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15-year-old 10th grader, Maria Victoria Ferrara, was selected as an "Argonaut" for Jason XV: Rainforests at the Crossroads' expedition to Barro Colorado, Panama.

Here, she talks to My Hero about her upcoming adventure and her beloved homeland, Panama...

How did you become involved with the Jason Project?

Project representatives in Panama contacted my school, La Academia Interamericana de Panama, and our school director set out to find a good candidate to apply. My science teacher told her about me and said I was an "exceptional" student with a great interest in science. I filled out the application, and I was selected!

Leaf-cutter ants will bring these little plant pieces back to their nest. The plant pieces will grow fungi used to feed young ants. In this way, leaf-cutters are the world's smallest farmers!
What do you hope to learn/gain from this experience?

Aside from making new friends with all sorts of different people -- kids my age as well as teachers and SCIENTISTS firsthand! -- I really hope to gain perspective on what it's like to be a scientist, so that I can see whether or not it's the sort of thing I'm meant for -- even though I have a great hunch that it is something I'd enjoy doing! Also, I would really like to become aware of our environment in an involved manner and I know that the Jason Project is going to help me get that "awareness."

What do you want as your future career? Do you think it will be something in science?

I definitely want my future career to be involved in the science and mathematical areas. I find genetic engineering to be extremely interesting --let's just see how well I hold up in Chemistry and Physics! Also, medicine. These are my favorite choices and when it comes to medicine I believe I’d enjoy Pediatrics or Surgery because I've always felt very strongly about these subjects.

A solitary grasshopper awaits its next meal.
How does your family/community/school feel about you having been chosen?

They are just as excited as I am, if not more so. I have discovered several articles and newspaper clippings on the Jason Project and the Panamanian 'argos.' It's very exciting and my family has even developed nicknames such as 'Jason', 'argo', and 'lil argonaut' for me! I'm having a blast even before it all really starts!

Who is YOUR hero?

My heroes are most definitely my parents. They have managed to bring up a family of 5 kids and have done it lovingly and wisely. I honestly don't know how they do it or where they get strength from to work everyday and still have time for all of us. My greatest wish is that someday, when I have a family of my own, I can become as great a parent as they have been!

A small bat munches on an insect. Even after being captured and held, this little fellow was hungry for a big meal.
How does it feel to have been chosen, and to represent Panama?

It is the greatest honor I have ever had in my entire life. The Jason Project is such a huge organization and to be accepted and chosen to represent my country for Jason is just so overwhelming and exciting that I can't help but be happy. I'm very excited and thankful for the opportunity to participate in such a great thing that I know will influence my life and my perspective on many things, as well as others.

From what you have learned so far about the Jason Project, what do you think of it?

I think very highly of it. It teaches so much in such a way that everything becomes fun! I've really enjoyed everything I've done so far and I can hardly wait for it all to happen at Barro Colorado! It's awesome the amount of stuff Jason does for today's youth. It's so different than any other learning experience. Students are used to sitting in a classroom to learn, but the Jason Project is so hands on.

The coati is a member of the raccoon family, however it is active during the day. It is a social animal and feeds on almost anything: fruit, insects, mice and lizards.
How do you feel about the Jason Project coming to Panama?

I have to say that I am extremely proud. I believe this is the proudest I've ever been of Panama -- in the sense that I really feel like proclaiming I'm a Panamanian! It's not everyday that you can say "I'm from Panama, the country that got chosen for the Jason Project this year because it happens to be one of the most interesting and lively places in the world." I honestly believe that the fact that Jason is coming to Panama has helped me value the things that surround me on a whole new level, and I hope it does the same for all other Panamanians, as well as the many participants of the Jason Project.

What else would you like to tell kids around the world about Panama, and your life there?

Panama is great! I love it. It is really small, so small in fact that people actually claim that everyone knows everyone -- literally! It is also quite breathtaking -- sunsets like you've never seen before, tropical jungles and yet metropolitan cities, as well as crystal clear and sunny beaches. Cool breezes and rainstorms. Dry and humid. Quiet and noisy. All these words describe Panama. Life here is bliss without a doubt. The emotional warmth of the people makes Panama a perfect place for raising a family. When you live in Panama, you truly discover what cultural diversity really stands for. Life here is fantastic!

Photos courtesy of The Jason Project and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Last changed on: 9/17/2004 5:39:27 AM

The Smithsonian Tropical Rainforest Institute in Panama whose mission is to "increase understanding of the past, present, and future of tropical biodiversity and its relevance to human welfare" has worked hand in hand with the Jason Project in bringing Jason XV to Panama.

The Jason Project: Visit this site for further information about the project, as well as the current expedition, Jason XV: Rainforests at the Crossroads.

Andrea Kam is a Panamanian student who will be joining Maria as an Argonaut in Jason XV.

Jason XV: Rainforests at the Crossroads gives additional information about the expedition, Panama, and more

Jason XV: The Argonauts gives a complete list of student argonauts.

To read about Maria Victoria Ferrara in Spanish, click here to visit Mi Heroe’s Maria Victoria Ferrara story.

by Tricia Haynes

Tropical Forest Ecology: A View from Barro Colorado Island
by Egbert G. Leigh

Tropical Rain Forest
by Lynn M. Stone
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