The Transcontinental Expedition from the perspective of indigenous and global youth leaders. (2-minute video)
Design & Building with Bamboo a glimpse into how Geoversity is introducing sustainable materials in Panama. (4-minute video)
The Panama Reel highlights of an 8-month film internship with Geoversity by Elliot Blumberg. (1-minute video)
The Life Changer Short Film Victorien Guillemonat, Imagery Developper at Ubisoft. (20-minute video)
Welcome Prospective GeoExplorers!
It doesn’t take an expert to know our world is in crisis. Sea levels are rising, the forests are on fire. A bat virus discovers a new host. There are children in cages while a man can’t breathe. Any thinking person experiences this barrage of horrors daily.
Though the symptoms of our disease are many and varied, the source is quite singular. The tracks lead directly to our practices of managing living things for efficiency, like standardized parts in a machine, and to our assumption that doing it conscientiously makes us safe from the vagaries of nature. This is a dangerous delusion in a living world, and one that runs counter to everything we know about resilience and adaptation.
Life has thrived on change for billions of years by launching countless generations of self-organizing, replicating experiments. Evolution is messy, and its products diverse. This is the raw feedstock of life’s adaptive potential. We know this. Yet, we’re still teaching tomorrow’s leaders to think in terms of mechanistic, monocropped and disparate solutions. Our work at Geoversity is therefore urgent: to develop next-generation leaders who are literate in living systems, and willing to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty while seeking potential over problems, pluralism over best practices.
To this end, we immerse our GeoYear students in Panama’s diverse local ecosystems, cultures, and worldviews. They learn to discern unique local patterns and potential––what do these particular places and people seek to be and how can this be applied to other places around the world? Global forces inevitably dilute and obscure these tracks, but they remain nonetheless, waiting to be discovered and recognized for their inherent value. Our biocultural leaders learn how to see and develop this energetic potential, to design for and catalyze regeneration in their own communities––hotspots of care, commitment, and clarity for ongoing biocultural renewal. We begin with recognizing deep patterns of place and then show proven patterns for design. Because here’s what every ecologist, farmer, and forager knows: when the right seeds are planted in the right time and place, their growth is irrepressible. In time, with the right care and relationships, such seedlings become thriving forests, making and supporting more life.
Our Geoversity soil is fertile. Could you be our next seed?
Warmest wishes from the teeming jungle,
Dean, Geoversity School of Biocultural Leadership
Author of Teeming: How Superorganisms Work Together to Build Infinite Wealth on a Finite Planet.
What is GeoYear?
GeoYear is a 8-week semester program taking place in Panama that combines the independent learning and adventure elements of a gap year with the academic rigor of a study-abroad program. It is directed by Geoversity’s School of Biocultural Leadership’s team of wilderness and cross cultural education experts together with a top-level faculty of educators, scientists and indigenous and community development leaders.
GeoYear is offered to individuals who are considering becoming a leader or who are already on a leadership path.
Drawing on Geoversity’s 20 years of youth leadership work in Panama, it is ideally suited to engage explorer-minded individuals who seek once-in-a-lifetimes adventures, to team up with new and equally motivated friends and, ultimately, to grow in their capacity to make significant contributions to the well-being of planet Earth.
How GeoYear Learning is Different
As a GeoYear student you will be immersed in Panama’s diverse ecologies and cultural systems, experiencing them and producing shared meaning through these equally diverse lenses: Western scientific observation, traditional ecological knowledge, tracking, mythic storytelling traditions, and artistic expression. These are some of the complex metaphorical forms through which biocultural knowledge is transmitted, and the media through which it adapts and changes.
You will gain insight into the evolutionary process, ecological flows and patterns, and gain a deeper understanding of the human animal —our nature and origins, behavioral ecology, patterns of diversity and adaptation.
You will learn how to construct Stories of Place that highlight local patterns, processes, and potential, and will attract committed co-creators.
