Posts Tagged ‘panama’

Q&A with Panama Study Abroad Program Leader, Aly Dagang

Monday, March 5th, 2012

SIT and Smithsonian Journeys have come together to offer a four-week summer study abroad program in Panama for students age 18 and older. The program will provide firsthand experience in biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation in Central America’s southernmost nation.

Amy Kotkin, Director of Smithsonian Journeys, speaks with Aly Dagang, program leader and Associate Dean for Latin America at SIT, a division of World Learning.

Aly Dagang, Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader

Aly Dagang in the field with students

Amy Kotkin: This June, Smithsonian will partner with World Learning on a month-long program for college students who would like to study tropical ecology and sustainability issues in Panama. Why is Panama a particularly important place to study these issues?

Aly Dagang: Panama is an outstanding place to study tropical ecology due to the range of vastly biodiverse ecosystems that occur within close distances. Per square area, Panama is the most biodiverse country in the Neotropics. The proximity of terrestrial, marine, and coastal ecosystems allows students to experience multiple, unique environments throughout their studies.

AK: The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), located in Panama, is regarded as one of the world’s foremost centers for long-range studies in tropical ecology. Will students enjoy access to some of STRI’s research facilities during their stay?

AD: Yes, students will have the opportunity to spend one week at Smithsonian’s Bocas del Toro Research Station on Colon Island on Panama’s northern Caribbean coast where they will attend the marine ecology and fisheries module of the program, taught by a Smithsonian staff scientist. In the Panama Canal Watershed, students will visit Smithsonian’s Barro Colorado Island research station and become familiar with active research experiments undertaken by Smithsonian and Smithsonian-affiliated scientists.

AK: The program encompasses stays in both Panama City and David. Can you tell us why it is structured in this way? What are the advantages?

AD: The program is structured in this manner to provide students with the broadest access to tropical ecosystems as well as to natural resource use projects that students will be introduced to and where they will spend time. In David, on Panama’s Pacific coast, students will attend Spanish classes at the national university while engaging in field experiences in the cloud forest of the La Amistad UNESCO World Heritage Site (PILA). In the PILA buffer zone, students will live and work with rural families engaged in sustainable cottage industries aimed toward the conservation of PILA’s natural resources. In the capital, students will engage in the climate change module and meet with practitioners and scientists who are actively working on projects seeking to broaden the knowledge base with a particular focus on the effects of climate change in the tropics. Students will also visit projects that are exploring integration into the international carbon market.

AK: Homestays are a key element to all of SIT’s programs. Why do you house students in homes rather than dormitories for a segment of their stay, and can you tell us anything about the homestays in Panama?

AD: Homestays are one of the hallmarks of the SIT experiential learning model. Living with a local family allows students to become immersed into the local culture, to forge relationships with people from the area in which they are living, and become much more familiar with local norms, customs, and lifestyle. On the Panama program, students live in homestays while in David, in the PILA buffer zone, and sometimes in Panama City. In David and Panama City, our hosts are working class families who tend to have long-standing roots in their neighborhoods. In the PILA buffer zone, families are rural agriculturalists who have lived for many years in the mountain region where students are based. Most host families in general have children and large, extended families.

AK: Spanish instruction is also included in the program. Do students need any particular level of proficiency in order to register?

AD: No, there are no language pre-requisites for the Spanish classes. Students of all language levels are accommodated within the program.

AK: What can you tell us about the faculty for this program?

AD: Faculty are drawn from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the national university, local NGOs, and one international NGO. Instructors are highly regarded and are considered experts in their fields. In addition to the program’s Academic Director, each module is taught by an individual expert providing students the opportunity to interact with specialists in each of the fields of study.

Students explore Panama’s cloud forests

AK: The Panama program includes 6 college credits. What are the requirements for credit?

AD: To earn all six credits, students must complete satisfactorily all requirements of the two three-credit courses, Spanish and Sustaining the Earth in the 21st Century, as articulated in the course syllabi.

AK: The program was first offered in 2011. What did last year’s college students particularly value about the experience?

