Global School Professor Grant Burrier and IQP student Sarah Saeed ‘25 publish article on Panamanian Heritage Buses Research

Dr. Grant Burrier, associate professor of teaching in The Global School, and Sarah Saeed ‘25, a civil engineering major, are the authors of a new published article titled “Beyond Transportation, Panama's Diablos Rojos Are Treasured Rolling Artwork.” Their article, published on, discusses the cultural significance of Panama City’s iconic heritage bus system, the Diablos Rojos, and the threat they face as the country pushes towards modernity. Diablos Rojos are old American school buses that individual drivers purchase, intricately decorate, and convert into private transportation for Panamanian communities.

Dr. Burrier and Saeed, along with a team of four other third-year students [Leah Kolb (architectural engineering), Anna Callaghan (biomedical engineering), Sam Ollari (computer science), and Micah Vargas (computer science and interactive media and game design)] traveled to Panama last fall to complete their Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) “Diablos Rojos: A Window into Panamanian Identity.”

They collected stories, photographs, video, and ethnographic notes from the communities surrounding Diablos Rojos. They also interviewed Dr. Peter Szok, author of Wolf Tracks: Popular Art and Re-Africanization in Twentieth-Century Panama and Dr. Aarti Madan, Associate Professor of Spanish & International Studies in the Department of Humanities & Arts. The primary mode of research involved speaking to bus drivers, artists, mechanics, and passengers to understand how these buses grew out of a subaltern population of non-mestizo Panamanians: largely Afro-Panamanians and the working class.

The research conducted for this project prioritized cultural sensitivity, as the team tried to focus on amplifying Panamanian stories rather than projecting assumptions and biases onto their work. This project would not have been possible without the amazing Diablo community members who were willing to share their stories.

After completing the IQP and returning from Panama, Dr. Burrier and Saeed continued to explore the relevance of Diablos Rojos as upcoming elections further threaten the existence of these buses. As bus artist Piri put it, Panama without Diablos Rojos would be “like a garden without roses. A sky without stars.”


Diablos Rojos

Photo by Grant Burrier