McNair Research Abroad: Joseph Cheslock
A native of Dover, New Hampshire, Joseph Cheslock spent his high school years as a varsity athlete on the basketball court. Sports provided him the opportunity to meet and interact with many different types of people. It was in these early encounters that Joe developed a deep respect for others who experience circumstances dissimilar from his own.
This summer, Joe traveled to the country of Haiti on a mission trip to assist with a building project and to collect data as part of his McNair Summer Research Fellowship. He described his summer as “one studded with truly transformational experiences”. After an unforgettable week at the Harvard Summer Venture in Management program, Joe was unaware as to the impact that the mission trip would have on his life. He expressed that he was unprepared for what was to follow the two hour flight from Florida. While he expected to see abject poverty and despair, he did not expect to see smiles of welcome and open arms. Joe stated:
I am convinced that the people of Haiti are some of the nicest people in the world. Their unfiltered passion for intimate interaction is remarkable. I thought that I was going to Haiti to help work on a construction project for the people in the local community. Soon after arriving at the construction site, I realized that the Haitians were not interested in the work that we came to do. They were interested in us. . . When I think about Haiti, I don’t think about the piles of burning trash on the sides of the road, or the stench that was so strong at times that it made my eyes water. The parts of the experience that stick with me the most are the relationships. . . My primary task for the work week was to dig a very big hole for the laying of a foundation. As exciting as it may sound, the intense heat quickly curbs ones enthusiasm during an exigent project such as this one. I made it my goal to finish the job by the end of my time in Haiti. After not having completed the project at the end of the work week, I felt ineffective. I had not done what I had come to do. On my walk from the construction site back to the medical clinic, I remember feeling physically and emotionally spent. I arrived back at the clinic where all the kids were getting ready to present us with their singing performance, which was their gift of appreciation for our work. I retreated into a state of isolation away from the crowd for a while. I watched all the kids from a distance as they laughed hysterically while practicing their performance. I began to regret not spending much time with the kids, as I had made digging as deep as I could my primary focus. A slight tug on my shorts brought me back to earth. I looked down and saw a little Haitian girl wearing a white dress and pink ribbons in her hair. She had a look of seriousness in her face that suggested a need that she hoped that I could address. I bent down to her level to see what it was that she needed from me. She immediately latched onto me, wrapping her arms around my neck and burying her head in my shoulder. We remained entangled that way without exchanging a word for the next two hours under the radiant Haitian sun. At some point during those two hours, I came to the realization that my purpose in Haiti was much larger than relocating dirt.
The journey abroad raised challenging questions and facilitated quiet introspection. When asked about his long term professional goals, Joe noted that while he is currently uncertain as to his specific professional target, he seeks a vocation that will allow him to apply practical business skills, exercise his passions, and fulfill his desire to help those in need. The Business Administration major shared that his time at UNH is an instrumental aspect of his preparation for the future because it presents innumerable chances to immerse himself in a community of individuals who are on widely diverse trajectories but who share similar interests and ambitions.
Through his involvement at the university, Joe performed as a teammate on the UNH Men’s Basketball squad for two seasons. He is a participant in Project L.E.A.D. (a leadership certificate program), and he is also a member of SIGNAL, a student networking organization. As a research fellow in the McNair Scholars Program he is also actively preparing for graduate study, with the aim to attain mastery level comprehension of business and to become qualified to manage, develop, and eventually operate his own business.
Joe commends the McNair Scholars Program for providing the many opportunities afforded him over the summer of 2009, and is grateful that those opportunities have proven instrumental to both his professional and personal development. His advice to those coming behind is to “take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of you. Even if you don’t know where you are going, you can make sure that you’re prepared when you get there.”