By Dr. Kristin Drexler
Faculty Member, School of STEM, American Public University
Later this month, two students will join me in Belize to conduct field research. Mariana Jimenez and Ciera Gatling will be part of a four-person team consisting of myself and a Belizean faculty member, and we will conduct a socio-ecological survey in Belize, interviewing residents about impacts related to human-caused pollution in the New River in northern Belize. Belize is located south of Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula in Central America.
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Mariana and Ciera are both officers of the university’s wSTEM-AWIS chapters. WSTEM stands for women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). AWIS, a professional organization and a sister chapter to wSTEM at American Public University System (APUS), stands for Association of Women in Science.
I selected Mariana and Ciera from a group of wSTEM members who applied for the research assistant position. Originally, one student was budgeted in my project. But because both students were very qualified and would gain professionally, academically, and personally from this experience, I was able to reduce the cost for a second student and APUS was able to match the remaining funds we needed.
Background on Mariana and Ciera
Mariana Jimenez is a graduate student at AMU. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois, and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and three daughters.
She received her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science in 2017. Mariana is currently working on a Master’s degree at AMU in Environmental Policy and Management with a certificate in Environmental Hazard Mitigation and Restoration.
When applying for the position, Mariana said: “I would like to get into environmental restoration and remediation projects in my future career…Undoubtedly, pollution causes tremendous impacts on humans via their health, their cognition and perspectives. The experiences gained [through this field research] will add to my environmental science field as well as emergency management. What I can bring to this project is willingness to make a difference; I believe that taking data and research on the impacts of pollution can help us mitigate future damage and help restore the communities that have been impacted.”
Ciera Gatling is an undergraduate student at APU. Ciera is originally from Rockford, Illinois, and currently resides in Greenwood, Indiana, with her significant other and their pets (three cats and two snakes, so far). Ciera is currently working on her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science with a concentration in Fisheries and Wildlife Management.
Next, Ciera plans to pursue a Master’s degree in Wildlife Biology. She has always had a passion for marine and exotic wildlife and hopes to aid in their protection and conservation in her future endeavors.
On her application for the position, Ciera said: “I have searched for something like this opportunity — to travel to another country to perform environmental research…Being able to see how environmental issues impact residents of other countries would not only broaden my sense of these issues, but would also allow students, such as myself, to create solutions to these issues on a larger scale.”
Belize Research Project to Involve Study of Anthropogenic Pollution
As part of a faculty research grant, the study will investigate residents’ perceptions of impacts related to anthropogenic pollution along the New River in northern Belize. We will work with a local colleague, Mr. Omar Castillo, a Muffles Junior College faculty member who teaches Biology in Orange Walk Town.
Omar Castillo first mentioned the idea for the study to me when he and others noticed an annual pollution-related phenomenon along the New River. This event initiated the formation of a citizen action group called Friends of the New River, who invited us to conduct the study.
All four members of our research team have had several Zoom meetings since March to prepare for traveling and conducting the study in Belize. For both Mariana and Ciera, this is their first experience traveling to Belize.
I have traveled to Belize for 22 years, eight of which were as the co-founder and director of the Belize Field School, a series of accredited field courses from New Mexico State University. I initially discovered my love for this country in 1997, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and I have been returning every year since.
Blog Updates and Live-Stream of Belize Trip to Come
Our team will provide regular blog updates during the week-long project in Belize, which is scheduled to start on July 21. We will also be taking all wSTEM-AWIS members along for the experience by creating a virtual field trip which is planned during that same week. The field trip will be live-streamed on wSTEM’s Facebook site.
For more information about wSTEM and AWIS or to join the group(s), please visit our APUS wSTEM chapter website.
About the Author
Dr. Kristin Drexler is a full-time faculty member of Geography and Conservation of Natural Resources for American Public University’s School of STEM. She earned her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership at New Mexico State University by researching socio-ecological systems, sustainable agroecology, and community extension education. She earned her master of arts degree in international affairs from Ohio University, with an emphasis in natural resources management.
Kristin has conducted numerous community surveys in Belize regarding agroforestry, conservation, and sustainable agriculture. Until she became a full-time instructor with APU in 2009, Ms. Drexler was an environmental scientist in New Mexico, conducting field biology surveys and environmental impact analyses. She founded the Belize Field School Program at NMSU, coordinating short courses in Belize in wildlife, agroforestry, marine ecology, and documentary filmmaking (2006-2014).
Most recently, Kristin produced an award-winning short film, “Yochi,” a story about youth conservation and action against poaching and illegal wildlife trade. In the late 1990s, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize. Kristin serves on the board of directors of Full Basket Belize, a U.S. nonprofit that provides high school scholarships and community grants in Belize. She also regularly volunteers for the Mesilla Valley Film Society in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
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