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Panama Projects

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 was the start of many relationships that have resulted in my continued participation in various programs and efforts to work with comarca community members and American college students to engage in cultural awareness and to exchange environmental science tools and traditional ways of knowing to better understand rapidly changing environmental conditions in Ngöbe and Buglé communities.

This page is dedicated to the on-going collaborations and projects that come out of this partnership.

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.


Panama Indigenous Intercambio Program (PIIP)

May 2024 - Faculty members from Heritage University in Toppenish, WA, and the University of Puerto Rico and eight students from Heritage University, the University of Puerto Rico and United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, ND, spent two weeks at the Batipa Field Institute near Davíd, Panama, conducting field research and working with Ngöbe community members to share culture and environmental knowledge. Students and faculty mentors were divided into three research groups studying wildlife, invertebrates and botany. They visited the Comarca Ngöbe Buglé to learn from community members and to deliver a presentation about water quality. And they got to have a beach day to relax and enjoy their surroundings. This was the first time that PIIP was fully realized and that students from the U.S. were able to gain field research and connect with local indigenous community members.


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

September 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

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

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