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herd of sable antelope
Sables – antelopes recognizable by their elegant curved horns – are a Gorongosa success story. While sable populations are dangerously low across Africa, the park’s population is thriving. The leader of sable herds is always a strong female. Photo by Michael Paredes

By Anna Webb

Separated by 10,000 miles, Boise State and Gorongosa National Park share a devotion to rural communities and bold ideas.

In the summer of 2021, Boise State President Marlene Tromp traveled to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Her trip built upon a longstanding relationship between Boise, the university, and the park.

In addition to its ecological mission, Gorongosa National Park provides social programs that benefit the people who live in nearby communities. Tromp wants to grow new partnerships with those programs focused on public health, nursing, education, and business while strengthening Boise State’s research presence and existing connections. Many Boise State students participate in research projects at the park. Several students from the Gorongosa region study at Boise State or serve internships with the Intermountain Bird Observatory.

The university has a model to follow, Tromp said. In the 1990s, Boise State helped establish Vietnam’s first business school. That partnership offers study opportunities at Boise State for Vietnamese undergraduates and an international residency in Vietnam for students in Boise State’s Executive MBA program.

“I thought, how can we expand that model where we’re partners in helping a country grow while giving our students the opportunity to be on the ground floor, to be part of nascent industries, and to make something significant happen?” Tromp said. “We want to create a lively, active living bridge between Boise State and Gorongosa National Park.”

Gorongosa, a brief history

Gorongosa National Park, covering 1,500 square miles, lies at the southern end of the Great African Rift Valley in the heart of central Mozambique. Historically, the region supported some of the densest wildlife populations in Africa. A private company established Gorongosa as a hunting reserve in 1920. The Mozambican government declared Gorongosa a national park in 1960. Civil conflict that lasted from 1977 to 1992 decimated the park and reduced its number of large mammals by 95%. In 2008, the Carr Foundation, headed by Idaho-born entrepreneur, philanthropist, and recipient of a Boise State Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Greg Carr, launched the Gorongosa Restoration Project. In 2015, the university and Carr began a research collaboration. The park has received extensive media coverage for the success of its work restoring wildlife populations. The Gorongosa Restoration Project has created unique opportunities for Boise State students and faculty and for the greater Boise community.

Tromp shared more of her thoughts about the international partnership.

Q: Why is Boise State’s partnership with Gorongosa such a natural fit?

Tromp: We might not have said it was if it hadn’t been for Idaho’s existing engagement with the park (Zoo Boise opened its Gorongosa National Park exhibit in 2019. Conservation funds from the zoo have helped improve the Gorongosa animal preserve and local communities). But the other piece is that Mozambique is a largely rural country. Part of what’s exciting is imagining our students getting the chance to be in a small Idaho town, then to experience a rural community in Mozambique, to be able to reflect and think through those different landscapes.

Q: How does our presence in Gorongosa align with Boise State’s strategic plan?

Tromp: In so many ways. It’s partly about innovation, which is so fundamental to us. Gorongosa is a place where innovation comes to life. Just one example, when the park started to restore its elephant population, the elephants began moving into the villages, eating crops. Villagers were angry and wanted the park to find a solution. Park officials worked with scientists and animal behaviorists. They learned that elephants are afraid of bees. Villagers strung fences with bee boxes. If the elephants disturbed the fences, the bees would come out and the elephants would leave. Not only that, but villagers were able to harvest and sell the honey. The solution created a new source of income. Being able to see creative innovation in a place where it’s critical because resources are scarce, is profound.

The park also is a stimulus for research and creative activity. Think about how someone might become a better thinker and leader in their own rural community because they’ve experienced multiple kinds of rurality in their educational process. Studying at Gorongosa can help our students become better teachers, public health nurses, businesses leaders and they will bring those talents back to Idaho.

herd of elephants walking with sunset behind them

Q: How does the presence of our students benefit the park?

Tromp: Our students can introduce ideas, new research, and use their hands and minds. Right now, most of the teachers in Gorongosa-area schools are not trained as teachers. Imagine how it would be to have our students who are training as teachers work in Gorongosa classrooms.

Or I think of the Gorongosa coffee plantation (Our Gorongosa). Farmers are launching a new project to grow cashews. Our students could be part of those experiments, helping farmers find better processes. Our business students could have a role there, too, marketing and helping farmers expand their businesses.

Q: What inspired you the most during the journey?

Tromp: If I were to distill it down to one word, it would be possibility. It’s amazing what the leaders at Gorongosa have done. Think of the girls’ education programs that have reduced child marriage significantly. It’s about teaching girls that if they get educated and wait to marry until they’re a little older they will be able to contribute to their communities in ways they couldn’t otherwise. The park is improving people’s lives in this material and dramatic way. The opportunities for our students, faculty, and researchers to be a part of that are so rich.

