Kimberly, Guatemala

Kimberly is a junior double major in biological sciences and chemistry in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. As part of SMU Engaged Learning, she is conducting an Unbridled Project in Guatemala during 2012-13. She plans to research health-related traditions, beliefs and practices in the indigenous Mayan community and evaluate how these values and beliefs occasionally clash with Western medicine. Before heading to Guatemala, she is studying at SMU-in-Taos.

On the Road Again

I look back and there fading in the distance is the SMU-In-Taos campus. I look at the rearview mirror and the campus becomes smaller and smaller until it finally fades in the distance. While I made unforgettable moments in Taos and feel a twinge of sadness that I am leaving, I am reminded that in just a few days I will be flying out to Guatemala to complete my Engaged Learning Research! I have completed all my preliminary research, including my interview questions and have all my recording equipment ready.

I cannot believe that every time I speak to an individual about my research, it seems that they have some connection to Guatemala as well. For example, at the Engaged Learning presentation Professor Graybill, came up to me afterwards and commented how his parents live in Guatemala! I am hoping that when I arrive in Guatemala, I will have an opportunity to meet with his parents! I cannot help but be happy for all the good little things that have come my way and have encouraged me to continue to pursue my research with such energy and excitement.

So back to on the road again. We have passed the forests, valleys and hills landscape and have moved onto flatland. Instead of trees I now see cows, and flatlands that extend for miles, oh and the occasional windmill. I must admit that the music playing in the car is pretty entertaining, since my driving buddy is currently singing…and kind of dancing to it. Now the Naked Eyes’ is playing, I must sing along!

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Time has passed by so quickly that I cannot believe I have spent a month in Taos. I have had the most wonderful time in Taos and I am so glad I decided to come and complete my research here. The landscape is always breathtakingly beautiful and the weather is just lovely. Albeit, the last week I was here it was quite warm but even that could not make me regret coming to Taos. I sit here in my room looking around and realizing that I have so much to pack! Did I really bring all these clothes or buy all these souvenirs from here? Or better yet, am I really bringing all these plants and rocks back to Dallas? I do hope my riding buddy has room in his car for all my stuff…

Since today was pretty much the last day where all the residents would be here, I and the other RA’s decided to have a Tie Dye party! We bought these t-shirts that said, “I (heart) Taos”. Tie dying was so much fun! Although, now my hands are dyed a very deep blue green. I could almost be an extra on the film Avatar! I do hope it washes off soon, because I have a feeling it will turn a green tint when the blue wears off. I must now head off to pack because there is indeed much to pack. I am almost glad that I did not fly to Taos because if I flew back, I would have no idea how to ensure all my stuff made it back home!

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The finish line

As my time in Taos grows closer to the end finally I can see the finish line. When I first arrived on campus, the finish line seemed so far in the distance that I thought it would take forever to approach it. However, as the month has passed by, I have moved closer and closer to the line. Just this weekend I began working on my final research paper for Parasitology. Little did I know that I would write and complete it in the same day!

Since I have just finished my final paper for my parasitology class, all that is left for me to review the edits and make the appropriate changes. My research paper is entitled: Habitat correlates with the spatial distribution of ectoparasites on Peromyscus in the northern central region of New Mexico. Long title right? I tried thinking of a way to shorten it but after much pondering I kept coming back to my original title and so it stays. I cannot express how excited and proud I am that I have finished my final paper. It is 10 pages long and includes, charts and graphs! Below is a screen shot from my computer of my final paper.

I cannot believe that all the research that was completed in the month is now over. As I look back and reflect on my research completed here, I remember setting mouse traps in the rain, cutting through sagebrush, getting lost in the woods and splashing through the creek in my galoshes.

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Chocolate, Chocolate and more Chocolate

Just this past week Laura, Vanessa and I went shopping at Taos Plaza. I must admit I had a hard time controlling myself from buying everything I saw. I tend to get easily distracted with shiny objects and jewelry. In the Taos Plaza there were many stores that showcased Native American jewelry with beautiful stones imbedded in the art.

