Binational Internship Program

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 Mexican and American students 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!

Inspiring a New Generation of Conservationists in the Sky Islands 

Through digital analysis and project development, our participants engage in a mix of water conservation, wildlife monitoring, and community outreach projects. Here’s a sample of the tasks our 2020 cohort 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.

We hope to grow our binational internship offering into an annual program that connects students, scientists, and conservationists across the Sky Islands to build a brighter future for all of us.

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 2021 Fellows

Ángel Octavio Garcia Godinez

In March 2021, Angel graduated from the Universidad de la Sierra (UniSierra) with a degree Biology. As a student, he especially enjoyed his coursework in zoology, ecology, and chemistry, and the fieldwork and practical experience the classes offered. He is fascinated by nature, and plans to find a job in conservation, continue volunteering for projects like reforestation, and hopefully return to school for a Master’s degree. His favorite Sky Island to visit is the Sierra del Tigre, in Sonora, which he first visited as a young child. At Sky Island Alliance, Angel has focused on the Spring Seeker program, visiting and monitoring important springs throughout Sonora. We are grateful to keep Angel on this year as a Sky Island Fellow.

Read Angel’s Thesis / Leer La Tesis



Miguel Francisco Enriquez Galaz

In April 2021, Miguel graduated with a degree in biology from the Universidad de la Sierra (UniSierra). As a student, his favorite classes were botany and GIS, where he gained experience in ecological and biological applications. Outside of class time, he participated in birding workshops—and is now an avid birder! Miguel has interned with Sky Island Alliance for two years and is now staying on as a 2021 Sky Island Fellow. He hopes to eventually work in conservation with a focus on birds and perhaps pursue a masters degree in the future. He loves to visit family properties near Agua Prieta, Sonora to explore, observe birds, and take photographs. His favorite Sky Island is the Sierra de Mesa Tres Ríos, which is the first place he saw a pine forest. At SIA, Miguel has focused on analyzing data from our wildlife monitoring network and Border Wildlife Study.


Meet our Summer 2021 Interns

Mónico 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.

Soy Mónica Montaño, soy de Moctezuma, Sonora en donde me encuentro actualmente viviendo. En estos momentos aún soy estudiante de la carrera de Biología en la universidad de la Sierra, estoy por cursar el último semestre. Las clases que más me gustaron durante mi carrera fueron zoología, ecología de poblaciones, ecología de comunidades y limnología.  

Creo que el ser parte de esta pasantía con SIA y la conservación es una gran oportunidad de crecimiento y me entusiasma el aprovechar estos dos meses aprendiendo sobre temas tan interesantes como la preservación de la biodiversidad, la situación actual de los paisajes, planes para conservación así como las técnicas que se utilizan y también algunos datos históricos asociados. Por último, para mis siguientes pasos en cuanto a mi profesión me gustaría seguir realizando trabajos sobre conservación, más que nada estudios ecológicos, hacer trabajos de campo en general. 


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.

Mi nombre es Maybeth Yulissa Pinto Santana, soy de Agua Prieta, Sonora. En estos momentos me encuentro en Puerto Peñasco culminando mi servicio social en un proyecto de monitoreo de aves del desierto dentro de la reserva de la Biosfera El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar por parte de CEDO (Centro Intercultural de Desiertos y Océanos). En estos momentos me encuentro estudiando la licenciatura de Biología. Mis materias favoritas son botánica, zoología y ecología.

Estoy entusiasmada por participar dentro de la pasantía de SIA y la conservación, porque me gustaría contribuir en todos los proyectos posibles que tengan que ver con el cuidado de la riqueza y diversidad que tenemos, aprender de todas las experiencias brindadas y hacer nuevas amistades. Me gustaría trabajar en algo relacionado con la conservación de especies o políticas ambientales, realizar monitoreos en una zona y determinar su vulnerabilidad, por el momento me gustaría trabajar y adquirir experiencia y en un futuro continuar con una maestría.


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.

¡Hola! Mi nombre es Gabriela Alejandra Smith Ramírez originaria de Villa Hidalgo Sonora, actualmente viviendo en Nacozari de García Sonora con mis padres. Estudio Licenciatura en Biología en la Unisierra en el municipio de Moctezuma Sonora, donde vivía antes de la pandemia. El llevar esta licenciatura me hizo que entendiera algunas materias, lo cual se hicieron en mis favoritas, como lo es la química, botánica, y biología.