Throughout the program, you will work to identify and develop your own potential as a leader and co-creator in larger spheres of endeavor, while experiencing hands-on collaborative design and innovation with “nature-inspired” methodologies like Biomimicry, Permaculture and integrated land management, “Teeming” for organizations, Biophilic and Living Buildings design, and Prosocial for managing common resources.
- Ecology/Evolutionary Theory/Complexity (patterns, flows, processes, cycles)
- Biocultural Anthropology (human origins/evolution, diversity and adaptation, behavioral ecology, cognition)
- Indigenous Worldviews (select readings, experiences, guests)
- Holistic Tracking and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)
- Story of Place, with GIS and 7Vortex
Leadership and Development
- Fail Forward experiential learning
- “Teeming” - adaptive organizational principles
- Mythic Storytelling
- Art and Expression
- Personal action for effecting change
- Health and Heart - personal resilience
- Permaculture, agroforestry, indigenous land management practices
- Biophilic Design, Living Buildings, Bamboo Construction
- Living Systems Frameworks
- Prosocial - Evolution Institute approach to managing common resources
- Innovation and Social Entrepreneurs
GeoYear is open to individuals who are considering or who have already embarked upon a leadership path in life.
If you’re one of those selected, you’re in for a first semester special edition of immersion in natural and cultural diversity tackling real-life challenges in community and environmental service and scientific field work.
You Will Explore...
...diverse and rarely-visited rural and indigenous rainforest and island communities, while sailing, biking, hiking, and paddling your way from the Pacific to the Caribbean along the Jaguar’s Trail in one of the world's top 20 biological hotspots––a wildlife corridor of global importance.
You Will Sharpen...
...your powers of pattern recognition and develop the skills of “living systems and design thinking”.
You Will Expand...
...your capacity for natural resilience—as individuals and as leaders.
You Will Grow...
...in your understanding of traditional place-sourced knowledge and gifts of artistic expression and storytelling.
You Will Gain...
...hands-on experience with “nature-inspired” methodologies including biomimicry, permaculture, regenerative and biophilic design, spatial storytelling, and “teeming” superorganism organizational practices.
Get ready for rigorous coaching and high expectations from your peers and mentors for breakthrough achievement.
With successful completion of the program you’ll come away with performance evaluations and documentation helpful in obtaining academic credit and, ultimately, enhanced career opportunities for your GeoYear investment.
“Our approach is holistic so our work is aimed at helping animals, people, and the environment with the theme of learning to live in peace and harmony – not only with each other but with the natural world... If we can get the new generation of activists, one that understands that we need money to live but that we shouldn’t be living for money, if we can get that to a critical mass in time, then we’re going to start seeing major change.”
Dr. Jane Goodall at Geoversity’s Mamoní Valley Preserve’s Centro Mamoní Life Science Center as a part of the Roots & Shoots Pan-American Leadership Conference, 2012.
We’ll start out in Panama City. Break the ice and get to know your fellow explorers while hanging out in one of the most historically and geo-politically significant urban centers in the Americas.
Immerse yourself in Panama’s 500-year history as a crossroads in global commerce, especially the building of the recently expanded Panama Canal––one of the world’s most impressive engineering feats. And, of course, you’ll meet grassroots and civic leaders uniquely qualified to introduce you to the historic and current realities of life in a rapidly growing metropolis.
You’ll also enjoy a tour of the Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo introducing the biodiversity and natural history of the “land bridge that changed the world”.
You will be visiting UN-declared World Heritage sites including Old Panama City, the hub of commerce for 150 years before it burnt to the ground while under siege in 1671 by British privateer Captain Henry Morgan.
“Laced with rivers and overlooking one of the most precious coastal wetlands of the Pacific lies Panama City in the cooling embrace of tropical jungle that connects it with the great Atlantic. For all its centuries of commerce between the seas, its true wealth flows from the gifts of nature. Now, as urban growth threatens to proceed unabated and erode our natural heritage, we must grow stronger in our resolve and more effective in our efforts in pursuit of integral, resilient and sustainable development for our city and for our world.
