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Doctoral Student Broadens Learning in Peru, Hawaii and New Mexico

Last Updated on October 01, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Originally published October 01, 2018

By Katalina Salas

Doctoral student, Environmental Science and Engineering

I had the opportunity to visit three very different locations this summer. These places were filled with vibrant culture, biodiverse habitats and landscapes, but all had brilliant environments for imagination and learning.

Katalina Salas
Katalina Salas

The GREEN Program (TGP) in Peru, which focuses on water resources management and sustainable practices, was full of adventure. As a Hispanic, Peru became a home away from home for 11 days. The cuisine was amazing, the ingenuity of the Incas’ water systems integrated throughout the city of Cuzco was beyond words, and the people were genuine. I learned about the extreme severity of water pollution and the complexity of solving this issue. TGP integrates real-world science problems with in-depth immersion into a culture all topped off with adventures throughout Machu Picchu, including zip lining and whitewater rafting along the Urubamba River.

My other experience was with the IS-GEO — a community of data and climate scientists from throughout the world who came together this year in Hilo, Hawaii. The group’s goals are to support an emerging community of researchers in intelligent systems and geosciences. Hurricane Hector was approaching Hawaii when we arrived. We immediately began assembling various types of weather sensors to collect live data from the storm. This led to a call for all hands on deck. I learned the basics of Arduino and Raspberry Pi devices, and how they could be used to create cheap and easy weather sensors. We deployed more than 15 sensors across the Big Island of Hawaii and encountered the flows from Fissure 8 from only a few miles away. We visited Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, both of which stand over 13,000 feet in elevation. The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) is a habitat on an isolated Mars-like site on the Mauna Loa side of the saddle area on the Big Island. Researchers use the site to simulate missions to the Red Planet. Overall, this was a seven-day trip full of adventure and hands-on experience through the deployment of sensors. 

Finally, La Semilla was my home for two months. Located in Anthony, New Mexico, this nonprofit is doing extraordinary things in the community. Its mission is to build a healthy, self-reliant, fair and sustainable food system in the Paso del Norte region of Southern New Mexico and El Paso. I was fortunate to be able to take part in that mission as a recipient of the Diana Natalicio Environmental Internship from UTEP’s Center for Environmental Resource Management. I took part in creating educational material for the agency as well as hands-on activities highlighting native pollinators. I learned about native/indigenous plants and practices, and found a new love for native bees. I plan to continue volunteering for them and making a change in our community.

Read about more Vocation Vacations experiences.