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¡SOBRE México!: Student Opportunities for Biological Research in Mexico

¡SOBRE México!


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the SOBRE México program?

SOBRE México, “About México,” is a new CWU program, nested in the Department of Biological Sciences and funded by the National Science Foundation, which provides Student Opportunities for Biological REsearch in México -->  SOBRE México!

Each year, for three years, cohorts of at least 5 CWU students (3-4 undergraduates and 1-2 graduates) will team with scientists from CWU and from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) to spend 8 weeks investigating the web of biological interactions in the tropical dry forest of coastal Jalisco at Estación de Biología, Chamela (EBCh). The program builds on a strong alliance with our Mexican colleagues, developed over a long history of CWU student research at EBCh

The SOBRE México program will 1) connect undergraduate and MS students at Central Washington University with research mentors investigating seasonally dry tropical forests (SDTF) and 2) inspire cohorts of talented US students to pursue careers as globally-engaged scientists through collaborations with Mexican researchers.

How do I apply?

To apply for the program you will submit 1) a completed application form including demographic information, contact information, intended major and citizenship, 2) an unofficial copy of your most recent college transcript, 3) two letters of recommendation from faculty, advisors, employers or community leaders, and 4) a personal statement, that addresses your motivation to pursue international experience, ability to endure the rigors of fieldwork in a foreign country, and your ultimate goals in pursuing a career in science. Go here to fill out an application

What is the application deadline?

The application deadline is October 31st

How are applicants chosen?

Applications will be ranked based on scholarship, motivation, ability to work as a member of a team, and diversity. Motivation and teamwork potential will be judged based on your application, and on in-person interviews of the top applicants.

When will I know if I am accepted to the program?

Admission of each new cohort into the program will be announced in early-December.

When does the program start?

Each SOBRE México cohort begins their program at the start of Winter Quarter in early January.

What does the program pay for?

The SOBRE México program pays all transportation expenses (roundtrip airfare to Mexico, ground transportation, field trips), meals and lodging in Mexico, and expenses for research supplies.  In addition, each SOBRE México scholar receives a $500/week stipend during their 7-8week summer internship at the Chamela field station.

What prerequisites do I need to participate?

To be eligible for admission into the SOBRE México program you must:

  1. Be a U.S. citizens or permanent resident.
  2. Enroll as a full-time CWU undergraduate or M.S. student, with a declared major in a STEM discipline (Biology, Geology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Engineering, or Computer Science),
  3. Demonstrate academic ability or potential via a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 or through means such as outside projects, exceptional performance in STEM course(s), or exceptional dedication to a SOBRE México eligible project.
  4. When you enter the program during winter quarter have taken or be enrolled in BIOL182, a prerequisite for BIOL 213 (Biostatistics) which will be required before summer research.

Do I need to know Spanish to participate?

No, Spanish proficiency is not required for admission, but a strong interest in learning Spanish will be essential.  All of our Mexican mentors speak fluent English. Some of the CWU students in each cohort will be bilingual and will be valuable language resources. Opportunities will be provided for informal Spanish instruction to non-Spanish speakers.

What is it like where we are going?

Estación de Biología, Chamela is in coastal Jalisco, approximately 200 km south of Puerto Vallarta. The biological field station at Chamela brings together an inspirational natural laboratory (the tropical dry forest) and UNAM’s outstanding research faculty.  In addition to ready access to study sites and mentors, SOBRE Mexico scholars can develop life-long academic relationships with Mexican scholars who will form the next generation of internationally-educated scientists. Some of Mexico’s best scholars study at EBCh, providing an exceptional opportunity for CWU students to develop academic relationships with top Mexican scientists and their students, laying the foundation for future collaborations. Go here to learn more about our setting

Is it safe?

The field station and surrounding region are safe; people are kind, eager to share their culture, and patient with those learning Spanish. Although drug cartels have brought violence to parts of Mexico, this region has remained safe and free of violence.

How long does the program last and what am I expected to do?

Each SOBRE México cohort will actively participate from January through December (year 1) and will return during year 2 to meet the new SOBRE México scholars during winter quarter, and present their research at SOURCE in May of year 2.  Here is an overview of the program schedule...

Winter Quarter -- Students entering the program will enroll in Regional Natural History (BIOL377) which guides you through all steps of project preparation, from reviewing pertinent literature and communicating with foreign mentors (via email and SKYPE), to formulating hypotheses, designing methods/analyses, and orally presenting research proposals at the end of winter quarter. You will practice Spanish within the group with help from bilingual students participating in the program and SOBRE México faculty.

Spring Break -- SOBRE México students will meet their foreign mentors at the field station, solidify their summer projects, and begin data collection during the dry season.

Spring Quarter -- SOBRE México scholars will enroll in BIOL 495 (Research experience for undergraduates) to revise research proposals as necessary, communicate with foreign mentors and prepare for summer research. Each new cohort will present a group poster on your projects at SOURCE in May.

Summer --  SOBRE México scholars will conduct research with foreign mentors and UNAM students at EBCh. Informal Spanish instruction provided at EBCh. Daily interactions with scientists and students at EBCh along with regular meetings with foreign mentors and/or CWU faculty.  Summer excursion to UNAM/Mexico City will include mentors, SOBRE Mexico scholars and UNAM students. At end of your summer stay, you will present preliminary data at EBCh, along with plans for subsequent data analysis and dissemination. 

Fall -- Participants will enroll in seminar course (BIOL 495.2) consisting of data analysis, skype session with EBCh mentors, and culminating in a Natural Science Seminar presentation, which will also serve as a recruitment kickoff for the upcoming year. Mentor Garcia (and possibly UNAM student/s) will attend seminar during year one; plans are underway for other mentors and UNAM students to attend in subsequent years.

Winter Year 2 -- Former SOBRE México students will give presentation in Winter as part of BIOL 377 to share their experience with the new year’s cohort.

Spring Year 2 -- Students from previous cohort will present results of individual projects at SOURCE in May.  Students will be encouraged to attend/present their research at international meetings and they can apply to CWU College of the Sciences for additional funding (for registration, etc.).

What will I do? What are some of the projects?

Students will work on research projects integrated across the disciplines of biology to make important contributions to our understanding of seasonally dry tropical forest (SDTF), one of the most endangered terrestrial biomes on Earth.

Some students may work with Dr. Victor Sanchez, director of UNAM’s Institute of Biology, and his postdoctoral associates, to investigate the relationship between blood-feeding triatomine insects, the parasite they carry, Trypanosoma cruzi, and the mammals the insects feed on. This work will aid in our understanding of which mammals in SDTF serve as reservoirs of Chagas disease.

Other students may work with herpetologist Dr. Andres Garcia to track reptiles and amphibians in the forest during the extreme transition from dry season to wet season in July, research that will contribute new insights into how vertebrate ectotherms manage strong seasonality, a defining feature of SDTF.

Some students may work with Dr. Katherine Renton, a world authority on parrot ecology in SDTF, investigating variation in food and nesting resources for parrots and other cavity-nesting birds.

Others will work with Dr. Jorge Vega Rivera, chief of the field station, using remote cameras and transect surveys to monitor wildlife activity in the forest and along Mexican Highway 200, which bisects the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve, in which EBCh is located.  Results from this project will be used to guide decisions on how best to minimize habitat fragmentation associated with planned expansion of Highway 200. 

Students will be members of a cohesive team working together on ongoing research by our Mexican colleagues to address relevant and important issues in the structure, functioning, and conservation of SDTF. For more details about projects you can work on, go here

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