An Indigenous Intercambio Program: Empowering Underrepresented STEM Students to Participate in Scientific and Cultural Exchange Through Study Abroad




Underrepresented STEM students, Community-based partnership, Indigenous exchange, Ngäbe Buglé, Panama


The Panama-Heritage University Indigenous Intercambio Program (PIIP) is a science and cultural exchange between participants from both the United States (US) and the Ngäbe and Buglé (NB) of Panama. This study abroad program is specifically designed to resonate with the cultural backgrounds of Latinx and Native American students together with the Indigenous community they work with. PIIP provides a model for developing a community-based study abroad experience that is empowering for both students and host communities. Data gathered from US students, the NB participants, and a PIIP professor were analyzed to examine questions exploring how taking underrepresented minority students on an international experience is different - both for the study abroad student and the host community. We explore how power dynamics are always at play and begin to redefine the purpose of study abroad. Mutual learning, an exchange of ideas, and a relationship built on reciprocity and respect form the foundation for a balanced and fair partnership. PIIP offers possibilities and hope for both students and the partnering community members.


Abstract in Spanish

El Programa de Intercambio Indígena de Panama-Heritage University (PIIP, por sus siglas en inglés) es un intercambio científico y cultural entre participantes de los Estados Unidos (EE. UU.) y los Ngäbe y Buglé (NB) de Panamá. Este programa de estudios en el extranjero está diseñado específicamente para resonar con los antecedentes culturales de los estudiantes latinos y nativos americanos junto con la comunidad indígena con la que trabajan. El PIIP proporciona un modelo para desarrollar una experiencia de estudio en el extranjero basada en la comunidad que empodera tanto a los estudiantes como a las comunidades anfitrionas. Se analizaron los datos recopilados de los estudiantes estadounidenses, los participantes de NB y un profesor del PIIP para examinar preguntas que exploran cómo es diferente llevar a estudiantes de minorías subrepresentadas a una experiencia internacional, tanto para el estudiante de estudios en el extranjero como para la comunidad anfitriona. Exploramos cómo las dinámicas de poder siempre están en juego y comenzamos a redefinir el propósito de estudiar en el extranjero. El aprendizaje mutuo, el intercambio de ideas y una relación basada en la reciprocidad y el respeto forman la base de una asociación equilibrada y justa. El PIIP ofrece posibilidades y esperanza tanto para los estudiantes como para los miembros de la comunidad asociada.


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Author Biographies

Jessica L. Black, Heritage University

Jessica L. Black is a Mexican-American scientist and educator. She serves as the Director of the Center for Indigenous Health, Culture & the Environment, Professor of Environmental Science & Studies, and Chair of the Science Department at Heritage University. She earned a B.A. in Geology from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from the University of Colorado. Jessica has focused her career on diversifying the STEM professoriate and empowering rural and indigenous communities.

Stephany RunningHawk Johnson, Washington State University

Stephany RunningHawk Johnson is a member of the Oglala Lakota nation, is an Assistant Professor at Washington State University. She focuses her research on supporting Indigenous students attending universities and majoring in STEM and works with local Tribes to incorporate land-based education and TEK to increase Indigenous students' sense of identity and belonging. Stephany’s work is done through an Indigenous Feminist lens and is dedicated to supporting Nation building, Tribal sovereignty, and empowering Indigenous communities.

Denise Silfee

Denise Silfee is an American free-lance multimedia storyteller based in Oregon, focused on how people and communities relate to each other and their environments across cultures. She holds Master's degrees in Education and Journalism and worked as an educator in Oregon, Thailand, Sudan, and Egypt for 11 years before turning her attention to storytelling.

Celestino Mariano Gallardo

Celestino Mariano Gallardo is from the village of Cerro Iglecia in the Nidrini region of Panama. He has been serving the Ngäbe and Bugle peoples as a freedom fighter, community activist, and politician for four decades since the age of 15. Throughout his career he fostered collaborative relationships to bring opportunities for sustainable development to the region. Celestino currently serves as the President of the XIII Congreso General Ngäba Bugle, elected on 7 March 2021.


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How to Cite

Black, J. L., RunningHawk Johnson, S., Silfee, D., & Mariano Gallardo, C. (2022). An Indigenous Intercambio Program: Empowering Underrepresented STEM Students to Participate in Scientific and Cultural Exchange Through Study Abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 34(3), 16–43.