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The Panama Project

In June 2019, I traveled to western Panama with Dr. Jessica Black of Heritage University in Yakima, Wa., and Celestino Mariano Gallardo, then the commissioner of international affairs for the general congress within the Comarca Ngöbe Buglé. The comarca is the home to remaining members of the Ngöbe and Buglé indigenous groups who are working to make a living from the land while preserving traditional values.

This exploratory trip allowed me to gain a better understanding of life in the comarca for on-going projects that I will be engaged in over the coming months and years, particularly around environmental issues, responses to a changing climate, cross-cultural sharing and efforts to document traditional knowledge and cultural memory for future generations. You can find collections from this project updated on this page.


Faces of the Comarca

June 2019 - Members of the congreso, the traditional and regional government of the Comarca Ngöbe Buglé, and prominent citizens met for the Comarca Research Alliance Symposium in San Felix, Panama, from June 7 - 9, 2019. It was the first meeting of its kind to bring together representatives of the comarca and members of organizations that provide services or resources for work within the comarca. Representatives from organizations like Engineers Without Borders and universities from Panama, the U.S. and Canada networked and shared goals for future collaborations.

Costa Rica International Research Experience

December 2022 - American Indian/Alaska Native undergraduate students from universities and colleges across the United States traveled to Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica to participate in field research with mentors to build skills and confidence in themselves as scientists. The Costa Rica International Research Experience (CRIRE) is made possible through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation and the Organization for Tropical Studies for the purpose of increasing the number of STEM degrees awarded to populations historically underrepresented in STEM fields. The lands of eastern Costa Rica include the historic and traditional lands of the Ngöbe Buglé, and representatives from the Comarca Ngöbe Buglé in Panama attended the ten-day event to serve as experts in indigenous land and plant use and culture.



Miguel and Orlando Go to Panama

Sept. 11, 2019 - Miguel Palma and Orlando Pelcastre, both about to enter their sophomore years at Heritage University in Toppenish, Wa., have never had a passport or traveled much outside of their hometown in the Yakima Nation. The chance to visit Panama with one of their instructors opens their eyes to possibilities for the future. 

Academic Journal

An Indigenous Intercambio Program: Empowering Underrepresented STEM Students to Participate in Scientific and Cultural Exchange Through Study Abroad

A portion of "Miguel and Orlando Go to Panama" provided basis for an article in Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study of Abroad (Oct 2022).

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