Binational Internship Program

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We’re building cross-border bridges and capacity to ensure long-term stewardship of our shared region.

By partnering with the Universidad de la Sierra (UniSierra) in Mexico, the Tohono O’odham Community College in Arizona, and the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program in the U.S., we’re able to foster the next generation of conservation leaders in the U.S. and Mexico. Through our joint program, students from these universities and programs gain skills and knowledge they apply to hands-on projects, and the information they collect advances our conservation goals across our entire binational community of the Sky Island region.

In 2020, we launched our first binational internship, giving students in the U.S. and Mexico a space to think creatively about transboundary conservation. The 2020 internship included our first bilingual curriculum with classes and projects facilitated in English and Spanish for our first fully virtual intern cohort.

We look forward to continuing this initiative and working with students in 2021 and beyond!


Through data analysis and project development, our participants engage in a mix of water conservation, wildlife monitoring, and community outreach projects. Here’s a sample of what our 2021 and 2020 cohort have worked on:

Participants of our innovative internship program draw on their experience to lead conservation efforts in their communities and are building a stronger Sky Island conservation movement as a result.

“I always had a love for nature, but I wanted to do lab research – concentrating on specific species. Thanks to this project, my interest in conserving nature in general has grown.” Ángel Godinez, 2020 Intern, 2021 Fellow, and UniSierra Graduate

Last summer’s inaugural binational internship was so rewarding for participants. Four of the students from the Universidad de la Sierra chose Sky Island Alliance as the organization they wanted to collaborate with for their final semester of their undergraduate studies (collaborating with an organization is a requirement of the Biology Department), and all of them have now presented on their SIA projects and received their bachelor’s degrees.

This project is made possible thanks to the generous support from UniSierra, the National Park Service Southwest Border Resource Protection Program, and the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program.

Meet our Summer 2021 Interns

Mónica Montaño

I am Mónica Montaño, I am from Moctezuma, Sonora where I am currently living. At the moment I am still a student of the Biology career at the Universidad de la Sierra, but I am about to attend the last semester. The classes that I liked the most during my career were zoology, population ecology, community ecology, and limnology.

I think that being part of this internship with Sky Island Alliance and conservation is a great opportunity for growth, and I am excited to take advantage of these two months learning about such interesting topics as the preservation of biodiversity, the current situation of landscapes, plans for conservation, as well such as the techniques that are used and also some associated historical data. Finally, for my next steps in my profession I would like to continue doing conservation work, more than ecological studies, doing field work in general.

Summer Intern Stories: How Fauna and Flora can be Used Sustainably on Sonoran Cattle Ranches


Maybeth Yulissa Pinto Santana

My name is Maybeth Yulissa Pinto Santana. I am from Agua Prieta, Sonora. At the moment I am in Puerto Peñasco culminating my social service in a desert bird monitoring project within the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve by CEDO (Intercultural Center for Deserts and Oceans). At the moment I am studying a degree in Biology. My favorite subjects are botany, zoology, and ecology.

I am excited to participate with Sky Island Alliance and their conservation internship because I would like to contribute in all possible projects that have to do with caring for the richness and diversity that we have, learn from all the experiences provided and make new friends. I would like to work on something related to the conservation of species or environmental policies and carry out monitoring in an area and determine its vulnerability. For the moment, I would like to work and gain experience and in the future continue with a master’s degree.

Summer Intern Stories: Camera Traps, Experiences, and Sightings


Gabriela Smith

Hello! My name is Gabriela Alejandra Smith Ramírez originally from Villa Hidalgo Sonora, currently living in Nacozari de García Sonora with my parents. I studied biology at the Universidad de la Sierra in the municipality of Moctezuma Sonora, where I lived before the pandemic. Taking this degree made me understand some subjects, which became my favorites, such as chemistry, botany, and biology.

I am excited about this Sky Island Alliance internship, for the idea of the knowledge that I can acquire in the course, as well as how fun it can be to learn something new, and to live with other people who are not in my environment. Conservation is an important point since many species can be saved, within the flora and fauna, as well as ecosystems, which are exposed to daily activities, and to ancient methods where they can be affected and reach their extinction.

Summer Intern Stories: My Experience with a Wildlife Camera


Fátima Sotelo Molinar

My name is Fátima Sotelo Molinar, I am from a small town in the Sierra Alta called Aribabi, and I currently live and study in Moctezuma, Sonora. I am a biology student at the Universidad de la Sierra. The subject I most enjoyed was edaphology and hydrology because of the field practices we did. I am excited to work on the issue of conservation because it seems important to me to make correct use of the flora and fauna resources that surround us and to restore actions that previously had negative effects on the environment. At the end of my degree, I would like to work in the area of flora and fauna impact as indicators of environmental quality.

Summer Intern Stories: My Wildlife Camera


Adrian Morris

Ya’ at’eeh’. Hello, my name is Adrian Morris and I am of Navajo and Laguna Pueblo decent. I am originally from Mexican Springs, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation; however, I currently reside in Northern Arizona. Growing up on the Navajo Nation, I have long been nourished by the natural elegance and mysterious beauty of life in the Southwest. From a young age, I’ve had a curiosity about the world around me and how to find my place in that world.  I have a background in art and painting, and I am working towards completing my art degree at Tohono O’odham Community College. Through art, I have been able to channel my connection to place and space in a tangible way that utilizes many ways of seeing light, space, and perspective. Art has been an avenue for me to connect with my Indigenous culture and share that with others.


Aleidys Lopez Romero

My name is Aleidys Lopez Romero (she/her/hers/ella). I was born in Cuba, live in Tampa, FL, and currently reside in Tucson, AZ. I am a double major in Sustainability and Women’s Studies at the University of Florida. I love philosophy and environmental courses. I am excited to learn more about the incredible diversity in the Sky Island region and make connections with professionals as well as aspiring environmentalists. My current career plan is to become a professor with a focus on the human dimensions side of environmental conservation.

Summer Intern Stories: The Writing in the Sand—Wildlife Tracking in Aravaipa Canyon


Cassandra Villegas

My name is Cassandra Villegas. I am a tribal member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona and currently live in San Diego, California. I am pursuing a Business Administration and Small Business Management Degree at the Tohono O’odham Community College.

I have a 6-year-old son named Jon-Michael. I am invested in learning more about the programs and projects of Sky Island Alliance. I would like to take what I learn back to my tribal community and implement some of the programs.

Summer Intern Stories: G’ashdla a cho o aa


Resources & Presentations by Our Interns

The Next Generation of Sky Island Leaders: 

During this webinar, we shared how our Sister Parks Project in collaboration with the National Park Service led to the creation of a binational internship program for undergraduate students and hear from our 2020 Universidad de la Sierra interns as they explain how our program inspired them to take action in their local Sonoran communities! This event is presented bilingually in English and Spanish.

Evaluation of Water Sources in Sonora’s Sky Islands:

During this coffee break, we had a conversation with UNISIERRA undergraduate and Sky Island Alliance intern, Ángel Octavio Garcia Godinez, about the results of his Spring Seeker survey project in Sonora, MX in summer 2020. Ángel surveyed more than 40 springs with his family, dramatically increasing our knowledge of springs in the area and came across an inspiring array of plants and wildlife including a Sonoran mud turtle.