Seizing Chances: Fulbrighter Natacha Poggio Returns From Ecuador
By Ashley Kilday
Natacha Poggio, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at UHD, embarked on a life-changing journey as a Fulbright scholar in Ecuador. Her project focused on conservation, a subject deeply intertwined with the country’s constitution and values. Poggio’s determination and adaptability in the face of the unexpected allowed her to make a significant impact in Ecuador.
The Call of Ecuador
Poggio’s initial fascination with Ecuador stemmed from its rich biodiversity, particularly the renowned Galapagos Islands. “I was inspired by marine biologists like Jacques Cousteau,” she shared. “I wanted to explore [Ecuador’s] unique landscapes and marine life.” She applied to the Fulbright program, envisioning an opportunity to gain valuable field experience and connect with the next generation of environmental conservationists.
Teaching & Research at Universidad de las Artes
Working primarily with students at the Universidad de las Artes in Guayaquil, Poggio focused on harnessing the power of design to communicate a message of positive change. Her goal was to empower students, many of whom were indigenous and first-generation, to utilize design in their own journeys to create a better environment and society.
As civil unrest and violence erupted in the city of Guayaquil, Poggio remained adaptable and optimistic as she sought to reassure her students, maintain everyone’s safety, and continue with lessons. She navigated uncertainties from internet connectivity problems to new curfews as she worked to collaborate with local organizations and individuals.
One memorable collaboration was with an eco-club coordinated by the Ecuadorian non-profit Amiguitos del Océano in the coastal town of Ayangue. Poggio wanted to educate children about marine conservation through beach cleanups and small demonstrations and projects. Aided by a handful of college students, she facilitated conversations with local children to understand their burgeoning perspectives on the changes happening on their seashores, including the impact of plastic pollution on the beaches.
As she forged connections on the coast, Poggio wound up embracing a serendipitous opportunity that arose: meeting Ecuador’s Minister of Environment. Poggio was invited to participate in a whirlwind three-day tour across Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil to kick off the country’s National Pact for Environmental Education. Poggio spoke about using visual communication to advance environmental issue awareness, and she participated in the other activities organized by Ecuador’s Ministerio del Ambiente, Agua y Transición Ecológic (Ministry of Environment, Water, and Ecological Transition). Her audience included the public, academics of each city, and key government changemakers.
Reflecting on her journey, Poggio emphasized the need to slow down and adapt to new environments and situations, a fundamental aspect of the Fulbright program. “I would tell future Fulbrighters to seize chances, even when faced with setbacks, as they might lead to unexpected and beautiful experiences,” she said.
Throughout her Fulbright experience, Natacha Poggio successfully impacted Ecuador’s conservation efforts. “One of the goals of the Fulbright program is to build bridges between countries,” she said. “I think I accomplished that.” Her dedication to design and environmental education left an indelible mark on the communities she interacted with, bringing people together to take care of the ocean we all depend on.
Spanish speakers can read more about Poggio’s work in Ecuador at the links below:
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
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