Raisa Banfield, former Vice Mayor of Panama City; co-founder, Geoversity Design
Take a deep dive into the pre-Colombian roots of the Americas, with a warm welcome from the indigenous Emberá and Guna authorities and youth leaders who will be your guides on unforgettable journeys into their territories and cultures.
Begin by learning about the complex workings of Emberá people in one of the most significant watersheds in the Western Hemisphere encompassing the Chagres National Park and the Majé Emberá lands and providing the flow of fresh water on which the great inter oceanic canal and the fastest growing city in Latin America depend.
During overnights in a traditional riverside Emberá village, you will benefit from Geoversity’s years of experience collaborating with indigenous communities by exploring and digital mapping, as you gain insights into ecology and tough sociological issues such indigenous territorial rights and the future of cattle ranching.
Gunayala, one of three autonomous Guna territories, is a forested corridor of steeply sloped land stretching 232 miles from the Colombian border that includes 365 low-lying coastal islands.
Get ready for full immersion in Guna culture and a 1,000-year history of migration, struggles for independence and an extraordinary record of self governance with one of the most direct forms of democracy found in the Western Hemisphere.
Guests of the Guna Youth Congress, you’ll be staying on a tiny uninhabited island, which, like most of the inhabited islands in Gunayala, is hopelessly threatened by a rising sea and their inhabitants are undergoing the difficult and heart-wrenching transition away from centuries of island life to forging new communities on the mainland.
You’ll be in dialogue with Guna elders and youth about their experiences with and responses to the impact of western modernity and global climate change on their traditional ways of life and livelihood.
“We are very much looking forward to working with GeoYear leaders on learning-and-action projects near and in our autonomous territory of Gunayala. For over a decade we have been working to prepare our ocean, riverside and forest communities for the wrenching changes they will have to make in the face of a rising sea, flooding rivers, landslides, incursions by loggers and ranchers, and parched forests on fire.
We must grow smarter in our organization and united in our action with an expanding circle of brothers and sisters of lands close by and far away. We look forward to meaningful cultural exchanges and, above all, to working together on the call for social justice and global climate action that we are making to our peers worldwide.”
Iniquilipi Chiarí, co-founder and first president, the Guna Youth Congress, and Youth co-founder, Geoversity
Learn coastal navigation and sailing techniques from the explorer Claus Kjaerby while negotiating the challenges of teamwork on the high seas.
Following several island anchorages and a long sail, experience the thrill of anchoring off the white sands of Cébaco, a large forested island off the Pacific coast of Panama, which will soon be home to Geoversity’s Pacific Marine Field Station. It is located near one of the 25 best surfing destinations in the world and the gateway into one of the most important estuaries and mangrove wetlands in the Western Pacific.
Imagine learning about marine life while snorkelling near a major whale migratory path and next to Coiba Island National Park, a UN-declared World Heritage site.
Tropical coastal marine environments —at the intersection of rivers, wetlands, coastal shelves, islands and deep sea upwelling— is where you will experience the highest degree of ecological complexity and biodiversity to be found anywhere on Planet Earth. And the future of much of humanity hangs on the well being of those precious biomes.
Get ready for a world of challenges...
...as you and your fellow GeoYear teammates manage 20-foot tidal change in variable weather, visit artisanal fishing communities dealing with fishing restrictions and competition with big commercial interests. You’ll be able to assist scientists doing marine research and ecologists and geographers doing digital mapping. Get ready for hard work planting trees, building bamboo structures and rafts for research facilities, and much more.
Start your immersion in tropical forest and restoration ecology with a journey on boat, foot and mountain bikes from the Pacific coast to your rainforest base in the Mamoní Valley Preserve.
Your trek begins in the Río Bayano Delta, one of the Pacific Basin’s most significant wetlands. On sailboat and rafts, you’ll explore mangrove forests that attract millions of migrating shorebirds every year, and that are so essential for climate resiliency.
Imagine sharing with other young people worldwide your stories of creativity and courage in the face of many of the greatest environmental challenges facing humanity today.
