International Programs News

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


Articulating Your International Experience to Employers Wokshop

Join us for the interactive “Articulating Your International Experience to Employers” workshop hosted by CoF’s Director of International Programs, Michele Justice. Traveling for your education is impressive on any resume, but employers will want to know what about this experience has made you a better coworker, researcher, or global citizen. Everyone’s time abroad is unique and this event is intended to help students identify what about their time abroad will stand out most to an employer and how to convey this in a way that shine on paper or in an interview. All majors are welcome to attend! Please RSVP by emailing . We look forward to seeing you!

New Student Stories!

Click here to read about the amazing new adventures had by OSU students as that traveled to Peru, Spain, Germany, Australia, and more!

From Bur Oak to Baobab: Presentation by Adam Welti

In this video, Adam Welti discusses his work spanning parts of West and North Africa (including Liberia, Guinea, Morocco, and Ghana) where he has managed USAID and US State Department funded projects related to environmental governance, climate change, rangeland management, agroforestry, and sustainable livelihood activities.

 If you are interested in learning more or getting involved with the US Forest Service International Programs, visit their website at US Forest Service International Programs!


US Embassy supports Oil Palms and Orangutans faculty-led program!


 US Embassy supports Oil Palms and Orangutans faculty-led program!



Following participation in a delegation led by Ambassador Joseph Yun aimed at sponsoring linkages between wildlife and forest conservation leaders in Sabah, Borneo and Oregon, USA, Oregon State University’s College of Forestry immediately began to seek a way to introduce US students to the critical issues surrounding protection of Borneo’s fragile rainforest habitat.  John Bliss, Associate Dean of International Programs and faculty member in the department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, launched a program entitled “Oil Palms and Orangutans: Forest Conservation in Malaysian Borneo”.  The course quickly enrolled ten students (nine undergraduate and one PhD student) from across the university; their courses of study included Natural Resources, Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, and Environmental Sciences.  Partnering with the Sabah Forestry Department, Danau Girang Field Centre and the CREATE Centre, a two-week course was designed that would expose students first-hand to the forces at play in the region – decline in key species populations, habitat under pressure from commercial use, the need for local and international community education and support for conservation. 

Traveling halfway around the world to encounter one of the world’s most famous rainforests, which houses flagship species such as orangutans, clouded leopards and pygmy elephants, would seem an unattainable dream to most college students.  But we are convinced that firsthand experiential learning is the key to educating a generation that cares about forests and their protection, and that is willing to ask hard questions of consumer society which exploits these irreplaceable ecosystems. In order to provide an international experience that would be affordable to students from all economic backgrounds, the OSU College of Forestry applied for, and ultimately received, grant funding from the US Embassy for assistance with in-country costs. The program was also supported by the Oregon Sabah Collaborative, Oregon State University, and the OSU College of Forestry. Danau Girang Field Centre was a key partner in facilitating the program design, implementation, and continued success.

The OSU group completed a community service project, spending an afternoon with an organization called CLEAR, which works with local communities to turn green waste into compost, plant trees in riparian areas to protect watersheds, and prevent waste from entering the waterways. Students helped out by making compost, filling and planting nursery bags, and helping CLEAR staff cement an area of their headquarters. 

The group began its journey in Kota Kinabalu, arriving on August 17 and transferring to the CREATE Center in Penampang for an introduction to grass roots community organizations that work to protect the rainforest, its indigenous cultures, peoples and wildlife. The group learned from Green Empowerment, a Portland-based NGO, about the benefits of (and challenges to) providing micro-hydrological turbines as alternatives to dam building which destroys riparian habitat and impacts forest communities.  They were also introduced to the key theme of the complexity of resource management – how can the goals of economic development and environmental protection be addressed in one area?  What impact does human activity have on rainforest ecosystems, and how is that investigated by scientists?  Hands-on work gave them personal insight into the daily tasks that go into building caring for the environment on a daily basis.

From Kota Kinabalu, students and faculty leaders then flew to Sandakan and traveled to Sepilok, visiting the Sabah Forestry Department’s ecological education facility, the Rainforest Discovery Centre, where Dr. Robert Ong, introduced them to the biodiversity of Borneo’s rainforests.  They toured Sabah Wildlife Department’s Orangutan Conservation Centre, and the independent Sunbear Conservation Centre.  Here the group learned firsthand about the rich diversity of rainforest habitat, and the wildlife species that make their home in these forests.  Many of these animals are endangered, and the students were brought to understand issues around deforestation, degradation of forest habitat, poaching and human-animal conflicts that have resulted in dwindling and isolated wildlife populations.  Speakers from the Sabah Wildlife Department and Centre staff introduced them to the work being done to rehabilitate individual animals (especially orangutans, elephants and sunbears) and reintroduce them to the wild, and to educate local and global communities about their plight.

