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Ten years ago, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito made a commitment to achieve something never done before: to establish the only university-led research center in the Galapagos Archipelago, a World Heritage Site and the scientific playground of Charles Darwin. During these 10 years, our partnership has flourished despite ongoing challenges. In particular, the last few years have reinforced the importance and power of our global partnership and the valuable support it provides in times of hardship. They have also forced us to think creatively about ways to carry out our mission of research, teaching, and service. Below we wish to highlight how we have strengthened this mission over the last decade.

First, the breadth and depth of our research endeavors in the Galapagos has increased substantially. We now have nearly 100 ongoing projects approved by the Galapagos National Park and nearly a dozen projects focused on the islands’ human residents. We have awarded multiple seed grants to past and new investigators from several units on campus, including the College of Arts and Sciences, the Gillings School of Public Health, the School of Education, the School of Social Work, and the School of Medicine. At the same time, our researchers have received major federal awards from agencies such as NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation, and our collaborative ties with research groups and institutions around the world are becoming stronger.

A second aspect is our commitment to the professional preparation of the next generation of scholars. Dozens of graduate and undergraduate students from across UNC have completed honors theses, dissertations, and research projects in areas relevant to the terrestrial, marine, and social ecosystems of the Galapagos. Our study abroad programs have introduced several hundred Carolina students to hands-on experiential and interdisciplinary learning, leading to numerous research-related outcomes. These efforts almost always translate into diverse student engagement, often in collaboration with our faculty research groups. Furthermore, we have expanded this engagement beyond the physical presence of students on the islands back to Chapel Hill through virtual study abroad, Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) courses, and multi-institutional research projects.

And finally, our commitment to society, both in the Galapagos and in North Carolina, has strengthened our connections with local communities thanks to implementation mechanisms that are both meaningful and effective. For example, we have funded community-led research projects through the REACTT initiative to train and support local citizen-scientists in efforts that they identify as important for the community. With the Galapagos Science Center, we provide information and learning activities for school children in San Cristobal and host an annual symposium on research and conservation for the local Galapagos community. We also bring this knowledge back to North Carolina through our extensive public outreach efforts and in collaboration with partners within UNC and beyond.

In the years to come, we are committed to enabling and conducting innovative research and translating our discoveries into information that is useful for the public. We also remain committed to educating the next generation to ensure healthy island ecosystems for the future. We believe our global partnership in the Galapagos represents an unparalleled opportunity for the advancement of sustainable development that serves the social good.

Amanda Thompson
Interim Director, Center for Galapagos Studies, UNC
Co-Director, Galapagos Science Center, San Cristobal, Ecuador
Department Chair and Professor, Anthropology, UNC
Professor, Nutrition, UNC