AD: I believe student’s were most captured by the homestay experiences, both rural and urban, as they allowed students to integrate into society as well as provided them with new perspectives and visions of Panama and its environmental resources. Also students seemed to find the field excursions to the mountain forests and to the Caribbean coast particularly engaging and unique due to the hands-on, experiential learning they engaged in there.

More About Aly Dagang, Ph.D.:
Dr. Dagang, a California native, completed her B.A. in international development with an emphasis in Latin American Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. She obtained her Ph.D. from the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Her research was carried out with local farmers and examines biophysical and socioeconomic aspects of wood and fruit tree repopulation of grazed, extensive pastures in Central Panama. Dr. Dagang was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama in the province of Panama Oeste. She has worked on numerous projects in Panama with foci that include gender, agroforestry, sustainable agriculture, community development, environmental education, forestry, and conservation.  Dr. Dagang was academic director of the SIT Panama program from 2002 to 2009 and now serves as associate academic dean for the SIT Latin America portfolio. She is also the agroecology professor for the SIT Study Abroad Panama semester program.

Want to learn more? Click here for more information on Smithsonian Journeys’ Study Abroad Programs.

How the Isthmus of Panama Changed the World

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Tony Coates is a Smithsonian geologist, Senior Scientist Emeritus, and former Deputy Director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Currently, he is working with a team of scientists to unravel the geological history of the Panamanian isthmus over the last 12 million years, and preparing to lead our January, 2012 departure of Around the World by Private Jet. Here, Dr. Coates answers some great questions about the Isthmus of Panama, the narrow strip of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, which connects North and South America.

Q. What would happen if the Isthmus was not there? What do you think the world be like today?
Locks along the Panama Canal

A. If the Isthmus of Panama was not there, the world would be very different today. All the animals of South America would be unique marsupials, like in Australia, very different to today because they would never have been invaded and overtaken by all the species that colonized from North America. The Caribbean and the East Pacific would be one ocean with similar species; today they are very different with corals reefs abundant in the Caribbean but without large supplies of commercial fish, whereas the Pacific has few small coral reefs and large important commercial fisheries. Humans from Asia might not have reached South America via the Bering Land Bridge from the north so different kinds of humans might have arrived, say, from Polynesia. Columbus might have sailed on to Asia! The Ice Age would have been different and Europe’s ports might freeze every winter like the Saint Laurence seaway does. El Niño and climates in other parts of the world might have been different in ways that we still do not fully understand.

Q. Do you feel that the formation of the Isthmus of Panama has anything to do with causing the El-Niño phenomenon?

A.  The formation of a land barrier between the Atlantic (Caribbean) and the Pacific certainly changed the patterns of ocean circulation in both oceans. It is very likely that this change helped to set up the oceanic conditions in the eastern Pacific which allows the El Niño to develop every few years.
Q. How did the diversion of the Gulf Stream, following the development of the Isthmus of Panama, cause man to begin to walk upright?

A.  Many scientists think that the closure of the Isthmus of Panama strengthened the warm Gulf Stream Current. This current took warm waters high into northern latitudes providing moisture to the atmosphere so that snow formed to build the glaciers of the ice age. At the same time a strong current also flowed south along the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean and affected the climate of north Africa causing it to become drier so that savannahs and open grasslands developed which provided the habitats that previously arboreal (tree living) primates then colonized. In the process one group became more socially organized, had their front limbs freed up for tool making, caring for young, and for other tasks, and in the process started to walk upright.

Q. Animals that traveled south over the land bridge did better than the animals that traveled north. Can you please tell us why?

A. Yes. Some 50-60% of the mammals of South America, including cats, deer, mice, bears, and many others were not known in South America until about 3 million years ago. Why there are only three species that remain from the migration from south to north is not known certainly. Many scientists think that because the North American animals had already evolved in competition with animals from Asia, which had crossed the Bering Land Bridge during the Ice Age and had then survived within North America, they were in some way “hardened” or more robust when they met and competed with the South American animals which had been isolated on that continent for millions of years and had never faced competition from other regions before. But this is just speculation.

Q. Who first came up with idea of making the canal? About how many miles long is the canal from Panama City to the Caribbean Sea? About how long does it take for a boat to travel all the way through the canal?

