My name is Saadiya and I am coming to you from beautiful Punta Cana, Dominican Republic as a member of the 2011 MHIRT program. It has been just over two weeks since we first arrived and so much has already happened. I am going to try and condense it all into one blog but this will be no easy task. We arrived in Punta Cana on June 1st. Because the ecological foundation where the MHIRT program usually stays was full of students from various colleges, we had to stay at the resort for two weeks until the other schools left. The resort is gorgeous so I wasn’t complaining! There are ten students this year so everyone met in the hotel lobby for our room keys, roommates and a welcome from the hotel staff.
After getting settled in to our hotel rooms, we met for our first dinner where Professor Manuel Aregullin and Professor Maria Laux gave us a quick overview of what was in store for us. Each week we will be trained by different professors in the fields of botany, taxonomy and the chemical pathways that different plant chemistries follow before eventually developing our own final projects on a plant of our choice. Our first Professor, Dr. Ronald Booker gave us a few lectures on health disparities and how medicine and pharmacology played a role in this issue. His lectures ended with a class debate on Bidil (the first FDA approved, race-specific drug that commercially targets African Americans with heart disease), which is always a fun and an effective way to learn. After Dr. Booker left, we met Dr. Kevin Nixon, a trained expert in plant botany who took us around the resort grounds as well as the ecological reserve showing us the basics of plant identification. He was always down to chew on a few leaves here and there which was pretty cool and he could identify every plant he saw which was more than impressive. Class starts around 9am each day and ends around 5 so we have nights to ourselves and weekends free. Even though we did not live at the foundation with the other colleges, we were able to get to know them before they left and had a really good time hanging out with them. There is a place in Punta Cana called “The Village” that has a few restaurants and shops and such so in our free time we would all go there with the other students for some relaxation.
The weather here is something to get used to, it can get really hot but with the beach in walking distance it’s never overpowering. It’s been two weeks since we first arrived and this past Wednesday, after saying bye to our friends from the other schools, we finally moved onto the foundation. Now we are working with Dr. Jackie Salazar, one of Dr. Nixon’s students, who lives in the Dominican and is an expert in plant taxonomy endemic to the Dominican Republic. She is currently teaching us how to identify plant families and has been having us identify various plants, fruits, and flowers in lab groups. Another Professor, Dr. Marcus McFerren, has just arrived so we will be having our first lecture with him tomorrow. That is it for now,
P.S: If you ever plan to travel abroad, please bring an English to (insert native language here) dictionary. It definitely comes in handy!!