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UA Little Rock Student Has Incredible Study Abroad Experience in Iceland

Isabel Ward visits Gullfoss Falls and Nature Reserve in Iceland.
Isabel Ward visits Gullfoss Falls and Nature Reserve in Iceland.

A UA Little Rock student who had previously never traveled outside the country had a once-in-a-lifetime experience studying abroad in Iceland over the summer.

Isabel Ward, a junior electronics and computer engineering technology major from Clarksville, studied renewable energy and sustainable economics in Iceland from June 19 to Aug. 1.

“That was the first time I’d ever been out of the country and my first time flying internationally and on my own,” Ward said. “The only other time I flew was two years ago when I went with a group of 15 people to Washington, D.C. I spent the first three weeks of summer reading articles about how to not miss my flight and navigate the airport.”

The well-prepared Donaghey Scholars Honors Program member traveled with a group of 20 American college students. They spent six weeks exploring the country’s natural energy resources, technology’s impact on the environment and economy, and Icelandic culture.

“Because I did this study abroad trip, I care a lot more about the environment and am concerned about the impact of global warming and climate change,” Ward said. “Going abroad and learning how technology plays into the environment, it helped me see more options of what I could do with my career. I want to try to gear my mind more toward what I can design to benefit the environment and how technology can assist in the issues we have today.”

While in Iceland, the group visited and studied a hydroelectric dam and power plant, geothermal springs, lava pools, glaciers, mountains, and waterfalls. She said one of the most surprising things she saw in Iceland was how one restaurant owner cooked bread for its customers. The geothermal activity in Iceland allows its residents to cook food by placing them in pots and burying them underground.

“They make bread in the ground there,” Ward said. “I’ve seen some crazy things in my life, but I didn’t think there was any way you can pull this pot of bread out of the ground and it will be good. That was some of the best bread I’ve had in my life, especially when they added butter and fresh trout caught from the lake.”

Isabel Ward tours Ljósafossstöð Hydropower Site in Iceland.
Isabel Ward tours the Ljósafossstöð Hydropower Site in Iceland.

Ward completed a research project where she studied how a renewable energy technology that is used in Iceland could be applied in her home state. She chose aquaponics, a method of growing plants by creating a system where fish waste provides nutrients for plants. In return, the plants clean and filter water that is returned to the fish tank. Traditional farming in Iceland is difficult due to the country’s harsh climate and rough terrain, and aquaponics is one of multiple alternative methods used.

“I completed a feasibility study on whether Arkansas can implement aquaponics on a large scale,” Ward said. “My conclusion is that we could with the appropriate risk analysis and measures. Using aquaponics could prevent the degradation of the topsoil that large-scale farming causes, but we would have to get a lot of farmers on board.”

Ward is considering continuing the research from her Iceland trip as part of her senior design project as a way to address food insecurity in Arkansas.

In the end, she is grateful to have had this amazing study abroad experience and said that one final take away from the trip is that her family’s five cats now have a love for fish jerky, which she brought back from Iceland.