Browsing Tag


Foreign Fulbright

A Panamanian Fulbrighter Breaks Down Barriers for Female Engineers

March 14, 2018

Icela Quintero, 2014-2016, Panama, working at the Panama Canal as a vessel enters the Upper Chamber of the Cocolí Locks, in southbound transit (Atlantic Ocean-Gatun Lake-Pacific Ocean)

Since November 2016, I have been part of the group of engineers that oversees the control systems for the new locks of the Panama Canal. It is my dream job, and a position I would not have were it not for the Fulbright Foreign Student Program. As a Panamanian, working at the Panama Canal is a responsibility, our pride and joy, and lifeblood of our country. The Panama Canal is an integral part of our history and future, and it is our duty to keep it operative. I don’t do my job for myself, but for every Panamanian. I am reminded of this key motto I now live by daily, one which the Fulbright Program cemented in me. We are to be elements of change, and as long as I am in a position to do so, I will.

I never expected to become a Fulbrighter, but life takes us on mysterious paths. I became one in a most unexpected way. I was traveling in Europe with a group of 52 Latin American students. Among them were two future Fulbrighters; one Mexican and one Uruguayan. At that point, I realized I wanted to do more for my country, and my traveling companions explained how the Fulbright Program would give me the opportunity to do so. What I did not know was that participating in Fulbright would change my life in more ways than I ever imagined.

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Foreign Fulbright

My First Hackathon: Gaining Knowledge and Connections While Having Fun

November 20, 2014
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Susana Lau, 2013-2015, Panama, at Carnegie Mellon University’s Silicon Valley Campus

In honor of International Education Week, today’s post illustrates Thursday’s theme of Entrepreneurship, and how international education prepares students for a strong, globalized 21st century workforce.

Read how Panamanian Fulbrighter and information technology student Susana Lau participated in her first hackathon this past October – a unique opportunity that enhanced her skills and widened her professional network.

From the moment I arrived in the United States from Panama to begin my graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), I knew my life would change. Being exposed to the professional, technological, and educational environment at CMU, as well as all of the opportunities available to help me pursue my goals, have transformed how I perceive my personal and professional growth.

I feel so fortunate to be a Fulbright Foreign Student pursuing CMU’s bi-coastal Master’s in Information Technology, where I spent my first year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This year, my second year, has been spent in Silicon Valley, where I’ve been exposed to the area’s characteristic spirit of entrepreneurship, innovation and technology. The extracurricular activities offered here are incredible: networking, technical conferences, and hackathons. I encourage other students to take advantage of these types opportunities.

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U.S. Fulbright

Everybody Loves Turtles

July 16, 2014
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Morrison Mast, 2013-2014, Panama, examines a juvenile hawksbill turtle that washed up nearly dead on the shore; a local fisherman has since nursed it back to good health and re-released it into the wild

“Everybody loves turtles,” my father would say. After he went from being an early-career marine biologist to managing an international wildlife conservation organization (Conservation International), this phrase was an indispensable fixture of his speeches at foundations, scientific symposia, and universities.

This was an almost “universal fact,” he would claim, and it was the basis of the Sea Turtle Flagship Program (now SWOT, a program of the Oceanic Society), an extremely successful initiative founded on the concept that when you invest in the conservation of turtles, a charismatic, universally recognized symbol of peace, you’re also necessarily investing in the conservation of marine wildlife and biodiversity as a whole. By addressing climate change, fisheries regulation, beachfront development, and other threats to sea turtles, you’re addressing the needs of marine ecosystems around the world. After having traveled to dozens of sea turtle conservation projects around the globe, I would never have expected the one place where I’ve found my father’s words to be untrue to be the place where people are most effectively accomplishing “conservation.”

The reason my father’s words don’t apply here in Armila, Panama, is because the Guna Indians’ conception of turtles isn’t necessarily based on positive feelings. During my time as a Fulbrighter working in the indigenous Guna Yala region of Panama, near the border with Colombia, I’ve heard leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) described in local folklore as being “ugly,” “scary,” “intelligent,” and “vengeful.” For this reason, the residents of Armila, home to one of the world’s densest nesting aggregations of this endangered species, have for a hundred years given these turtles the right of way when it comes to nesting; they don’t remove any eggs or kill any adult turtles, both of which are a source of protein that is heavily exploited around the world.

