When Dr. Alberto Puente first arrived at the Panama City Field Office, he knew he was in for a whole new experience. A biology professor at Interamerican University in Puerto Rico, Dr. Puente was familiar with the conservation work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But he wanted to know more. In particular, he wanted to study the framework in which the Service operates: The Endangered Species Act. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a field office in Puerto Rico. But I wanted to learn about the process,” said Dr. Puente. “I knew that learning about the Endangered Species Act could benefit my students in the future.”
Dr. Puente spent three weeks in the Panama City Field Office as a fellow under the Summer Faculty Fellowship Program. This summer program reaches out to professors of underrepresented universities in an effort to recruit a more diverse workforce into the Service. Panama City Field Supervisor Dr. Don Imm was pleased to host Dr. Puente at the field office. “I knew he had some exposure to our agency. But as a fellow, he could take his knowledge to a whole new level,” said Dr. Imm.
Dr. Puente stayed busy with a jam-packed schedule in Panama City. He spent some days on sea turtle patrol, looking for crawls and surveying nests. Other days were spent sampling for Gulf sturgeon. Dr. Puente joined botanist Dr. Vivian Negron-Ortiz for plant surveys. He also spent his nights at Tyndall Air Force Base, looking for reptiles. “I had a very pleasant experience in Panama City,” explains Dr. Puente. “I learned so much about species management and how it’s driven by the Endangered Species Act.”
Now that Dr. Puente’s three week fellowship is over, the real work is just beginning. His next assignment is translating what he learned in Panama City to his many students at Interamerican University. Dr. Puente wants to add endangered species work into his curriculum so students will consider employment with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He already has a plan for doing just that. “I will be giving students one hour talks about endangered species work during Science Week. I will integrate what I’ve learned into the classroom,” said Dr. Puente. “I will also identify students who can participate in the Pathways program (a Service program that helps interns become full-time Service employees).
Dr. Imm plans to maintain a strong connection with Dr. Puente as well as Interamerican University. He believes graduates could have a bright future with the Service. “Dr. Puente can serve as our eyes and ears for potential candidates for Service jobs. The Summer Faculty Fellows Program is an absolute win-win for our agency and students who seek a career in conservation.”
The Panama City Field Office will stay in touch Dr. Puente and his students. We look forward to hearing great things!