Initially, when we arrived to the Plaza after lunch we said to ourselves that we would only be in town for about an hour and then head back to campus. However, nearly 3 hours later we were still shopping and putting more quarters in the parking meter to stay longer! From art galleries, to clothing stores, to observing native american art there was so much to see. When we arrived at the Plaza itself, I was thoroughly entertained with the Rocky Mountain Chocolate factory. There was just so much chocolate. From marshmallow bars dipped in chocolate, to chocolate bars, to chocolate cookies dipped in chocolate, to caramelized apples to chocolate ice cream, I needed to buy myself some chocolate.




Near the counter there was a woman making homemade waffle cones! Once I realized I could not resist the temptation anymore, I bought myself chocolate chip ice cream in a waffle cone. The ice cream was just heavenly! There were real chocolate chip chunks in the ice cream and the ice cream was so creamy and delicious. The waffle cone had just been made and had just the right amount of crunch. I spent my time on the ride back to campus, happily eating my ice cream. Once I had eaten the entire ice cream I realized that before I left town, I needed to buy myself another!


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On to Mordor!

One of my favorite movie trilogies to watch is Lord of the Rings. In the film, The Fellowship of the Ring, there is a scene where the Fellowship, who accompanying Frodo to the land of Mordor cross through the Misty Mountains. While watching the movie, I have always pondered how hard it must be to climb a mountain.  Well, today I happened to experience this feeling first-hand, albeit, there was no snow on our hike. As part of our field trip we climbed up to William’s Lake in the Taos Ski Valley.

Now, while our class had completed other hikes as part of field trips, I must say that this hike, truly, was a challenge. From where we stationed the van the lake was 2 miles away, but everyone in the group was very excited and eager to arrive at the lake. Along the hike, our group would stop to collect plants and flowers or watch birds. There was a clearing that we came across where a woodpecker was hard a work pecking at a tree. There was also a group of Gray jays that we attempted to persuade, with pretzels, to eat out of our hands.  It was very interesting to imagine how during the winter the snow completely covers the Ski Valley.

Along the hike, Laura and I realized that our group had just the right number of individuals to create our own fellowship! We had Dr. Ubelaker (Gandalf), Jewel (Frodo), Vanessa (Aragorn), Laura (Legolas), Chris (Merry), Melissa (Pippin), Daniel (Gimli), Tom (Boromir) and I was Samwise. As Tom liked to comment during the trip, “Onto Mordor!” The trip became entertaining, as we would tell jokes, and take many (many) photographs at every rest point. From climbing on top of rocks (as Dr. Ubelaker likes to refer to us as Mountain goats) to posing by a tree, there were many photograph opportunities.

Finally, we arrived at William’s lake! We were now at 11,040 feet above sea level. When we arrived at the lake, I was stunned to see how beautiful the scenery was. The lake glistened and the mountains were just breathtaking. It was truly a peaceful place where one could just sit down and let the worries of the world slide away. We then hiked just a bit further with Dr. Ubelaker to a waterfall where we climbed near the top (and yes, took more photographs)!

Once we had stayed at the lake for a bit, it was finally time to climb back down. The trip back down the mountain went by a lot quicker and when we finally arrived at the van we were all worn out. The ride back to campus was quiet as all of us were either napping or just watching the scenery pass by. It is hard to imagine that this is my last week in Taos but I am glad that I was able participate in the hike up to William’s Lake as it is a memory I will not easily forget!

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Mice, Chipmunks and Rattlesnakes…Oh My!

When I initially attended orientation for SMU-in-Taos, I was in awe with the beauty of the pictures that showed the landscape of the country. The mountains, trees, forest and sunset was absolutely beautiful. Even the wildlife is amazing, from beaver, to mice, chipmunks and yes, rattlesnakes. Just last week, I was able to see my very own rattlesnake! The snake was almost two feet long and was just beautiful. The campus has a policy where if a rattlesnake is seen, it is captured and then relocated to another area away from campus. I must admit that when I first saw the rattlesnake, I thought it was just a log or a twig…that was until I heard the distinct rattle… No worries, the rattlesnake was safely caught and relocated by our very own Dr. Adler (I swear he is a snake whisperer!)

