Fall 2013

Conservation Abroad Through Research

By Sydney Inks

Julie Ray
, a UW-Stevens Point 2000 alumnus in biology, proved that dreams come true with undeniable hard work and persistence. Being visually impaired did not discourage Ray from pursuing her goal of establishing La MICA, a biological research station in the Omar Torrijos National Park of Panama.

Today, employing local residents of El Cope, the Coclé Province and the Republic of Panama, Ray conducts research to conserve the local environment, history and culture through education, research and global outreach. La MICA, an acronym for La Montana para Investigacion y Conservacion Ambiental, or The Mountain for Research and Environmental Conservation, pursues advancements in scientific data with both the knowledge and skills of the local people. Ray also conducts personal research of specific snake and frog species as well as other animals and vegetation of the area.

Although funding is hard to come by, Ray and her team actively seek donations and grants to sustain their facilities and research efforts. La MICA plans to place satellite laboratories in communities to make it possible for remote research. Following the current project, their next goal is to raise money to expand the site with a kitchen and laboratory.

La MICA is a teaching facility and encourages students, researchers and tourists to visit. The organization offers research opportunities, courses, seminars and tourism accommodations. The educational possibilities span from biology fields, cultural studies, photography, immersion Spanish, geology and more. Tourists are offered guides who are knowledgeable in the area and species of the forest.

Overcoming the hardship of starting La MICA and continuing the project, Ray simultaneously continues her research and recently published a bilingual book aimed to help local people, tourists and students assist with snake conservation and reduce incidental snakebites.

Ray recommends studying abroad to all students who are determined to expand skills in their area of study and have valuable life experiences.

“The opportunity to study abroad in such an exotic place is an opportunity that literally changes your life. You become immersed in a different culture and language and in turn, learn to appreciate your own more,” said Ray. “The people skills you develop without even knowing it are something that would benefit any future employer and open up many more opportunities for careers. It is scary to pack up and move where you know no one and you don’t speak the language, but the experience is well worth it and something that cannot be replicated anywhere but abroad.”

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