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