GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Lessons learned in 10 days could last a lifetime. A big scholarship has given a Coast student a rare chance to learn leadership skills in some daunting geography: Ecuador.
It may look like a nice vacation at first, but JR Riojas had his hands full.
"Definitely being in the Amazon Jungle was one of those experiences," Riojas said. "There was no air conditioning, and we went on a lot of different hikes. So, I learned a lot about how other people interact when they're faced with different challenges, when faced with lots of bugs, lots of sun, lots of humidity."
Riojas, a recent St. Patrick High School graduate, earned a Stamps Scholarship through the University of Mississippi. It provides full, four-year scholarship to colleges all over the country and a $12,000 enrichment fund for travel, research, and other projects. It's all with the goal to teach leadership and team building skills.
He is the only one from South Mississippi and is among nine Stamps scholars entering their freshman year at Ole Miss. They planned this trip to Ecuador on their own.
"Going through all these once in a lifetime opportunities was really telling you about how fantastic all the personalities are of the people who went on this trip," said Riojas, a public policy major with plans to attend law school.
Another challenge, and his favorite, was rappelling water falls.
"When we got to the top, you could see straight down these waterfalls," Riojas said. "There was a series of five or six waterfalls we had to rappel down, and there were two guides to help the nine of us, and it was quite an experience to watch these people, some of whom are definitely afraid of heights, but they all conquered their fears in the end."
The scholarship allows for group activities or individual work.
"I was able to take away that I am going to be surrounded by some of the smartest people in the entire nation at Ole Miss," Riojas said. "So, I very much look forward to creating different types of partnerships with these different people. And even if I don't end up doing partnerships, I've forged eight fantastic friendships."