students in The Journal of Geography in Higher Education. Faculty mentors are committed to community-based geospatial research and undergraduate teaching/mentoring across disciplines. The PI and Co-PI have over 10 years of combined experience working in Belize and have developed an extensive network to ensure success and safety for students. 

Who are Our International Partners? We will work closely with several communities, community scholars/residents, and research partners in Belize, including the: University of Belize, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program, The Hopkins Village Council, and others.


What is Belize Really Like? 

  • Size: Due to Belize’s small size—roughly comparable to the state of Massachusetts—multiple fieldwork locations are accessible to REU/RET participants. Only 2.5 hours flight time from Orlando, Belize is accessible, relatively inexpensive, and a uniquely different international experience for students. English is freely spoken as the official national language and the American dollar is widely accepted, providing a certain level of comfort to students.
  • Language: English is the official language of Belize and is freely spoken in all of our study locations. Additional languages including Spanish, Mayan, Creole and other many other local dialects will also be observed in Belize.  Many Belizeans will move freely between multiple languages within the same conversation.
  • Currency: The Belizean dollar has a flat exchange rate of 2 Belizean Dollars to 1 US Dollar. US Dollars are accepted in all locations (and often preferred), though your change will likely be in Belizean dollars.
  • Food: The food is fresh and delicious! Depending on the locations visited you will likely experience the traditional Belizean meals including rice and beans and stew chicken.  There are vegetarian options in most places and tons of fresh seafood.  The food is one of the best parts of the Belizean experience from what we have been told by our students.  Meals do take more time to prepare than in the US, so expect meal times to last longer than usual.
  • Weather: Students can expect it to be very hot, humid and sunny with temperatures in the upper 90’s with heavy, short bursts of rain throughout portions of the day.
  • Living Conditions: All REU/RET housing quarters are safe, modest, and well maintained in locations where the PI and Co-PI have visited with students in the past. Think of the locations as field stations, budget hotels/motels with modest accommodations, including beds, shower/toilet, and possible ceiling fans.  The water is treated (or bottled) at all housing locations so it is safe to drink.
  • Fieldwork Locations: Belize is a beautiful and diverse landscape. Most of the REU/RET Site will include locations along the coast in the village of Hopkins and on several cayes (islands) in Belize.  The Village of Hopkins is on the Caribbean in the Stann Creek District of Belize, which is rich in Garifuna cultural traditions. The short 2 minute video below shows the village from our drone views.

  • Wifi, Phones, and Technology: Most of our site locations will not have wifi access especially on the islands (except possibly in the common area). The wifi situation is very, very different than what you are used to in the U.S. When available, speeds are slow.  Video streaming does not work very well most times.  Skype and Google Chat will work in Belize when Wifi is strong.  International calling, texting, etc can be worked out with your individual cell phone provider before you arrive in Belize, or you can purchase a phone plane in Belize from a local carrier during the trip.  The REU/RET will provide the team with one shared Belizean cell phone for in-country calls.
  • Health and Safety: Health concerns are an individual choice, but as a foreign traveler, one should always consider consulting with a healthcare provider at least two months in advance of travel for proper advice and potential immunizations. The CDC offers a guide for foreign travelers to Belize @ http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/belize.

Can I Receive Independent Study or Research Credit From My University/College for this REU/RET Site? Possibly, but that decision is entirely up to your chair and dean at your home university/college.  We are happy to provide a letter of support for such credit, but it will be at the discretion of your university/college.  As a NSF-funded program we do not require or except universities/college to offer credit for this experience, but we will support the wishes of a student’s home university/college.

I am a Graduate Student or Graduating Before July 23, 2020 Am I Eligible for the REU?  NSF requires that a student be enrolled in an undergraduate degree program at time of participation in the REU, so a student that just graduated or is a graduate student would not be eligible. However, if you are a K-12 teacher, you can apply to our RET component.

Do I have to have GIS training/experience to be eligible?  No, we welcome students will all backgrounds.  We request that REU/RET students have an interest in learning and applying GIS with communities. Previous experience with GIS is not required.  We also welcome students with backgrounds in qualitative methods and mixed methods, since our REU/RET emphasizes mixed methods research.