Joining you will be Geoversity’s award-winning filmmaker Kandi Valle to assist you in documenting your experiences traversing some of the most significant oceanic, coastal wetland, upland rainforest and river biomes on Planet Earth.
The Mamoni Valley Preserve
The Mamoní Valley Preserve, Geoversity’s main campus, is a 12,500-acre land conservancy managed by our Fundación Geoversity. Encompassing 4,000 acres of protected primary forest at the narrowest stretch of the Central American Isthmus, the Preserve borders to the north, along the Continental Divide, the autonomous territory of the Guna and to the west, the watershed of the inter oceanic canal encompassing Emberá communities and the Chagres National Park. Located only two hours away from Panama's capital, it is within the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena eco-region —one of the 25 most threatened ecological hotspots on Earth.
Support Ongoing Conservation
Sign on for one or more of the field study and habitat protection projects taking place at the Preserve and now getting global attention. With the Mamoní Natural History Project you’ll be working with Harvard Ph.D. students to establish a baseline understanding of how the different land-use conditions within the Preserve affect patterns of diversity.
Assist University of Redlands faculty and undergrad students in applying geospatial and drone technology to the work of conservation, restoration and the protection of indigenous territorial rights. The PanaMapping Project is helping to “transform our understanding of the system of systems that is Nature and the interdependence that characterizes all life on Earth.”
Envision yourself contributing directly to sustainable building, as you work from Geoversity’s agricultural center on a variety of ecological restoration and sustainable agricultural projects, especially permaculture and the cultivation and use of bamboo for construction, furniture and stream restoration.
Learn about land-use choices facing rural communities and the challenges of introducing sustainable practices in a region dominated by cattle ranching and logging.
Enjoy a hike up from Centro Mamoní to the continental ridge and, joined by Guna Geoversity leaders, prepare for a life changing descent on foot and pack boats crossing the autonomous Gunayala to their Atlantic coast.
Spend time in the traditional village of Gan Igar that was nearly swept away by record river floods, the first of the many Guna you’ll be meeting suffering the catastrophic effects of global climate change.
Eventually you’ll paddle through the mangroves and out to the sea for your first view of the Guna coastal islands.
Your island base will be Anmardup, one of Gunayala’s 365 islands that is now under management by Guna youth led by one of the Guna Geoversity leaders and the founder of the Guna Youth Congress, Iniquilipi Chiarí.
Learn about the concerns of Guna elders and youth activists as they seek to ensure their livelihoods and protect fragile marine environments while suffering the devastating effects of a rising sea.
Why is it useful for Me?
By the end of the semester, all participants should have achieved practical skills of living system analysis, team building, and biocultural leadership.
Upon successful completion of this semester at Geoversity’s School of Biocultural Leadership you will receive a certificate of achievement as a qualified GeoExplorer.
However, only participants with a successful completion of a full 3 semester GeoYear (next program starting October 6, 2021), which includes project design and potential implementation in Panama or in any other location of your choice, will receive a certificate of achievement as a qualified Life Changer.
How is it Structured?
This special edition one semester Geo Year is divided into two phases with the first starting January 5, 2021 and bringing to the 12,500-acre Mamoní Valley Preserve for four weeks of real world experiences enriched with interaction with faculty and fellow teammates. Your menu of work opportunities as an intern will range from photo documenting jaguar habitats using drones and camera traps in the upland rainforest, to building bamboo structures or working with children on a local school garden project.
You’ll also be assisting Geoversity staff in the day-to-day workings of the Preserve and Geoversity’s educational and conservation activities. Your base during much of that time will be Geoversity’s science center located at rainforest’s edge on the border with Gunayala.
The second phase, eight weeks starting February 1, 2021 is a GeoExplorer journey for immersion into a diversity of other locations around Panama, each rich in diversity and tough challenges worthy of one seeking to grow as a biocultural leader. This is your chance for a once in a lifetime intro to biocultural leadership through living systems thinking. As you travel over 1,000 miles by sailboat, foot and off-road vehicles to a coastal island, historic urban and remote rainforest locations around Panama, you’ll be learning the basics of cross cultural teamwork and developing your understanding of natural and social ecology.
