Binational Internship Program

Inspiring a New Generation of Conservationists in the Sky Islands 

We’re building cross-border bridges and capacity to ensure long-term stewardship of our shared region. By partnering with universities in Mexico, including the Universidad de la Sierra (UniSierra) in Moctezuma, Sonora, 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, UniSierra biology students gain skills and knowledge they apply to hands-on projects, and the information they collect advances not only our conservation goals in Mexico but conservation across our entire binational community.

In 2020, we launched our first binational internship, giving Mexican and American students a space to share creative thinking about transboundary conservation. The internship includes our first bilingual curriculum, with classes and projects facilitated in English and Spanish for our first fully virtual intern cohort.

Through digital analysis and project development, our participants engage in water conservation, wildlife monitoring, and community outreach projects such as:

  • Analyzing remote-camera wildlife photos for our Border Wildlife Study and FotoFauna.
  • Completing spring surveys to advance knowledge of the state of Sonora’s water sources.
  • Developing a Spanish field guide for Sonoran wildlife species.
  • Interviewing Sky Island community members to understand their interests in natural resource conservation.

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,” says Ángel, who is continuing his studies with us into the fall. “Thanks to this project, my interest in conserving nature in general has grown.” Ángel is a biology student at UniSierra, a university in Sonora, Mexico. He’s determined to become the first person in his family to graduate from college.

This summer’s inaugural binational internship has been so rewarding for participants. Looking forward, four of the students from UniSierra chose Sky Island Alliance as the organization they want to collaborate with for their final semester of their undergraduate studies—collaborating with an organization is a requirement of the Biology Department. For the 2020-2021 school year, the students will continue to delve deeper into their independent projects from the summer in both our Water and Wildlife Programs They will present on this information in early 2021 to receive 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 Fall 2020 Interns

Elizabeth Solis Pereida

Elizabeth is in her last semester studying Biology at the Universidad de la Sierra (UniSierra). She loves everything that has to do with nature and living beings, and believes it is very important to conserve species, especially those in danger. During her time at the University she has especially enjoyed her laboratory classes and fieldwork, which allowed her to apply what she learned in the classroom. After graduation she plans to look for a job that will allow her to focus on animals, plants and natural resources. She loves to visit nature spots and places that are always green like Río Peñitas and Agua Caliente in Sonora, and her favorite Sky Island is Sierra La Madera. As an intern at Sky Island Alliance, Elizabeth has focused on the Spring Seeker Program and creating a Sonoran field guide.


Ángel Octavio Garcia Godinez

Angel is in his last semester at the Universidad de la Sierra (UniSierra), studying Biology. As a student he has especially enjoyed his coursework in zoology, ecology, and chemistry, and the fieldwork and practical experience the classes offered. At the university he has also engaged in opportunities to do environmental education and scientific excursions. He is fascinated by nature, and plans to find a job in conservation after graduation, 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.


Miguel Francisco Enriquez Galaz

Miguel is completing his final semester of Biology at 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 appreciates getting to meet conservation practitioners and organizations in the area. After graduation he hopes to 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 Sky Island Alliance, Miguel has focused on analyzing data from our wildlife monitoring network and Border Wildlife Study.


Osvaldo Dorame Yuriar

Osvaldo is completing his final semester, studying Biology at the Universidad de la Sierra (UniSierra). During his academic career he has enjoyed his classes in zoology, botany, ecosystem management, and conservation. Osvaldo believes in the importance of protecting flora and fauna for the generations to come, and that as humans we are part of the Earth and must take on that responsibility. When he graduates, he plans to pursue a career in biology and conservation. He loves the Sky Island region, especially the Chiricahua Mountains, and Sierra El Tigre in the Ajos-Bavispe Reserve. As an intern, Miguel has focused on creating bilingual field guides for the Sky Island region.

The Next Generation of Sky Island Leaders 

During this Coffee Break, 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 Universidad de la Sierra students as they explain how our program inspired them to take action in their local Sonoran communities! This Coffee Break 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.