Spring Semester 2022 in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

Integrating Freshwater Science and Sustainability in a rapidly changing ecological corridor, Yucatán Peninsula

Laguna Bacalar is on the cusp of becoming one of the most threatened lakes in the world. An international research experience through UW-Milwaukee and NSF provides an undergraduate and graduate student 7-week field experience in the Southern Yucatán Peninsula.

Mexico’s second largest natural lake, Laguna Bacalar is one of the most unique, world-class freshwater lakes on Earth. It is part of an important ecological corridor ranging from tropical forest to the Caribbean Sea. The Laguna has the world’s largest freshwater, living Stromatolites (oldest known life forms at 3.5 Ga that put oxygen in the atmosphere), extensive freshwater mangroves, cenotes, and unique hydrodynamics.

What will you do?

The Yucatán Peninsula is experiencing the economic benefits of eco-tourism and the challenge of maintaining the environment that drives its economic growth. Participants will

  • Conduct research focused on surficial and subterranean hydrologic system dynamics, ecological complexity of Stromatolites, mangroves, and land-water sustainability.
  • Gauge human environmental use associated with the human built environment and examine resource impacts such as tourism encroachment increases in the area.
  • Work under the shared mentorship of SFS program leaders, Mexican scientists, and educators.
  • Collaborate with and receive guidance from Mexican scientists, SFS program leaders, and other U.S. mentor scientists.
  • Interact with students and faculty at the Superior Javier Rojo Gómez Normal College and the local high school
  • Participate in other opportunities such as trips to the Maya ruins, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world, and cultural events.
  • Experience living and working in a tropical environment!

Here’s a glimpse of where you’ll be working

Who Can Apply?

This program is open to undergraduate and graduate students from any UW System or national higher education institution who have a solid track record and high promise of successfully completing the international experience. Students from any study discipline are encouraged to apply. Maximum of seven students will be accepted.

Course Requirements

This program requires an online course that meets every Friday for the first eight weeks of spring semester, a semester-long independent study, and field work (consisting of two courses) in Mexico from roughly March 20 to May 12, 2022. Participants will also present the results of their research at a professional meeting or other designated forum.

Credits: 9 undergraduate/graduate credits in freshwater sciences
Prerequisites: Undergraduate (junior standing) and consent of program leader (listed below)

Undergraduate course enrollment in FRSHWTR 650, 512-1, 512-2 and 699 at UWM OR
Graduate student course enrollment in FRSHWTR 650G, 512G-1, 512G-2 and 999 at UWM

See specific course requirements here. 

Students not enrolled in a UW-Milwaukee degree program are required to enroll as a special student at UW-Milwaukee.

Application Process

Applications will be accepted beginning October 15, 2021, and the review process will begin immediately. Students will be notified of acceptance no later than December 3, 2021.

Scored criteria will include academic grade performance, diversity and pertinence of course work, written conveyance, previous work and academic experience, activity participation, letters of support. While grades are important, work ethic, curiosity and passion are key characteristics.

Prospective students must submit an application consisting of the following materials:

  • An academic transcript
  • A 1-2 page personal interest statement that includes previous work and academic experience (a strong personal statement can dominate shortcomings in an academic record)
  • 2 letters of reference from individuals knowledgeable of student’s qualifications

Final applicants must participate in an interview conducted in person or via phone or virtually.


Additional Requirements

  • A valid passport NOTE: Passports need to be valid for at least six months past the program’s end date. We strongly recommend that you expedite your passport application. Information on how to apply for a passport can be found here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html
  • Evidence of COVID vaccination (an international requirement)
  • Ability to work in physically demanding tropical field environments, including on the water in small boats
  • Understanding of Spanish helpful but not required
  • Obtain the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Boating Safety certification, offered by the School of Freshwater Sciences

Additional Information

Dates: Mexico travel dates are March 22 – May 12, 2022
Semester dates are January 24 – May 21, 2022

Program Leaders: Val Klump, vklump@uwm.edu; Tim Grundl, Grundl@uwm.edu; Jerry Kaster, jlk@uwm.edu;  Marissa Jablonski (jablons5@uwm.edu), School of Freshwater Sciences, UWM

Academic Advising: Mallory Kaul (malkaul@uwm.edu). Contact for administrative questions about application, registration, program cost, etc.

Costs: International airfare, in-Mexico transportation, lodging accommodations, and modest research expenses are paid for through our grant from the National Science Foundation-International Research Experience for Students. Other expenses including cultural excursions, most meals, health insurance, trip/travel insurance, academic costs-tuition & fees, are the student’s responsibility.

Scholarships: Through the UWM Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, UWM undergraduates are eligible for the Donal R. Shea Study Aboard Scholarship; deadline Nov. 1. https://uwm.edu/clacs/funding/undergraduate-student-funding/. UWM graduate students are eligible for a Research-Conference Award; deadline Nov. 30. https://uwm.edu/clacs/funding/graduate-student-funding/student-research-travel-award/. Non-UWM students are encouraged to speak with the scholarships office at their institution to determine if similar programs are available.

This program is funded by NSF’s International Research Experience for Students program and available to students statewide through a partnership with