PLP’s Arizona Experience Combines Hard Work with Cultural Understanding - Christopher Newport University


Belle Marinoble uses gardening tools against the backdrop of a mesa.

PLP’s Arizona Experience Combines Hard Work with Cultural Understanding

Student takes lessons learned with her as she begins military career.

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Belle Marinoble stands with classmates

Thanks to CNU’s President’s Leadership Program (PLP), when Belle Marinoble travels to Arizona in August to begin Officer School as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, she will find herself in a familiar place, one she connected with and loved just months earlier.

An experiential learning opportunity offered by PLP allowed Marinoble to journey to Arizona shortly after graduating, providing her a chance to get to know the geography and people of her new home before she moves there.

Marinoble, ‘24 Criminology and Leadership Studies, boarded a plane with 10 other Captains and headed to Arizona to volunteer with the Navajo Nation. The annual trip, organized and led by PLP Assistant Director Victoria Carrico ‘18 and Coordinator Ben Leistensnider ‘17, gives students the chance to perform a week of service on the reservation. The volunteers focused this year on promoting sustainable farming.

But the insight they gained during the week goes deeper than farming. They experienced the life of a tribe with a long history. Students became part of the community for a short time, observing and participating in Navajo culture and tradition. They learned about struggles and successes of the Native American people and left with a broadened perspective.

Marinoble, knowing she was heading to Arizona with the Army, decided that the PLP service experience was an ideal way for her to get to know the area where she would be living. At CNU, Marinoble was in ROTC, having decided in high school that she wanted to pursue a military career after graduating college. She received a three-year Army ROTC Scholarship to attend Christopher Newport.

PLP is a program that combines academic study and experiential learning to prepare students for a life of leadership, service and civic responsibility. The purpose of this particular trip is to encourage students to immerse themselves in an unfamiliar culture, practice servant leadership, and gain a deeper understanding of that culture and observe what leadership can look like through a lens that differs from their own.

“I wanted to practice living, serving, and adapting to another culture to better prepare for the Army. The trip was a great opportunity to practice that with the Navajo Nation. We learned various elements about their culture both beforehand with group meetings and while serving on their land,” Marinoble said.

The trip proved to be much more impactful than she expected. Marinoble came away with a different perspective, one that she believes will help her succeed in the Army.

“Learning how to better show respect and care for the residents while working in their area is extremely helpful for my future career,” she said.

The students embarked on a variety of tasks, including working with non- profit farming organizations that partner with the Navajo Nation. They planted more than 1,000 seeds, installed a new irrigation system, and covered a hoop house structure with plastic and rope to create a greenhouse that can withstand heavy wind. They also prepared fields for planting. In doing the work, the group partnered with Cameron Farm Enterprise, Black Falls Community Gardens and Daniel Rose Farms, all local organizations.

“Besides the physical work done on their farms, we helped the Navajo people feel valued and heard by showing up for them,” Marinoble said. “Many expressed their gratitude for Christopher Newport University coming back to them annually, for most schools and companies would appear only once to give temporary help and then not return.”

Being on the reservation gave Marinoble the opportunity to take a look inward both at herself and her communication style.

“I learned that although I am normally very open/talkative and expressive, I tend to switch to actively listening and observing when in a different culture,” she said.

Some of the most valuable experience during the trip came from speaking with the Navajo people and hearing them tell their life stories. During dinners, students and elders of the tribe shared their lives and experiences.

“Students spent their evenings learning about the indigenous communities of northern Arizona and gaining a deeper understanding of the pressing issues facing communities on the reservations,” Carrico said. “This trip really shows students that you can only learn so much in a classroom. It's the relationships formed between our students and our Navajo hosts that makes the experience valuable. Engaging directly, listening intently, asking thoughtful questions, and being willing to accept difficult answers is where the learning happened.”

Marinoble said getting to know the tribe members proved to be rewarding, educational and inspirational.

“I learned through their stories and celebrations the Navajo tribe values family, generosity, and nature most. Along with meeting the landowners, many had family hanging out and engaging with us,” she said. “They were extremely generous with sharing their traditions and food with us as we worked on their land. Also, many mentioned being generous and loving were critical values they practiced every day.”

The students gleaned much from their hosts, and also from each other.

“The best part of the experience was debriefing each night at dinner about what the group learned, how the group felt about the day, and what it meant to them,” Marinoble said. “It was interesting to hear other perspectives on the trip as well, for each person grew in a different way during this experience.”

Marinoble will soon be reporting to Arizona to begin her military career in intelligence. She is ready to embrace the new adventures that await her.

She plans to use insight gained during the PLP service experience to help her become a more dynamic officer that leads effectively and is able to adapt easily to any new environment and connect with people she meets along the way.

“I will prioritize listening and observing when entering a new culture to then know how best to help them,” Marinoble said. “After understanding their values and goals, I will be better able to respect them while working in their community. This will be critical in respecting civilians and their community when the military moves me to various locations.”

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