Joining you on the Geo Explorers’ journey will be your local wilderness guides, mentors, film makers, and researchers to ensure safety, discovery and a world of empowering fun.
What do my Days look Like?
Every week will be full of stimulating activity where even the modes of transportation (sailboat, mountain bike, etc.) and shelter (a tree house or remote jungle campsite) present challenges.
Expect to participate in day-to-day decision making, often necessitated by the unexpected such as a sudden storm or a mechanical breakdown. You’ll be encouraged to keep a daily written and video journal, participate in podcasts live from remote locations, and in “on the spot seminars” with faculty so that you’re fully unpacking the insights to be gained from surprise encounters, setbacks, breakthroughs and more.
You should have at least one day a week that is totally yours and open for unstructured activities including just pure fun and relaxation. During your work on independent projects, especially during Semester Three, you’ll have plenty of latitude in the planning of your weekly schedule.
How do I plan all of This?
You will receive a detailed GeoYear Essential Information package with our suggestions and requirements regarding what to pack, even the type of packs you’re expected to use.
You will also be invited to participate in at least one meeting with the Geoversity Life Changer staff and, possibly even an online meeting with your fellow GeoExplorers.
Finally, you’ll have access to a password protected section of the Geoversity website with a large amount of background on staff and faculty, resources on subjects related to your full GeoYear journey and more.
Everything you need for bedding, transportation, meals, and all other essentials will be here waiting for you. And, if you forget something, not to worry: Panama is a world commercial hub so you won’t have any trouble finding what you need.
Applicants need to apply by December 15, 2020 describing why GeoYear is for you and we will be in touch for an interview request. Please apply early, as we have limited capacity and the program may fill up prior to the deadline.
Upon acceptance a 10% deposit is required to secure your spot. Full payment is due by January 5, 2020.
*Ages outside of this range will be taken into consideration
Special semester 1 edition
- Spots available: 12
- Semester is 12 weeks including an optional four weeks intern experience.
January 5 - Jan 31, 2021 (optional four weeks internship period at no extra cost for GeoYear participants)
February 1 - March 27, 2021 (8 weeks)
Total 2 tuition price: $12,500 (independent of internship)
Programs are all inclusive. The following is covered: all meals, land and sea transport, lodging, certified wilderness guides, mentors, experience curators, workshops, curriculum, online courses, taxes, park and conservation fees.
Does not include: flights, personal travel and health insurance, personal spending (souvenirs, etc.).
Lodging & Facilities Outside MVP
When lodging away from our rainforest campus, our years of experiences have allowed us to pick the best in the industry. During city programs, you can count on safe, clean and comfortable luxury hostels with private bathrooms.
When overnighting on remote islands or with our indigenous partners, expect the traditional experience, which is often in our expedition hammocks in private traditional thatch huts. While sailing you’ll be on a live-aboard sailboat.
No matter where our Life Changer Programs take you, there’s always tasty food service of traditional Panamanian meals with exotic options that are prepared fresh daily. During some activities, and especially at the more remote camping locations, you will be expected to collaborate with meal preparation and cleaning.
Tropical fruits and fresh vegetables from local markets while at our rainforest campus are complemented by organic ingredients grown in our permaculture program to offer a well-balanced menu that is mostly vegetarian. Even while in remote areas, we can accommodate most special diets for people with allergies or dietary needs.
Covid-19 Safety Policy
As Geoversity prepares to welcome students this fall, we are pleased to brief you on the protocols we have developed to ensure the safety and well being of GeoYear participants, faculty and staff.
Working in close consultation with government officials and public health experts, we have developed health and safety procedures that we consider robust generally and with particular attention to COVID. In addition, we have several key factors in our favor, including:
- The convenient location and major up-grade of Panama City’s international airport - a regional hub second only to Miami and it’s just a 90-minute drive (in our private transport) to our Mamoní Valley Preserve campus;
- the accommodations and meeting facilities at Geoversity’s science center are all located far from populated areas, spacious, open air and ideally suited for social distancing as necessary; and
- Panama is home to world class health facilities, including the only hospital in Central America affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medicine International.
