OOS 30-9 - An unconventional academic experience: Redefining Research, Education and Community Involvement

Wednesday, August 10, 2011: 4:20 PM
14, Austin Convention Center
ColibrĂ­ Sanfiorenzo-Barnhard, Grupos Ambientales Interdisciplinarios Aliados-GAIA, San Juan, PR

“The sky is the limit”, this is what I was told during my interview for the SEEDS fellowship in 2006.  Since then my academic experience has been everything but conventional.  You could say that I have dedicated the same amount of time between conventional academic activities (research and publication) and non-conventional academic activities (K-12 workshops, community outreach).   It has not been an easy task to conduct non conventional activities within a profession (i.e. academia) that has mainly based its reward systems on publications.  Nevertheless, it has been an incredible rewarding experience that has redefined my way of looking at research, education and community involvement.  I have come to understand that a holistic approach is needed between these three activities if we are to conduct effective biocultural conservation and sustainable human development. 


I have worked the past 5 years in the Los Ángeles  Ejido, a community located within the buffer zone of La Sepultura Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas Mexico.  I have been working with the local community and universities to transform the conventional cattle production system to agroforestry systems.  My research has included GIS and remote sensing techniques, field work gathering data on tree species composition, vegetation structure and soil compaction and acidity.  It also involved walking and horse riding to remote sites, on-site and herbarium species identification, interviews with local producers and presentations to interested stakeholders. Throughout all these research activities I have been involving people from the Ejido.  From children who helped set up and organize field equipment, to teenagers and adults who collected data, learned how to use a GPS and identify a number of plant species.  My experience with the community has extended to include English classes, gardening within the backyard of the high school, internet knowledge, environmental education and small individualized projects with young adults within the community.  During my time in the Los Ángeles Ejido my research has become our research, the communities and my own.   The people of Los Ángeles have opened their hearts, houses, lands, knowledge and future to me and for that I am grateful.

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