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U.S. Fulbright

Food Web Interactions in a Changing Coral Reef: One Step to Forming a Baseline Ecosystem, By Maya deVries, 2010-2011, Panama

September 19, 2012


It’s no secret that the world’s coral reefs are declining at alarming rates. I witnessed this fact firsthand during my journey as a Fulbright U.S. Student in Panama. I conducted my research at Galeta Marine Laboratory, which is situated on Panama’s Atlantic Coast ten miles away from the Panama Canal. Disturbances to coral reefs, such as overfishing, waste disposal and oil release from ship traffic, have negatively affected many coastal communities whose livelihoods depend on healthy, productive oceans. To understand how these changes will impact the coral reef ecosystem, researchers must study interactions between coral reef organisms so that when a group of organisms is in decline, researchers will know how other organisms and overall reef health will be affected.

I studied feeding interactions between a ubiquitous coral reef predator, the stomatopod crustacean (or mantis shrimp), and its prey. With the help of five local undergraduate students at the Regional Branch of the University of Panama in Colón, we determined that stomatopods eat many small animals including hard-shelled prey, fish and worms. Stomatopods are also eaten by common coral reef fish. Thus, these little known creatures are actually very important links between the large and small animals that make up the Caribbean coral reef ecosystem.

Unfortunately, debris that destroys coral reefs also washes onto Galeta’s beaches. After three months of spending everyday in the water, I could no longer bear the sight of plastic, old shoes and tires on Galeta’s otherwise beautiful shores. In response, I created a beach cleanup program that organizes a cleanup every two months with local students and scientists. A highlight for me was when 350 local students, along with the U.S. Ambassador to Panama, volunteered at a beach cleanup that I organized with the U.S. Embassy. This program inspired me and Galeta Marine Laboratory staff to start recycling programs in Colón schools near Galeta. Galeta Marine Laboratory now gives talks to local schools about recycling, provides them with recycling bins and connects them to local recycling companies.












My most rewarding experience was working with Cambio Creativo (Creative Change), a non-profit organization started by former Fulbright Students. Cambio Creativo works with youth in the underserved community of Coco Solo, Colón. With Cambio Creativo, I taught students about biology and paleontology in their own “backyard.” Although only five minutes from Coco Solo, we took a field trip to Galeta since most students had never visited this unique marine reserve. These students are now regular participants in Galeta’s beach cleanup program.












Working on these outreach projects dramatically changed how I view my role as a scientist. In Panama, I learned that many important scientific research findings never reach a broad audience.  Yet, interacting with Panamanians at Galeta forced me to find concrete connections between the public and my academic research. The Fulbright Program encourages its participants to engage in cross-cultural exchange and direct involvement with local communities. This focus taught me how to bridge the gap between local Panamanians and academics so that their communities could benefit from the valuable scientific research generated in their country.

The Fulbright Program also gave me the courage to take chances.

For those who are interested in applying for this amazing opportunity, here are a few pieces of advice:

  • Have a relative or friend outside of your field read your whole application. That person should understand every word of your application and find it interesting. For example, my mother read mine!
  • If you are applying for a research/study grant, explain why your past experiences are relevant your project and your future goals in the personal and grant purpose statements instead of simply stating your accomplishments.
  • If your application is accepted and you become a Fulbrighter, try to say yes to as many opportunities in country as you can to get to know your local community, even if they are not directly related to your research. Your Fulbright year is your time to learn as many new things as you can about your country, so enjoy it!

Top photo: Maya deVries, 2010-2011, Panama (second from left), watches videos of stomatopod feeding behavior with undergraduate students from the Regional Branch of the University of Panama in Colon (from left to right: Nayara Rodriguez, Yarlenis, Gina Ruíz, Eudocia Rodriguez and Roxana Martinez)

Middle photo: Over 350 volunteers participated in Galeta’s beach cleanup sponsored by the Embassy of the United States, Panama

Bottom photo: Maya deVries, 2010-2011, Panama (third from left) with Coco Solo students learning about fossil snails found in dirt left from dredging for the Panama Canal in Cambio Creativo’s afterschool program