Katherine Comer Santos

Title
Director
Katherine founded and directs The Science Exchange. She is an Adjunct Research Associate at San Diego State University’s Biology Department where she earned her master’s degree. Other international exchanges include a FIPSE-and Phi Beta Delta-sponsored internship with the University of Barcelona studying avian distributions, 2.5 years of volunteer work in sustainable agriculture with the Peace Corps, and living with a host family during a study abroad program in Granada, Spain. Her personal interests are sea turtles, travel, surfing, and capoeira.
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What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Katherine: We are a non-profit, and intern enrichment is the most important thing to us. Enrichment means:

  • Personal – a heightened sense of identity, greater self confidence, better relationship building skills, higher tolerance, a broader world view;
  • Cultural exchange – learning and teaching new ways of speaking, living, learning and working;
  • Academic – if the intern has not used the scientific method to reach conclusions about their research data we have not done our job;
  • Giving back – our interns usually have the goal of helping save sea turtles or other marine animals. Although we cannot guarantee the animals will be present during their internship, we make sure all interns research and/or help improve the animals’ habitat and most of the time our interns interact with wild animals as well! If we provide enrichment for our interns, they may give back to the non-profit through future donations, marketing, referrals, etc. But most importantly, they will give back to our communities and the planet.
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Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?

Katherine: For me, it was a struggle to learn Spanish, and took me 10 years of studying and 4 months of living in Spain to “get it”. But being fluent has changed my life completely. I now live, work, and dream in Spanish, and some of my best friends speak Spanish.

Generation Y is the future, the planet is in their hands, and they must learn to be good global citizens. Although more people are learning English in other countries, we must learn and respect foreign cultural and work norms to solve our global conservation problems.

Therefore, it is imperative that every young person take that trek and immerse themselves in a foreign environment, and at least try to learn the host language. The internet has made it very easy to stay in touch so it is not as scarey anymore to leave behind your friends and family.

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What does the future hold for The Science Exchange - any exciting new programs to share?

Katherine: Our next step is to provide internships for local college students in Latin America so that the English-speaking intern can practice more one-on-one cultural exchange, and learn science and conservation from a different perspective. Also we need the local Generation Y to be scientific experts and conservationists in their own communities, because they are the stewards.

To that end we will be fundraising for local scholarships, and creating a training center in Mexico where all interns will work closely with our bilingual staff on performing the literature review, forming research questions, writing methods, and practice collecting data.

Then they will spend about 6 weeks in the field, and return to the center for a final week to analyze the data and write results, conclusions, and recommendations. And, of course, share stories of their adventures. We hope to publish many more scientific papers with our Latin American and domestic interns as co-authors.