Over half-a-century, NTBG has hosted hundreds of interns that have become leaders in plant-based careers. In this series, get to know a few of our former and current interns who are forging their paths in tropical plant science and conservation and creating brighter futures for generations of plants and people.
By Jon Letman, Editor
As a child growing up in Puerto Rico, Rocío del Mar Rivera Ramos often listened to her father recall his experience as an intern at the National Tropical Botanical Garden 30 years earlier and 6,000 miles away. In 2022, while pursuing a degree in general agriculture from the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez, Rocío decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and applied for the same internship still offered by NTBG.
Rocío del Mar Rivera (left) completed an NTBG internship just like her father 30 years before her (right).
Hawaiʻi was the furthest she had traveled from home so when she arrived on Kauaʻi, Rocío was excited to see this foreign landscape she had heard about for years. During the twelve-week-long internship, Rocío was able to build on the knowledge and experience she had already gained growing up on her family’s 25-acre farm where they cultivate coffee, vanilla, and Puerto Rican native trees.
When Rocío graduated from NTBG’s fall internship, her parents flew out to help her celebrate, giving her father a chance to see the garden that had been so important to him. Rocío was thrilled to walk with her parents amongst breadfruit trees that had been planted by her father decades earlier. Back in Puerto Rico, Rocío plans to pursue a career that combines agriculture, conservation, and entrepreneurship. She spoke about how NTBG’s internship has influenced her.
What are your plans after graduation?
I really want to work with my dad on the agroforest we are developing on our farm. I also would like to continue my studies, maybe in entrepreneurship or agroecology.
Knowing your father had been an intern at NTBG 30 years earlier, how did you feel when you arrived on Kauaʻi?
I was really excited. It was very special because my parents flew out to Kauaʻi for graduation. My dad could see all the differences that had taken place. One really special thing was when my dad showed me the breadfruit trees he planted as an intern. I had the chance to cultivate and eat from those same trees.
You eat breadfruit in Puerto Rico, right?
Oh my goodness, yes! We call it pana or panapén. To be honest, before the internship I had a breadfruit tree in my backyard but we only ate fried tostones or boiled pana. But in Hawaiʻi, it blew my mind how diverse it can be. In Puerto Rico we just boil or fry it. I saw how much you can do with breadfruit—it was amazing. I would really love to work more with breadfruit. I am also considering getting more into agricultural research to see if the field suits me.
What did you find similar or different between Hawaiʻi and Puerto Rico with regards to conservation?
In a way, Hawaiʻi is more conscious about conserving native species. I want to share what I learned with people here in Puerto Rico about how Hawaiʻi conserves its natural resources.
What impressed you most about your internship at NTBG?
I feel like professionally this experience reassured me that agriculture and horticulture is the thing I want to do. It’s a really humble job, but it’s also really gratifying in the end.
Have you told friends and classmates in Puerto Rico about being an intern at NTBG?
When I came home, lots of people asked me about my experience. I told them how it changed my life. I learned so much at NTBG. I would really love to tell everyone at my university about this internship because I believe that a lot of people here in Puerto Rico can benefit.
For people wondering why they should support NTBG internships, what would you tell them?
I feel like there are not many programs as unique as NTBG’s. I hope this program continues because for me, I learned what I want to do for the rest of my life. Perhaps future NTBG interns can discover his or her passion too.
Plants nourish our ecosystems and communities in countless ways. When we care for plants, they continue caring for us. Help us grow a brighter tomorrow for tropical plants.