Geoversity’s certified wilderness guides, instructors, and experts across our industry have helped to develop enhanced health and safety procedures. We have been doing all this work with you in mind and to deliver the life-changing experiences for which we are known.
We look forward to working with you under these enhanced guidelines. Our staff will be subject to the same strict screening and testing procedures being applied before the course starts, at course start, and throughout the course.
We are extremely excited to meet our new students and head back into the field this fall. For detailed information on our enhanced health and safety standards and procedures click here.
Meet the GeoTeam
Geoversity’s professional, multicultural team provides opportunities for safe, inspirational, and adventure-filled educational programs, setting the stage for life changing experiences.
Tamsin Woolley-Barker, Ph.D.
Mark Arie Knetsch
“We came from the four directions, from Asia, from Europe and from the indigenous Americas of the eagle to the North, of the condor to the South.
We gathered on the Pacific side of Panama, the bridge of the Americas, to embark on a journey. We prepared ourselves, mind and body, to sail, bike, hike and paddle across a continent to the Atlantic coast of our Guna sisters and brothers. We sailed by night away from a hemispheric capital of global trade to a coastal wetland. There, on the dark dawn of 2020, we began a four-day trek across a migratory byway teeming with life -places rich in biological and cultural diversity.
We realized that we had each other and that we weren‘t going to quit. We had to do it together. Now, drawing on the gifts of physical tests, of learning from and teaming with nature in rainforest, wetland and ocean campuses, and coaching from great mentors, some of us have started to plan.
Committed to creating the places and programs to the benefit of all living beings and with art honoring Mother Earth, we envision bringing about, in our lifetimes, a natural renaissance.”
Micaela Iron-Shell Dominguez, North American Lakota, Director of Operations and Secretary, The Indigenous Youth Council, Geoversity Indigenous Youth Leadership Adviser
Twenty years ago when our Guna friends took us to a hidden valley located on the vulnerable southern border of their autonomous territory, we saw first-hand why they hoped we might base our Earth Train (now Geoversity) programs there. In the watershed of the upper Mamoní River we saw how the area’s river and forest corridors of biodiversity were threatened by rapidly expanding and unsustainable ranching and logging practices. With eyes stinging from the smoldering of forest slash, we saw extreme erosion and streams gone dry, and countless other signs that we had entered an ecological crossroads.
Returning with a team of local, indigenous and foreign volunteers, we set to work creating a base camp with a mission: Human settlements in and near natural areas don’t have to grow like cancerous cells fed by roads. We’ll focus our youth empowerment work on the modeling of alternatives. Driven by a vision of what we called “conservation communities” evolving in harmony with wilderness and watershed zones, we embarked on creating what would soon be called the Mamoní Valley Preserve, our world campus for Biocultural Leadership.
Nathan Gray, co-founder and president, Geoversity
“With the gorgeous backdrop of Panama and Geoversity’s programs of biodiversity and cultural immersion, youth leaders experienced a life-changing connection with the Earth, and with rural and indigenous peoples. They also learned leadership skills and are being supported as they are emerging as the new leaders of the climate movement. With the Life Changer program, the Geoversity School of Biocultural Leadership will become an international community of purpose dedicated to the empowerment of young activists and 'architects of the future.’ ”
Laurie Meadoff, Founder CityKids Foundation, Co-Producer Geoversity's Earth Vision Transcontinental Journey, 2020
Geoversity is an ecosystem of individuals and organizations collaborating in the creation of biocultural leadership.
The ecosystem is nourished by real places, conservation communities starting with the Mamoní Valley Preserve.
Geoversity’s natural campuses and our learning and leadership programs are administered by the not-for-profit Geoversity Foundation in the U.S. and the Fundación Geoversity in Panama.
Our vision is Biocultural Renewal: A healthy human relationship with nature.
Our mission is to create conservation communities and life-changing learning experiences, inspired by Nature.