Nichols ’13 Works on Sea Turtle Conservation on Panama Coast

Ian Nichols ’13 is having the experience of a lifetime as an intern for the international non-profit Bridges Across Borders in Jaque, Panama. Nichols is working as an English teacher and sea turtle conservationist in the rural village of Jaque, which is sandwiched between the picturesque Serranía del Bagre rainforest preserve and the white-sanded Jaque beach on the Pacific Ocean. He describes his “office” as “a veranda overlooking the beach in the small cabin  in which I’m living.” His internship is made possible by a stipend from the Jeffery Fund in Science, which is managed by Hamilton’s Maurice Horowitch Career Center.


Despite this picturesque backdrop, Nichols’ summer internship is hardly a tropical vacation. He works from the early morning until the late afternoon in the village’s school as an English teacher. He starts his day by teaching and playing with preschoolers in the early morning, and then teaches two to four English classes to secondary school students. In the afternoon, Nichols gives private tutoring lessons to students and even teachers looking to improve their English. While the days are long and the work is challenging, he says that he enjoys the work because there is “no question that my teaching will have a lasting impact on both the current students and those in the future.”


Although Nichols’ role at the Jaque village school is technically confined to teaching, he is not one to sit back if he sees a problem. When he noticed that the school does not have adequate computer resources to allow students to access the internet, he started searching for sources to donate laptops to students in the village. One such source of assistance to schools like the Jaque school is the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to providing custom-built rugged laptops to children in developing countries.    


The work day only comes to a temporary close for Nichols at the end of his last afternoon tutoring session. When darkness comes around at 9 p.m., Nichols and two other volunteers walk the stretch of the three-mile Jaque beach in search of nests made by the leatherback, hawksbill, loggerhead and green sea turtles. When they find a nest, the group then carefully transports the turtle eggs to a protected nesting enclosure near the village so that the eggs can safely incubate. Their patrols continue throughout the night until midnight. “It is a very exciting experience to assist an endangered species in its continued survival along Panama’s tropical beaches,” he said.     


After spending the first few months of his summer in Panama, Nichols, an environmental studies concentrator, says that he would “absolutely recommend this internship to another Hamilton student: it is an amazing experience that is benefiting a great cause.” He nonetheless says that internship prospects should keep in mind that while Jaque is beautiful, the conditions are not quite those of a Panamanian seaside resort. “I would not suggest this internship to anyone who does not love to be outdoors, can’t take the heat and humidity, has an issue with insects, or cannot speak a little Spanish.” 


Nichols is a graduate of North Yarmouth Academy (Maine)

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