“Our group at one of the auction yards at Deramakot.  Robert Ong (center), is surrounded by (from left to right) Amber, Phil, Noel and Larry. After driving through palm oil plantations for miles, we emerged onto this auction yard at the edge of Deramakot Forest Reserve, a sustainably managed forest.  This is easier said than done, as students learned while they watched a worker cut down a tree. Here students learned about the technical challenges of harvesting. They saw, firsthand, how felling one tree would often damage the trees around it, and learned about how factors like rain can delay or even prevent active logging. 'Do you think the price we pay at the local hardware store really reflects this cost, or encourages consumers to think about the process?’ John Bliss asked. After slipping and sliding down a muggy logging road, standing in the heat and humidity of the jungle for even 15 minutes, and hearing about how the immigrant workers would be chased by bees who knew the sound of a chainsaw, and would be unable to return to their families while working, I didn’t see a single student head nod a positive response to John’s question.”

-          Gretchen Engbring, PhD student, group leader


With Dr. Ong, the group traveled to Deramakot Forest Reserve, where Dr. Ong explained to us how the Forestry Department seeks to provide an example of carefully managed forests and logging operations that comply with Forest Stewardship Council certification. Although production focused, Dermakot demonstrated how forests can be managed to meet multiple objectives. 

The final stop in the group itinerary was reached by a three-hour boat ride up the Kinabatangan River to the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), operated collaboratively by the Sabah Wildlife Department and the University of Cardiff in Wales; along the way, students passed miles and miles of palm oil plantation, which underlined the severity of the problem facing Borneo’s native forests.  Native plant and animal species are encroached upon on all sides, and critical wildlife corridors are often inadequate, or entirely missing.  The students observed how native forest is often retained in small islands in the sea of palm.  They observed diverse species, including proboscis and silver leaf monkeys, crocodiles, wading birds and birds of prey.  At DGFC, the students spent four days immersed in field work deep in the rainforest.  Graduate and undergraduate students from the UK, US and other nations served as mentors to the OSU students, guiding them through the trackless jungle to observe animals and plants in their native habitats.  The group was introduced to various field research techniques including surveying, camera trapping, GPS and radio monitoring.  The group was able to discuss research objectives with the resident students, and truly come to understand the nature and potential impact of research in this unique environment.

Phil Carbary, OSU undergraduate in Natural Resources, uses radio telemetry to locate a slow loris near Danau Girang Field Centre.  “After wandering around for hours in the jungle, listening to and following the little beeps despite bugs, fallen logs, draping vines, and an utter lack of trails, suffice it to say that the students began to realize that while the conclusions in a journal article may be brief and exciting, there are hours, months, even years of hard work behind these results. It’s a process, an ongoing one at that, and it’s not always glamorous! The trip emphasized the conditions that many scientists endure, but as we took a boat ride down the Kinabatangan past palm plantations that encroached on buffers and came right down to the river, I don’t think any of the students thought that kind of research wasn’t absolutely critical.” 

-          Gretchen Engbring, PhD student, group leader



Following their stay at Danau Girang Field Centre, the group returned by river and road to Sandakan, and six of the ten students returned home.  Four, however, remained on in Sepilok for three weeks of internship experience.  Two students are currently working along Sabah Wildlife Department veterinarians and staff on orangutan rehabilitation and nursery programs at the Sepilok Orangutan Centre; two are involved in preparations for a Wildlife Festival at the Rainforest Discovery Centre.  All students report that the program and subsequent internship are amongst the most significant educational experiences of their academic and professional careers.

This program has been a marked success for the OSU College of Forestry, and it would not have been possible without the generous grant from the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.  We owe a debt of gratitude to Ambassador Yun and his staff for their support.  A number of the students who participated are first generation college students.   Several had not previously left the United States. For all of them, this was their first trip to Malaysia, and for most, their first exposure to an Asian country.  The opportunity to encounter Borneo’s wildlife under the guidance of OSU faculty and to engage with those in Borneo who are striving to make a difference in conservation and sustainable forestry has been life-changing.  We must also extend our profound thanks for the guidance and support of Dr. Robert Ong (Sabah Forestry Department) and Dr. Benoit Goossens (Danau Girang Field Centre).  Thanks also go to Gabriel Wynn at Green Empowerment (CREATE Center), Dr. Wong Siew Te (Sunbear Centre), Dr. Sen Nathan and his staff (Sepilok Orangutan Centre) for their involvement in this program.