Jessica Gutierrez: A Political Science Major in Guatemala

portrait photo of UC Davis student Jessica Gutierrez

For her Blum Center Summer Fellow project, Jessica Gutierrez will focus on ecotourism as a way to save Maya rainforests and cultural heritage.

May 13, 2016 — A recent internship at the Pentagon, working nine to five in one of the world’s largest offices, taught Jessica Gutierrez something important about herself.

Before settling long term into a desk job, she wanted to put her youthful energy to work out in the world.

So this summer, Gutierrez will spend two and half months in Guatemala, working as a Blum Center Summer Fellow helping an environmental group and indigenous communities develop ecotourism as an alternative to deforestation.

Lake Petén Itzá in northern Guatemala is a popular destination for tourists, with numerous Maya sites.

Gutierrez said that ProPetén, the country’s oldest environmental organization, would like to promote tours to the lesser-known Actún Kan caves.

She said her project involves working with community leaders on tourism planning, developing promotional materials and interviewing young travelers on how they choose their destinations.

Gutierrez, a third-year political science major, developed her project with the help of Liza Grandia, an associate professor of Native American studies who has written two books on the Q’eqchi’ Maya and collaborated with ProPetén to improve the indigenous people’s lives.

In addition to saving the rainforest, Gutierrez said her project also aims to preserve the Q’eqchi’ Maya’s cultural heritage: “To protect the ecosystem, you need to protect the people who have lived there for thousands of years.”

Gutierrez, who grew up in Santa Rosa, said she could have completed her bachelor’s degree in political science this summer after just three years at UC Davis, but thought the Blum Center Summer Fellowship was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

“I know it’s going to give me a completely different perspective on the world, and what I want to do,” said Gutierrez, who is considering applying to the Peace Corps or looking for work with a nonprofit organization after graduating next winter.

— Kathleen Holder, writes for the Division of Social Sciences, UC Davis College of Letters and Science. Follow her on Twitter @kmholder.

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