Estoy entusiasmada con la pasantía SIA, por la idea del conocimiento que pueda adquirir en el transcurso, además de lo divertido que pueda ser el aprender algo nuevo, y el convivir con otras personas que no están en mi entorno. La conservación es un punto importante ya que se pueden salvar muchas especies, dentro de la flora y fauna, como también ecosistemas, los cuales se exponen a actividades cotidianas, y a métodos antiguos donde se pueden ver afectado y llegar a su extinción.


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.

Mi nombre es Fátima Sotelo Molinar, soy de un pueblito en la Sierra Alta que se llama Aribabi, actualmente vivo y estudio en Moctezuma, Sonora. Soy estudiante de la carrera de biología en la Universidad de la Sierra. La materia que más disfrutaba era Edafología e hidrología por las prácticas de campo que realizábamos.  Me entusiasma trabajar en el tema de conservación porque me parece importante para hacer un uso correcto de los recursos de flora y fauna que nos rodea y restaurar acciones que anteriormente tuvieron efectos negativos en el ambiente. Al concluir mi carrera me gustaría trabajar en el área de impacto de flora y fauna como indicadores de calidad ambiental.  


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.

Ya ‘at’eeh‘. Hola, mi nombre es Adrian Morris y soy decente de Navajo y Pueblo Laguna. Soy originario de Mexican Springs, Nuevo México de la Nación Navajo, sin embargo, actualmente resido en el norte de Arizona. Al crecer en la Nación Navajo, durante mucho tiempo me ha nutrido la elegancia natural y la misteriosa belleza de la vida en el suroeste de Estados Unidos. Desde muy joven, he sentido curiosidad por el mundo que me rodea y cómo encontrar mi lugar en ese mundo. Tengo experiencia en arte y pintura y estoy trabajando para completar mi título de arte en Tohono O’odham Community College. A través del arte, he podido canalizar mi conexión con el lugar y el espacio de una manera tangible que utiliza muchas formas de ver la luz, el espacio y la perspectiva. El arte ha sido una vía para conectarme con mi cultura indígena y compartirla con los demás. 


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.

Mi nombre es Aleidys Lopez Romero. Nací en Cuba, vivo en Tampa, Florida y actualmente resido en Tucson, Arizona. Tengo una doble especialización en Sostenibilidad y Estudios de la Mujer en la Universidad de Florida. Me encantan los cursos de filosofía y medio ambiente. Estoy emocionada de aprender más sobre la increíble diversidad en la región de las Islas del Cielo y hacer conexiones con profesionales y aspirantes a ambientalistas. Mi plan de carrera actual es convertirme en profesora con un enfoque en el lado de las dimensiones humanas de la conservación del medio ambiente.


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.

Mi nombre es Cassandra Villegas. Soy un miembro de la tribu Apache de San Carlos en Arizona. Actualmente vivo en San Diego, California. Estoy cursando una licenciatura en administración de empresas y gestión de pequeñas empresas en el Tohono O’odham Community College. Tengo un hijo de 6 años llamado Jon-Michael. Estoy interesada en aprender más sobre los programas y proyectos de Sky Island Alliance. Me gustaría llevar lo que he aprendido a mi comunidad tribal e implementar algunos de los programas. 


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.

Durante este seminario web, compartimos cómo nuestro Proyecto de Parques Hermanos en colaboración con el Servicio de Parques Nacionales llevó a la creación de un programa de pasantías binacionales para estudiantes de pregrado y escuchamos a nuestros pasantes de la Universidad de la Sierra 2020 mientras explican cómo nuestro programa los inspiró a tomar acción en sus comunidades locales de Sonora! Este evento se presenta de forma bilingüe en inglés y español.


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.

Durante esta pausa para el café, tuvimos una conversación con el estudiante de pregrado de UNISIERRA y pasante de Sky Island Alliance, Ángel Octavio García Godinez, sobre los resultados de su proyecto de encuesta Spring Seeker en Sonora, MX en el verano de 2020. Ángel encuestó a más de 40 manantiales con su familia, aumentando drásticamente nuestro conocimiento de los manantiales en el área y nos encontramos con una variedad inspiradora de plantas y vida silvestre, incluida una tortuga de barro de Sonora.