Did you know?

Did you know the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center (STRI), located in Panama, has over 100 volunteers who contributed more than 40,000 hours of service last year? That’s the equivalent of nearly 20 full time staff members! Abbey Earich talked with Vanessa Bernal, Visitor Services Office & Facilities Manager at STRI, about the programs and individuals who generously give their time to the Tropical Research Center. Here’s what we learned.

STRI volunteer

A STRI volunteer engages guests during a public program about the composition of soil.
(Photo courtesy of STRI)

What is the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center?

STRI is a collection of research facilities in Panama that seeks to increase and diffuse knowledge of tropical ecosystems and their relevance to human welfare. The work began in 1910 when the Smithsonian led one of the world’s first major environmental impact studies, conducting research on lowland tropical forests that would be flooded with the development of the Panama Canal.

Today, STRI supports 40 staff scientists and hosts 1,400 scientific visitors every year as they collaborate on over 350 on-going research projects. The subsequent research is shared locally and globally to train and inspire the next generation of scientists and conservationists.

children with volunteers

A STRI volunteer leads young visitors in an educational discussion during STRI Kids Day.
(Photo courtesy of STRI)

What do STRI volunteers do?

Volunteers at STRI serve in three main programs that assist both public visitors to STRI and the scientific research being conducted.

Public Program Volunteers support staff guides at the Punta Culebra Nature Center, which sees 70,000 visitors each year. Volunteers engage the public in various activities on and off site, which help to interpret STRI scientific research and inspire learning through exhibits and educational programs.

Panama Amphibian Rescue Center Volunteers are instrumental to the operations of the Center, which works to save critically endangered amphibian species from a lethal fungal infection. Volunteers help with everything from cleaning to feeding and breeding insects.

Scientific Program Volunteers assist staff scientists in their research providing help with laboratory, office, and field work while learning about the science behind their projects.

Amphibian Rescue Center

Mural outside of the Panama Amphibian Rescue Center.
(Photo courtesy of STRI)

Who are STRI volunteers?

STRI volunteers are mostly locals (Panamanians), but many come from around the world. Currently, STRI has volunteers serving from the United States, Australia, Germany, Colombia, Sweden, Costa Rica, Venezuela and more! STRI volunteers have diverse backgrounds and motivations, many of them looking to gain necessary skills through their volunteer service for their future careers in science and education.

Learn more about STRI at https://stri.si.edu/.

Abbey Earich is the Volunteer Recruitment and Retention Coordinator with the Office of Visitor Services at the Smithsonian.

Posted: 21 January 2020
About the Author:

The Torch relies on contributions from the entire Smithsonian community.