In parasitology, my partner and I see a variety of animals in the lab. We have been dubbed the animal whisperers as we seem to catch everything from mice, to chipmunks, to shrews, and even lizards. Just near the library there is a creek with a beaver dam and right at 8pm you can see the beavers come out and play. They just have so much fun swimming and making a large splash with their tails! What I have yet to see is an elk and before my stay at Taos is over, I have promised myself that I will see one!

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Somebody you used to know?

As part of the Parasitology course, Dr. Ubelaker takes us on the most amazing field trips ever. While the field trip location is astonishing, the most fun we have is on the car ride. Just this past field trip, Vanessa, Jewel, Laura and I decided to sing Gotye’s Somebody that I used to know. Both Daniel and Tom listened to our singing up until the next song on the radio came on and they decided that their iPods had much better music. I cannot say that I blame them. Apparently, since we have been here in Taos, Vanessa, Laura and I have been able to find a total of 3 radio stations that are okay to listen to. Each radio station though tends to play the same songs over and over again…

On the past field trip I decided to take many pictures with my classmates and as you can see the facial expressions some of us make in the photographs are priceless. In the photograph with all of us near the Gorge Bridge plaque can you find the fifth person in the photograph? At our hike at Italionalis, we saw bear caves and Vanessa and I tried to see if we could reach the bear claw marks on the tree.

I must say that I completley respect Dr. Ubelaker as he leads us on our hikes. On the very first hike that we took as a class, Dr. Ubelaker came out with his hiking backpack, and this large walking stick. He turned addressed the class and told us, “Okay everyone, we are going to take an easy hike up the mountain (Cerro Pedernal).” When he turned around and began hiking, he was moving so fast! By the time the class could stop, catch our breaths and open our water bottles to take a drink, he was already moving again! I told myself that I needed a walking stick and maybe this would help me hike better…it is a thought…And so after that first hike I never doubted that Dr. Ubelaker could hike up a mountain with any difficulty. He is also the best tour guide one could ever ask for. As we hike up the various trails he will always stop to tell a joke, inform us about the trees surrounding us and the general history of the trails. I always learn so much from the hikes and am so grateful that I have such an energetic professor!

I have come to call some amazing individuals friends here as we laugh and joke and share awkward moments together.  Whether it be skipping down the Bridge on the Gorge, or photo bombing pictures, even singing in the car, or even having stick fights each individual has made me smile and the memories that have been created I will never forget!


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Smarty Plants

On Wednesday, Dr. Ubelaker took me and a few other students (Vanessa and Laura) to the New Mexico Native Plant Society Meeting. Initially when we arrived with Dr. Ubelaker at the convention center, we could not find the meeting, but luckily after walking around for a bit we were able to find the right room. Once Vanessa, Laura and I found the room, we decided to walk around the convention center and take photographs. There were various statues around the center, that served as excellent photographic opportunities, such as a flock of birds flying in the air, and sign posts designating which way to go. We all were having so much fun that we were almost late to the start of the meeting!

At the meeting, there was a guest speaker who talked about various plants and grasses in the Taos area. I was amazed with the energy of the society members as they passionately discussed their adventures to collect various plants. Vanessa, Laura and I were pretty much the only individuals that were under 25 years old. I was so happy to see that there were individuals that still were out and about in the country collecting plant specimens. To everyone, Dr. Ubelaker was the expert on the plants and they would ask him various questions which he would gladly answer. After the meeting, I was able to meet a graduate student that was working under Dr. Ubelaker. It was interesting to see the variety in individuals that attended the meeting and how they discussed their chapter’s events, such as a plant sale, a cactus workshop and hiking trips.

When the meeting was over, Laura and I decided that we were going to start our very own New Mexico plant society at SMU!


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Fleas, ticks and parasites: Taos in June

I first decided to study at the SMU-in-Taos campus during the spring. I remember seeing so much information on the classes that were offered and the overall environment. Upon arriving at Taos I could hardly believe how beautiful the land is. There are trees everywhere, and the weather is absolutely amazing! The only downside I can seem to even think of would be the bugs. It seems that since I am becoming very in touch with nature, the bugs want to be my friends as well. However, not even the mosquitoes can annoy me and cause me to leave this wonderful atmosphere.

