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All of our Course Instructors are researchers, educators, and activists who live and work in the field. They have all been funded through the National Geographic Society for their research projects across Latin America. They have collectively founded and co-designed this Virtual Field School. 




Ashli Akins is a 2019 National Geographic Explorer who critically examines the shifting relationship between cultural, environmental, and economic values, specifically relating to safeguarding cultural heritage in an era of rapid economic change. She has worked for over 14 years with Quechua communities of the Peruvian Andes, researching and advocating to mitigate adverse effects of unsustainable tourism and development. In 2006, she founded Mosqoy, a charitable organization, that is now a strong force for youth, women, and artisans of the region. Ashli graduated from the University of Oxford with a master’s in international human rights law, and previously received her bachelor’s degree in environmental studies, Latin American studies, and professional writing. She is now completing a PhD in interdisciplinary studies from the University of British Columbia, combining the disciplines of anthropology, law, and environmental studies.



Costa Rica

2018 National Geographic Photo Ark EDGE Fellow, Daniel Arauz Naranjo, manages a sea turtle project at Costa Rica’s Rescue Center for Endangered Marine Species (CREMA), where he catches, tags, and monitors sea turtles in foraging grounds in Costa Rica. He also coordinates a sustainable fisheries project, working with local fishermen to promote science and conservation.

Bezy_Vanessa Photo Credit Zack Bolton_2.


Costa Rica

Vanessa Bézy has been studying sea turtles and the arribada phenomenon in Ostional, Costa Rica for over 10 years. She is a 2012 National Geographic Explorer who strongly advocates for the protection of sea turtles at the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge. Through her involvement with the local community, Vanessa has helped form alliances between the tourism sector and the Refuge, provided scientific data to support wildlife conservation policies, and established two non-profits dedicated to sea turtle and wildlife conservation in the area.




Andrea Izaguirre is a SCUBA instructor and conservationist from Honduras. She currently works as Programs Coordinator for the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) in the Utila chapter. She has participated in various regional and national efforts to monitor the health of the Mesoamerican reef, focusing on coral/benthos interactions and mass bleaching events. She coordinated the Lionfish Awareness program since 2015, where she worked alongside external researchers from University of Oxford. Additionally, she is working on a National Geographic funded project, focusing on women fishers in Honduras, with National Geographic Explorer Dr. Keri Brondo. Currently Andrea resides in the island of Utila, with her rabbit, BunBuns.




Rebecca Smith is a 2018 National Geographic Explorer who is the onsite primatologist with Fundación Para La Tierra. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Zoology from the University of Edinburgh and her Masters at Roehampton University. She is now studying towards a PhD in Conservation Science with the University of Aberdeen. She has previously worked with captive and wild primates in Namibia, Panama, and Puerto Rico. She has been studying the hooded capuchins of Paraguay since 2013, and has presented her research at conferences in Asuncion, Chicago, Nairobi, and Durham. She supervises international students studying the urban howler monkeys of Pilar, runs the PLT Field Methods in Primatology course, and Primatology and Conservation online course. She teaches environmental conservation in 22 rural schools that border San Rafael National Park.


The Virtual Field School is supported by an interdisciplinary team of experts from around the world, who work collaboratively with the Course Instructors to develop curriculum, build accessible digital-learning platforms, and create engaging virtual fieldtrips with our partner communities.

Keri Brondo 1223 UofM TC 20191002 V - Tr


Keri Brondo is a cultural anthropologist, professor, and department chair at the

University of Memphis. She received her PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from Michigan State University, along with a Concentration in Culture, Resources, and Power; a Graduate Certificate in Latin America and Caribbean Studies; and a Graduate Specialization in International Development. Her international research focuses on the relationship between indigenous rights, conservation and development, tourism, and local livelihoods, particularly on Honduras’ north coast and islands. She is the author of four books and over 60 articles, book chapters, agency reports, reviews, and commentaries. She is regularly called upon to provide expert testimony for amnesty cases and has served as an amicus curiae for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. She has over two decades of leadership experience in national anthropology associations, and is the recipient of several awards. As a 2019 National Geographic Explorer, she collaborates with Edoardo Antúnez and the Bay Islands Conservation Association on locally-appropriate environmental education programming, community development, and cultural heritage preservation.



Anshela is an anthropologist, specializing in the anthropology of development at the National University of Cusco. A native Quechua speaker, she is from a rural community in Yanatile, the sub-tropical zone of the Andean mountains of Peru, where her family runs a small but productive farm. Anshela is Mosqoy’s Community Facilitator; in this role, she works as a liaison with the organization’s partner remote Quechua communities to build and maintain positive working relationships, to facilitate community workshops and capacity-building trainings, and to communicate effectively in both Quechua and Spanish. For the past few years, she has worked in collaboration with Ashli Akins to carry out an alpaca recuperation project in the remote highland community of Cancha Cancha, to recuperate the traditional knowledge of selective alpaca breeding (which will be featured in this course's virtual fieldtrip in Peru).



Jorge co-founded Para La Tierra’s Voces de la Naturaleza environmental education program and has been instrumental in running and developing the project over the last five years. Jorge is from a small village in rural Paraguay and his first language is Guaraní, the Indigenous language spoken by the majority of rural Paraguayans. His unique experience of teaching environmental education at a national and international level at all educational levels up to Masters, as well as his deep understanding of Paraguayan culture, make him an essential part of the Virtual Field School.

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