Clarksville, TN – The Soto Cano Air Base sits at the bottom of the Comayagua Valley in the Central American nation of Honduras. It’s home to about 500 U.S. Army soldiers, and this past January, a handful of them gathered inside a small wood hut with a sheet metal roof.
The building served as a classroom for the first “on-the-ground” college courses offered at the remote base, and Dr. Sheena Harris, Austin Peay State University assistant professor of history, traveled all the way from Clarksville to teach the new classes.
“I love to travel to tropical environments,” she said. “I went over there and taught a U.S. History I and a U.S. History II survey course. While there, we had the unique opportunity to visit the Mayan ruins in Copan with the class. It was a great way for them to experience live history.”
Last year, the Austin Peay Center at Fort Campbell decided to offer the soldiers stationed at Soto Cano an option other than online classes. The Center pitched the idea of teaching in Honduras to professors at APSU’s Clarksville campus, and Harris, a new history faculty member and an Iraq war veteran, volunteered to teach a couple of classes. She spent eight weeks in Honduras, living in military housing, eating at the post’s mess hall and local restaurants and providing many soldiers with their first taste of APSU.
“People asked, ‘You’re in Texas right?’” Harris said. “When I told them it was in Clarksville, they’d say, “Oh I was stationed at Fort Campbell once.”
The Austin Peay Center at Fort Campbell is looking to expand its offerings at the Central American airbase by sending math, English and history professors for future eight-week sessions. But the Center isn’t simply looking to educate soldiers. Harris said the University wants to make a positive impact on that entire region. That’s why she led outreach programs targeting young girls in the area and local orphanages.
“A high percentage of the teenage girls there don’t finish school because they can’t afford book bags or paper, and they end up pregnant at very young ages,” she said. “We got a group of girls and asked what they needed. We were able to supply them with uniforms and books and pens and all those things for them to continue their education. I was able to do that on behalf of Austin Peay.”
Harris returned to Clarksville in March and spent the remainder of the spring semester teaching online courses and eight-week courses at the Fort Campbell Center. But she hopes the program catches on so she can return to the air base next January to teach more military students.