Student Showcase – Gabriel Flores

On Assignment in the Amazon

Written by Gabriel Flores

Gabriel was a participant in the University of Wyoming’s McNair Scholars Program from 1999-2001. He was accepted as graduate student in Anthropology at Brown University, Providence Rhode Island.

The rain began to fall one afternoon and continued for two days-an average storm in the Upper Amazon of Ecuador. During that time I was bound to my small home; moving around in the wet, thick soil of therain forest was simply impossible. Over the course of those two days I carried out a number of informal interviews with my hosts and friends-an indigenous Naporuna family that shed light on their understandings of health, illness, and doctors. The time spent waiting out the rain also afforded an opportunity for me to reflect on my progress in the Ph.D.-track anthropology program at Brown University. How had I made it to Brown? How was I doing so far? If today I find myself in the Amazon, what opportunities might tomorrow bring?

Gaining acceptance to any graduate program requires the ‘standard’ mix of good grades, references, standardized test scores, and hard work. I would guess, however, that for most first-generation minority students, achieving the ‘standard’ mix is usually out of reach. In particular, this would seem to be the case for low-income students, who not only worry about biology exams or sociology mid-terms, but also deal with demanding work schedules. So how does a student like me end up working on a PhD in the Upper Amazon?

In a phrase, it was the University of Wyoming’s Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program (a TRIO program). Without a doubt, the McNair Program was the key that unlocked a new world of possibilities. In addition to stressing the importance of the ‘standard’ mix mentioned above, the program focused on the importance of doing undergraduate research. In every instance, the McNair program showed me that if I was willing to do the work, they were willing to find a way to make things happen. For example, during my McNair research in the summer 2000, they provided extra funds that enabled data collection at the University of New Mexico-the data proved invaluable to my overall study.

The McNair program also gave me a realistic understanding of what graduate school would entail, from the master’s thesis to the doctoral dissertation. At this point, I have conducted research in Ecuadorian Amazonia and the Andean highlands twice. I have helped teach one course here at Brown and am in the process of teaching another.

For these innumerable opportunities I would like to thank my mentors and friends at the McNair Program Zackie Salmon and Susan Stoddard.