I am currently enrolled in Parasitology here at Taos.  Under the supervision of Dr. John Ubelaker, my partner and I are evaluating deer mice and the different environments that can affect the parasite population. In a quick summary, what this actually means is that my partner and I set out traps every day in different locations around campus: in sagebrush, near the creek or in the forest. We then capture the deer mice in the traps and see what parasites they have. Each day in the lab is so interesting as we get to see what parasites are in the surrounding environments.

Now, not all my work is parasite related.  Yes, there are fleas and ticks that I see on a daily basis, but while I am here in Taos I am also preparing for my Engaged Learning trip to Guatemala in July. Additionally, there are many field trips that our class goes on. Just recently we went to The Gorge, which is basically a giant canyon where the Rio Grande has eroded away soil over time. We have also taken field trips to Santa Fe, Cerro Pedernal and visited the Taos Cow. This weekend we are taking a field trip to Williams Lake! I cannot wait!

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Preparing for my journey to Central America

As I sit at my desk counting down the days until my trip to Guatemala, I know that there is still much I need to complete before I can travel. There is software, airfare, recording equipment and other small items that need to be purchased before my journey.  I momentarily have a flashback of the day I decided to apply for an Unbridled Project through the Engaged Learning program.

Update: Kimberly’s blog is moving to the new Engaged Learning blog. Please follow her in Guatemala here. Thank you for your patience with our transition.

All my life I have been very passionate about learning; therefore, when I discovered a program that would allow me to learn “outside the classroom,” I immediately was intrigued.  I remember quickly searching online for the program application, and as I began scanning over the requirements, I was stumped for a moment.  How could I explain in an eloquent manner what I was so passionate about?

I then realized that it would be best to find a mentor who could provide me with guidance. The first individual who came to my mind was Anthropology Professor Nia Parson. I had the opportunity to take Dr. Parson’s Medical Anthropology class – Health, Healing and Ethics – my first year at SMU.  This class provided me with wonderful and different cultural perspectives on health and healing. Due to past personal experiences, I was able to relate so well to the material presented in class.

After speaking with Dr. Parson and explaining my ideas for an Unbridled Project, she immediately agreed to be my mentor, and we began discussing how to write up my proposal.  Now, I do not know how many of you may have written a research proposal before, but it is hard work!  I was searching through references in the Anthropology department’s library that would state what methods I would use in my research, how I would analyze the data obtained, how I would conduct my interviews and much more. My first rough draft read more like a story … but after many revisions and peer reviews, I was finally able to create a proposal I could be proud of.

Then came the day to submit my Engaged Learning application, and after that I needed to wait until I received a notice of the committee’s decision.  On April 20, I was sitting in the Cox School of Business café area, completing homework and eating a delicious lunch from Einstein Bagels.  As I was eating, I received an email from Susan Kress informing me of my proposal’s approval by the Engaged Learning review panel! I was so excited I jumped up and proclaimed, “Yes!” in the middle of the café. I think I also knocked over my chair in the process … For those of you who were in the café that afternoon, that crazy individual who jumped up yelling with excitement was me.

Now, you may be wondering what is left for me to complete before I travel to Central America.  Well, I must admit I have created a checklist so I do not forget anything.  Aside from checking out numerous references over modern Maya populations, I am also formulating my research questions, speaking to the International Review Board at SMU and ensuring all the required legal paperwork is in order.  Since I will be blogging during my stay in Guatemala, I have set up this blog so that I can share my experience with others.

However, not all of my work has been on the administrative side.  Just yesterday we had a photo shoot for all the Engaged Learning students.  Aside from the wind blowing us all away, it was so much fun!  And now I am on the SMU homepage! How exciting is that?

I cannot wait to see what all is in store for me as I complete my research, but I am thrilled to be completing my project through Engaged Learning.  I am eager to learn more about the health-related practices of the indigenous Maya, and I look forward to meeting so many new faces on my journey.  Above all, I want to explore what my research can contribute to the topic of global health and to imagine how it could be used to provide better health care for immigrants.

Update: Kimberly’s blog is moving to the new Engaged Learning blog. Please follow her in Guatemala hereThank you for your patience with our transition!

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