Undergraduate students in Panama for Study Abroad Program on Climate Change and Sustainable Development
A group of highly motivated students arrived to Panama on June 3rd, 2012, to begin the Research and Study Abroad Program on Climate Change and Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean organized by CATHALAC (Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean), with headquarters at the City of Knowledge, and UAHuntsville (University of Alabama in Huntsville).
UAHuntsville and CATHALAC have successfully organized this study abroad since 2010 through an agreement to collaborate in scientific research and educational outreach and exchange. The group for this year has participants majoring in engineering, business, earth system science and chemistry/biology. Two Panamanian students are also participating, one of which is a student at the University of Florida and the other is from UAHuntsville. «The science behind climate change and sustainability are affected by several variables, and there is much that needs to be better understood. Therefore, we’re making a conscious effort to look at projects that expose participants to relevant topics, and that will help to document and explain the widespread effects of climate change where current data is lacking,» said Dave Cook, the Coordinator of Student Research at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
This year the research topics will be concentrated in the Rio Grande and Santa Maria Watersheds in the Central Provinces of Panama looking at drinking water availability, effects on adjacent marine ecosystems and precision agriculture. By looking at different issues within the same geographical region and by collaborating with different local institutions and governmental agencies, the research projects will have a greater overall impact.
Participants have been given an introduction to the cultural and environmental diversity of Panama in the program’s first weeks. Starting with a two-day orientation in beautiful El Valle, the participants hiked in the volcanic valley and bathed in the hot springs, visited the Nispero Zoo and the golden frogs’ conservation project. They returned to Panama City to explore CATHALAC’s headquarters in the City of Knowledge, and also the historical old cities and ruins of Panama Viejo and Casco Viejo. An enriching visit to the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks of the Panama Canal, to the famous Canal Administration Building and the beautiful Causeway rounded out this introduction to Panama before the participants were introduced to their homestay families in a special Panamanian luncheon. «The participants have begun a unique and rewarding experience of cultural immersion into Panama’s society,” said Zvia Leibler Danon, International Education Programs Coordinator at CATHALAC.
In addition to Dr. Tom Sever and Dr. Rob Griffin, faculty from UAHuntsville Atmospheric Science Department, and CATHALAC’s R&D instructors, the addition of a new UAHuntsville faculty member and Teaching Assistant (TA) are onsite to teach Spanish and culture orientation to the participants.
The program has also initiated a Teacher’s Program in which local high school or middle school teachers who teach science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) or related field, are eligible to apply for the opportunity to attend the first two weeks of the program to learn more about what the student researchers do in Panama. By learning about the region and related issues, teachers will gather information and formulate lessons, based on the experience, to share with the students and colleagues at their school. «This is another way in which we strive to educate the public and stimulate young people’s interest in earth sciences so that they better understand climate change and how issues in the region affect the entire world,” said Dave Cook, the Coordinator of Student Research at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.