We talk about how small the world has become because of social media, but it’s so rare that the world becomes small because of interpersonal human connections – shaking someone’s hand, or planting a tree with them, or teaching children with them, or doing health screenings with them. If you can get people who come from different backgrounds to work together, that’s where you make a difference.

DR Tromp talks with a park ranger

Q: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

Tromp: I would like them to know about one of our Mozambican students, Gaby Curtiz. Her story is extraordinary. She grew up in a small village near the Gorongosa coffee plantation. She learned Portuguese to be able to go to school (Mozambique won independence from Portugal in the 1970s. Portuguese remains the country’s official language). She had the opportunity to
work in park operations. That job inspired her to stay in school, even when it was very difficult because of her family responsibilities (Curtiz’s mother, a primary school teacher, raised Curtiz and her four siblings on her own). Gaby taught herself English to take the exam to become certified as a safari guide. These are highly technical exams that cover botany, earth science, geology, large animal biology, entomology, and more. Gaby became the park’s first female guide.

Now she’s at Boise State studying for her degree in business. She plans to return to Africa and use her new skills at the park while continuing to serve as a guide.

I think of how similar Gaby’s story is in many ways to those of the young people in this state who come from rural communities. They may work on a family farm, may have to keep working, or caring for people in their extended family. These challenges could keep them from accessing their education. But they do come to school while keeping that tight connection to home. What a kinship there is between someone like Gaby and so many of our students. I would love for them to know each other.

Gabriela Curtiz: Gorongosa Tour Guide and Boise State Student

Video contains closed captions and a transcript is provided on this page.

A longstanding global partnership

By Harrison Berry

Boise State has always looked to the skies, to a proverbial horizon of excellence and achievement; but half a world away in Gorongosa National Park, Boise State students are on the lookout for critically endangered white-headed vultures. Doing so, they’re raising the profiles of the park and their university.

“As we elevate Boise State in terms of a research institution — we’re elevating Boise State on all levels,” said Diane and Winston Moore Family Endowed Director for the Intermountain Bird Observatory Greg Kaltenecker. “We’re raising awareness about Boise State to donors, partners, and collaborators all over the world. We’re engaging in more novel and significant research. With these endangered vultures, it’s groundbreaking. We’re at the forefront of a lot of these different fields.”

For the past five years, Boise State has maintained a research presence at the park. In exchange, Mozambican students also study at the IBO. The partnership, which contributes to the study of birds as their populations recuperate in a restored landscape, is training a new generation of wildlife experts.

Boise State has supported the park in ways beyond academics. In early 2020, as the pandemic escalated into an urgent global crisis, volunteers at the university printed hundreds of face shields using 3D technology for park rangers and medical personnel serving the nearby communities. Michel Sousa, a Mozambican student at Boise State pursuing a career in public health, said at the time that the gift had the power to affect the lives of thousands of people.

“It is true that a virus can spread around the world,” she said, “but an act of kindness will also spread.”

Boise State has also partnered with the park on Our Gorongosa coffee, a program whose sales directly benefit Gorongosa’s efforts to educate women, conserve wildlife and reforest the park, as well as Boise State’s Intercollegiate Knights endowed scholarship for students from foster care backgrounds.

Greg Carr has committed to 30 years of restoration efforts at Gorongosa.

“The Gorongosa Restoration Project is not only about protecting nature via the national park, but also supporting the communities who share the greater ecosystem,” Carr said. “Boise State University is the ideal strategic partner because we engage with departments across the university, in natural sciences, social sciences, health care, and humanities. We are multi-disciplinary and so is Boise State. As an Idahoan, I am particularly proud of Boise State’s growth into a nationally
respected research university.”

Video Transcript

(upbeat music)

[Gabriela Curtiz, Business Administration Student] Hi, everyone. My name is Gabriela Curtiz. I’m from Mozambique, Southern Africa country. I work in Gorongosa National Park as a safari tourism guide. Being a guide means a lot for me, not only get a job and money, but yes means that I get to share my spiritual values about nature with visitors from all over the world, and also teach people about environment and make them connected deeply with nature in their soul.

So I’m earning a degree in Business Administration in Boise State University so that one day I become more than a guide. I want to be able to create employment for people in my community, I want to be able to maybe to open my own company one day. I just wanna be able to help my community with what I’m studying. I think we can be a scientist. We can be many things, but we need a knowledge about business, how to manage people, how to manage a national park, how to manage a company, human resource. It’s all important. That’s why I chose business administration so that I can help people in my country, in my community.


I feel like most of people view Africa as a very poor country so, we know… even if it’s true, I want students to view differently in different way. African’s not about sad things. It’s about also being happy resilient, confident with ourselves and with a smile in our face every day. I want to make this connection with the students here in the Boise State. So after I graduate from Boise State, I want to go back to my country and work in the park, make employment, stay close to my family and help people. I can inspire one person in my community. I can inspire one person in the world that will make change. So, together we go far and alone you go fast. I feel like we need to help each other. We need to work together to make this world better.

(upbeat music)