July 20, 2016

Belmopan, Belize

Blog post written by Christine Munisteri, REU Assistant Program Coordinator, Skidmore College ’16

Today the Citizen Science GIS REU students and staff hit the road bright and early for a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for students and staff to present our work to such an important and well-respected group of individuals. “As an international research team committed to collaboration and communicating our work with diverse stakeholders, we fully appreciate the significance of meeting with Embassy staff, including the Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission. Our students were well prepared, presented their work effectively, and were deeply humbled by this once in a lifetime opportunity to dialogue with such important diplomats in Belize,” said Timothy Hawthorne, principal investigator of the Citizen Science GIS REU Team.

imageAfter passing through security check-points, we were ushered into a briefing room where we met Adrienne Galanek, the Deputy Chief of Mission (the Embassy’s number two in command), who ran the meeting. Each research track would eventually give a brief overview of their projects and explain their ArcGIS mapping applications. Despite the pressure of presenting at the U.S. Embassy, the students were calm, cool, and collected throughout their talks. Their work sparked interest among some of the Embassy’s highest ranking employees, including an International Affairs representative, the Economic and Political Advisor, and the Political and Security Advisor for Gang Suppression and Narcotics.

After each group presented, the staff of the Embassy congratulated the students on their efforts, offered suggestions, asked questions, and discussed avenues for future partnership between the NSF REU team and the Embassy. The Embassy staff was excited about the level of community engagement we have been able to achieve up to this point, as well as our plans to increase engagement in our final days. One point the staff of the Embassy stressed was the importance of involving Hopkins’ youth in order to make this a sustainable community-based project. The goal is for this work to continue after we leave in a week, and in order for that to happen, we need to involve the future leaders of the community. The Embassy currently offers a variety of activities to promote youth involvement throughout Belize, from beach clean ups to reduce gang involvement, to community movie nights. They also work heavily with OCEANA to cultivate awareness, respect, and a sense of stewardship for Belize’s oceans. Oftentimes, the Embassy will screen short, educational videos from OCEANA and other organizations immediately before the actual film on movie nights. In fact, similarly to OCEANA, The Embassy has requested that we produce a short documentary summarizing the summer’s work, which they will disseminate to their followers on social media.

During what we expected to be the final few minutes of the meeting, an important diplomat slipped into the back of the room and sat quietly for a few moments. We were then introduced to the United States Ambassador, Mr. Carlos Moreno. The energy in the room underwent a noticeable change, thanks to a new wave of excitement of the Ambassador’s presence. After a brief introduction, the Ambassador sat down and listened to a quick summary of each project. Caleb Ball, an REU scholar from The Ohio State University, of the marine debris team and Sarah Kuo, an REU scholar from The University of the Pacific, of the flooding team provided two-minute briefings to the Ambassador. He responded to each presentation and echoed the other Embassy members’ sentiments, saying how important this work is to the people of Belize and to U.S. citizens abroad. We took a group photo and Ambassador Moreno hung around and chatted with students for some time. We left the Embassy with the realization that there is so much more to be done, but we also felt incredibly invigorated and excited for our final days here in Belize. Sarah Kuo reflected on the afternoon, saying, “It was incredibly reassuring to receive our Embassy’s support of our work and insightful to hear the wealth of connections and ideas they had for our project. Their enthusiasm and dedication to similar projects around Belize propels us back to Hopkins with buzzing minds for the final days with the community.”

More excitement to come! We are humbled and grateful for today’s incredible opportunity to present at the Embassy!

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