Protecting the land, its plants and its people: Incoming nursing student reports on her JumpstartTU encounters in Panama -

Protecting the land, its plants and its people: Incoming nursing student reports on her JumpstartTU encounters in Panama

The new academic year is about set to begin, and just before everyone returns to class we have the opportunity to gaze fondly back at one of the summertime highlights here at The University of Tulsa: the JumpstartTU in Panama program.

This fascinating photo-essay comes to us courtesy of Grace Cox, who is joining TU’s bachelor of science in nursing program in fall 2019. Originally from Highland Village, Texas, during her free time Grace enjoys playing the clarinet and baking.

By: Grace Cox

I encountered many new and wonderful people, places and ideas during my JumpstartTU week in Panama. One theme, however, kept resurfacing: the vital need to protect the natural environment and traditional ways of life. I am so glad to have the chance to introduce you to some of the examples of this concept I encountered.

Mangroves by the seashore

On the second day of our trip to Panama we visited the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) at Punta Galeta. The area was not only incredibly beautiful. It also included numerous examples of how native plant growth offers many benefits to Panama.

This image shows the mangroves that are present along the seashore at the Institute. Mangroves provide protection for the land, preventing excess erosion of the shoreline and protecting wildlife.

Mangroves in Panama

We were guided around the protected area, and the thing that stood out the most for me was how much our guide emphasized the beauty of the mangroves. She reminded us that it was important to appreciate the beauty and vitality of something so helpful for the Panamanian ecosystem.

Cultivating and protecting plant life

At the STRI, we also saw a group of plants growing in used tires that had been painted bright colors. These tires, once trash, were repurposed to create beauty and to house plants, such as verbena, seen in the image here.

Colorful tires recycled as plant containers in Panama

Verbena is not only beautiful. It’s also beneficial to grow because it has medicinal qualities and is known to reduce inflammation. This use of verbena shows how cultivation and protection of plant life can lead to a rewarding product, something that was emphasized throughout our time in the area.


During a day of activities with the NGO Geoversity, we were able to visit Biomuseo, a museum focused on the evolution and ecosystem of Panama over the years. One thing that struck me the most here was the emphasis on biodiversity and the benefits it poses.

Not only is biodiversity important for wildlife to thrive, but it is central to the development of medicines. Decreasing biodiversity lowers the possibilities of discovering medicinal solutions or utilizing plants for such.

A tour guide at the Biomuseo in Panama

Indigenous society and culture

My final example is not about plants but about people – specifically, the importance of understanding and respecting the original human inhabitants of the land.

Our visit to an Embera village, located on the Chagres River, was characterized by a lively population and friendly greetings – despite the language barrier. While there, the Embera people made us a delicious meal of fish and plantains. We were taught some of the ways in which they work with their environment to thrive, and we were given special temporary tattoos made of a plant-based ink. It’s amazing to think that the Embera have managed to preserve their culture in the context of colonialism and industrialization.

I was deeply moved by their willingness to give us such a rich view of their community and ways of life. They also taught us an important lesson: welcome others, even if they are from a completely different culture.

Embera people at the Embera Village in Panama


(Editor’s note: If the kind of international travel and learning Grace experienced interest you, learn more about the JumpstartTU program and TU’s Center for Global Education. For another view of the JumpstartTU program, you can also read about another incoming freshman student’s time in Panama the week before Grace’s excursion.)