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TCU students aid Latin American conservation client

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Eight students from Roxo, a student-run advertising and public relations agency in the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University, recently visited their first international client, Wetlands International, on a climate change project the organization is conducting in Panama.

The students spent spring break in Panama, collaborating with Wetlands on its initiative to increase awareness of the role of Panama’s mangrove forests in relation to climate change, along with promoting protection of the forests.

Wetlands International’s mission is to sustain and restore wetlands, their resources and biodiversity. Headquartered in the Netherlands since 1996, it is the only global non-governmental organization dedicated to wetlands.

The business partnership started last year when Wetlands International visited the TCU campus.

“We wanted to expand our study-abroad program and offer new opportunities for our students. I had the idea of setting up something for spring break – shorter, more affordable and Roxo-specific opportunities. We especially wanted an international experience for Roxo,” said Margaret Ritsch, Roxo’s faculty adviser. “Julio Montes de Oca L., head of the Wetlands’ Panama location, visited Roxo and that was the genesis of the idea of the two parties working together.”

With guidance from TCU faculty, Roxo students provide full strategic communication services to businesses and nonprofits. Roxo has been providing pro bono services to Wetlands since the beginning of the 2015 fall semester. Working with Wetlands’ regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean, located in Panama, Roxo first created a logo and slogan for the Mangroves and Climate Change Project.

The project is new to Wetlands, which is involved with scientific research, education and building support for preserving and conserving the mangrove forests. The mangroves are vital to Panamanians because they act as a natural barrier against storms, provide locals with food and help stimulate their economy. Wetlands also wants to help local residents develop micro-businesses that are environmentally friendly.

Earlier in March, the group of students, led by Ritsch, traveled to Panama’s Chiriqui Province to document the restoration project for Wetlands International. The focus of Roxo’s work, Ritsch said, is education: educating leaders, educators and families about the importance of mangroves for the environment and for livelihoods related to fishing and eco-tourism.

Students interviewed the mayor of the city of Remedios, students at a local elementary school with which Wetlands is hoping to partner and several fishermen who want to develop an eco-tourist boat tour through an estuary to see the mangroves up close. Roxo students created videos, blogs and social media postings about the mangroves project for the organization. Work on the video is expected to wrap up in three to four weeks. The video will be housed on Wetlands International’s website and also on YouTube.

In addition to working as a partner with Wetlands International, students hiked through a rain forest, visited the Panama Canal and toured an organic coffee plantation.

The trip to Panama and extensive communication work with Wetlands International was an eye-opener for all the students involved.

“The environmental concerns have become a reality for me,” said Roxo student Cami Fannin. “After learning that one of the biggest threats to mangroves is trash from locals not having a good trash system and waste washing up from the sea, I am inspired to recycle more. Working with Wetlands International, I am committed to increasing awareness and promoting education for the environment, and specifically the mangroves.”

Ritsch said the experience also improved the students’ skills, particularly in global communications, and boosted their self-confidence. Each of them said the study-abroad experience has dramatically increased their desire to work for an international employer.

Roxo is now searching for its next international client as well as corporate underwriters for its study-abroad program.

“We’re in a global economy, of course, and TCU’s mission is also about global relationships,” Ritsch said. “It’s great for students to meet with clients down the street but to have one international client, one international travel experience a year, is something I’d love to continue.”

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