A. The idea of a canal across the Central American Isthmus is quite old historically. The Spanish early in their conquest wrote about the possibility, the British surveyed the San Juan River between Costa Rica and Nicaragua and the route over to the Pacific in the early 19th century or late 18th century, and of course the French started to build the canal in Panama in the late 1800s but failed. Their route was successfully taken over by the USA and the canal was completed by 1914.

It is about 65-70 kilometers as the crow flies from Panama City (the Pacific entrance to the canal) to Colón (where the canal reaches the Caribbean). Ships usually allow about 24 hours to complete the crossing of the canal; about half this time is spent navigating the canal and its locks. The remainder is spent at anchor with other ships, waiting to be notified by the Panama Canal Authority that a pilot is ready to take them through. The Panama Canal is the only place in the world where the pilot takes complete control of the vessel and the captain cannot countermand him.

Dr. Coates will be leading the January, 2012 departure of our Around the World by Private Jet tour. Click here for information on travel to Panama and check out the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Thursday, October 14th, 2010
Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute work with the local animal populations.

Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute work with the local animal populations.

Between bats, birds, and coral reefs, the folks studying biodiversity at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama stay pretty busy. In fact, if you’re a college student, your chance to help them out with their research (and get college credit for it) comes in the summer of 2011. Here’s a few more things to know about our friends at STRI.

1) They’re using using radio telemetry  to track the routes and interactions of animals around – and across – the Panama Canal. They’ve also discovered that sloths aren’t as lazy as we thought. Click to read more from Smithsonian Magazine.

2) They’ve set up an underwater reef webcam at the Galeta Marine Laboratory in Panama. Click to check out the action.

3) They study bats, lots of bats – in fact, there are 74 species of bats living on Panama’s Barro Colorado Island, not far from STRI. Thanks to the Smithsonian Channel, you can meet the Smithsonian scientists who study them.

4) STRI  has a great interactive web site for kids, where they can learn (in English and Spanish) all about sharks.

There’s plenty more where that came from. Click here for STRI’s main page, here for more information on our college summer program, Exploring Panama: Biodiversity in the Tropics, and here for all of our travel opportunities in Panama

Where would you like to go next summer? Please share.

Travel Hit List: Central America

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

As the cold weather sets in, we’re dreaming of warmer places. Join us for a quick journey to the sunny skies and balmy seas of Central America.

Morpho butterflies make their homes in Central America, where they feed on fermenting fruit.

Read: our account of coral spawning at a reef  off the coast of Panama, and why this is critically important to undersea ecology from Smithsonian Magazine.

Hear: how people from Central America once entertained each other with homegrown lyrics on Calypsos of Costa Rica from Smithsonian Folkways.

Watch: How scientists have been studying biodiversity at Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal since 1923 from Smithsonian Channel.

Chew: your gum with your mouth closed, while you learn about the origins of chicle in southern Mexico and Central America from our Food and Think blog.

Check out: What’s new at the Smithsonian Latino Center, including the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum in Second Life.

Go: Now is a great time to book your travel to Costa Rica, Panama, or Guatemala with Smithsonian Journeys.

My Favorite Travel Mementos

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Amy Kotkin is Director of Smithsonian Journeys, the educational tour program of the Smithsonian Institution. She joined the Smithsonian in 1974 and over the past 35 years has developed a wide range of educational benefits for Smithsonian members nationwide. Click here to read Amy’s bio.

Amy and a small sampling from her textile collection.

Amy and a small sampling from her textile collection.

When I return home from my Around the World tour with Smithsonian members in April, chances are that my suitcase will be stuffed with colorful textiles. It never fails! Wherever I travel, I’m drawn to the artistry of local weavers and needleworkers whose works I’ve found in small shops, museums, on the streets, or even strung on a closeline between village huts. More than once I’ve been grateful that textiles became my particular travel passion! Portable, unbreakable, and usually inexpensive, textiles are pretty easy to bring home…far easier than, say, brass elephants.

So what happens when these fabrics “unite” in my home? Well, many become “working” pillows on the living room sofa and the upstairs bedrooms. But they all carry wonderful memories of previous Smithsonian Journeys, and I am always delighted when friends and family ask about their origins. Take the three in this picture that hang out together in my living room. (more…)