Auna Godinez: Finding Forestry through Culture

This month, we are highlighting Auna Godinez, an undergraduate student in Renewable Materials: Art and Design, who traveled to Puerto Rico on a faculty-led program through the College of Agricultural Sciences. While there, she made holistic connections to the fields of renewable materials and forestry at large, through on-the-grounds analysis of environmental, cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and political veins. Additionally, she found spiritual grounding in the tropical forests, encountered coral farming restoration practices, reflected on her future passions, and gained an appreciation for Puerto Rican perspective and culture.


This past December, Auna Godinez flew to Puerto Rico, one of the United States’ territories, embarking on a 20-day adventure that would be filled with personal discovery and enlightenment at every twist in the trail. Having participated in international experiences through the College of Forestry, including Dr. Seri Robinson’s faculty-led program, Peruvian Amazon: Tropical Woods and the Fungi That Love Them, and a long-term internship in Peru following that faculty-led excursion, Auna highly values the professional and personal experiential learning components that are gained on these international programs. This year, a repeat program, called Food Security and Sustainability in the Tropics and led by Katie Gaebel through the College of Agricultural Sciences caught her eye. Academically the program offered her the opportunity to enhance her Spanish speaking skills and be exposed to the Puerto Rican subtleties, as she is pursuing a Spanish language minor in addition to her degree in Renewable Materials. It contained an additional clause that required each student to develop their own, personalized learning objectives within the trip, and this provided Auna with a greater amount of specialization in which she could devote her time and energy to topics that influence the world of renewable materials.


















Some of her reasons for wanting to participate in this faculty-led program included the desire to explore the Puerto Rican Spanish language differences and dialects, discover on-the-ground Puerto Rican opinions on the notion of statehood versus commonwealth denomination, agricultural development and forestry management of renewable crops and materials, as well as looking at the cultural influences of the indigenous, African, Spanish, and US present day communities.

More specific to the course curriculum of this faculty-led trip, much of their day trips explored local agricultural practices, with relation to native Puerto Rican animals, communities, and the environment at large. Auna says these field tours and local interactions stimulated her background knowledge in forestry and the classroom curriculum taught through the College, while providing an agricultural perspective to many of the key issues and concepts surrounding land-use management, riparian buffer zones, economic feasibility, and long-term ecological health. She also learned about indigenous cultural practices, their sustainable coffee plantation operations, and their extensive use and knowledge of medicinal plants harvested from the native forests.  When she wasn’t out with the group visiting designated points of interest for the course, Auna would converse with the locals, sample Puerto Rican cuisine, and find additional adventures in which to partake. She even went snorkeling with the sea turtles and manta rays, learning about a coral restoration program that engaged in coral farming practices!


For any that have met Auna, they quickly find she is a very spiritually-grounded individual, and understands the innate connections between humans, animals, nature, and the built environment. I asked for her thoughts on some of her favorite components of her 20-day immersion, and her eyes unfocused, searching through her memories to find the perfect moments. Reminiscing on her first day into the forest, she delved into a wondrous, storybook scene of lush vegetation flowing out into the paths, and the sensation that you are not only breathing in the oxygen-rich air but rather invigorating your lungs with renewed life and fervor. “I immediately felt connected, whole, and at one with my surroundings,” she said, feeling the need to not just meander through the forest paths, but to run and become fully enveloped in the tropical humidity.

In addition to the vast tropical forests that cover portions of Puerto Rico, there is a unique undertone to the Puerto Rican way of life that comes from a rather unsuspecting source. “While in Puerto Rico, you’ll quickly become familiar with the sound of the Coqui”, Auna laughs. The Coqui frog, pronounced “co-key”, is Puerto Rico’s national animal and is named after the sound it makes in the forests, an overlapping reverberation that travels through the dense foliage. It has long been a cultural symbol of Puerto Rico, and a common Puerto Rican saying is: “Soy de aqui como el coqui” (I am from here, like the Coqui).


For her, some challenging viewpoints arose from this international experience in the form of the high iguana and dog populations that crowd the island. Oftentimes structured management practices aren’t employed, with the iguana populations being hunted and a high sector of the dog population dying from malnutrition, parasites, and other preventable causes. Their animal facilities usually don’t 

have the space or resources to sustain a high kenneled and sheltered dog population, and like many other places outside of the US, stray and feral dogs are not brought into a pound, spayed and neutered, and then adopted out. Additionally, many cultural and resource-based circumstances exist as barriers to these services that are often taken for granted in the states.

Auna felt that this trip was also very applicable to her major in Renewable Materials, as she was able to witness and interact with native species, such as bamboo, coconut, and palm, which are all durable, renewable monocots that aren’t as heavily emphasized in the wood and lumber dominated renewable materials program. These on-the-ground experiences provided her with a broadened perspective and ideas for the future surrounding implementation and utilization of various renewables in an ever-growing global marketplace.

This was a very rich and fulfilling experience that enabled her to tap into some of her cultural history, finally connecting to more than one of her ethnic backgrounds and in a sense filling the culture deprivation that had occurred during her youth. In the end, Auna’s genuine smile and lightness of voice says it all—this was one of the best experiences culturally, educationally, and spiritually in her time at OSU. She would 100% recommend this experience for all College of Forestry students as well as all of the OSU student body because of the array of personal enlightenments and challenges that are presented for each student!

Looking to capitalize on limited time, she attempted to set up a meeting with the American Association of Woodturners: Turners without Borders (AAW TWB) program that does work in Puerto Rico, but it unfortunately didn’t come to fruition during the short duration of her stay. Along with her desire to work internationally in the near future, Auna would like to eventually coordinate with the TWB program, which creates workshops across the globe, and potentially give back to communities in that manner.

In addition to expanding on her personal and academic knowledge for her current studies and future interests, and immersing herself in Puerto Rican culture and customs, Auna went a step further and adopted a new member for her family--a puppy that would have otherwise faced an uncertain future. Named Flor de Ceiba, after the flowers of the Ceiba tree (known as the tree of life in Puerto Rico), she’s a constant reminder of the lessons and life that Auna experienced on her travels abroad this past December!

Auna isn’t looking to stop her international explorations and impacts there though. When asked if she hopes to work internationally in the future, I was greeted with an emphatic “yes”. Currently, Auna plans to go into the Peace Corps, working to improve our global community in every capacity available to her.

To read about Auna’s other international experiences and see her blog from her time interning at Inkaterra in the Peruvian Amazon, click here!





Published by: Savannah Stanton, CoF International Programs


Completion/Archive Date: 
Sunday, September 3, 2017