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Friday, October 7, 2022

U of A Welcomes Mexican Students Via Expansion of North-South International Partnership – University of Arkansas Newswire

Students from Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla pose for a picture with the Hog statue along with program leaders from the U of A.
Thanks to a grant awarded from the U.S. Department of State, the U of A is hosting eight students from Puebla, Mexico this summer in a new five-week study abroad experience that marks an expansion of an existing international partnership.
While the Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla, the Mexican students' home university, has been organizing and hosting summer study abroad programs for U of A students in Mexico for more than 10 years, for the first time the partner universities have been able to transform their collaboration into a reciprocal, bi-directional exchange, with the addition of an innovative northbound component to the well-established and highly successful southbound program.
Students from the UPAEP arrived on campus in early July and have been engaged in a multi-faceted program that combines cultural activities with community excursions, complemented by intensive English language courses in the morning conducted by the Spring International Language Center.
In the afternoon classes, UPAEP students work together in teams with advanced U of A students completing Spanish majors and minors on service-learning projects that address needs of the Latino community and their reception and inclusion in Northwest Arkansas.
One pair of UPAEP-UA students, both majoring in healthcare-related fields, is developing workshops and materials to educate the Latino community on how to prevent heart disease and diabetes. Another group of students is focusing on dental health issues among Latino children. Other projects include an afterschool program focused on helping bilingual children maintain and expand their Spanish speaking skills, and a podcast compiling interviews conducted with Latinos working in law enforcement and local government.
"Our hope is to develop partnerships with the students and our community," said Raquel Castro Salas, teaching assistant professor in the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures, who teaches the afternoon courses in service learning.
"The combination of their life experiences, academic and experiential knowledges, and different cultures gives them an advantageous position from which to investigate social and community needs," she added. "Their approach to these needs will be different and innovative, since the opportunity to collaborate with students from other countries is unique and special. They have had the opportunity to create connections, and to compare, contrast and value the culture of their classmates."
This expansion of the international collaboration is made possible by a $25,000 grant awarded to a team of faculty from the U of A and UPAEP from the U.S. State Department's 100,000 Strong Across the Americas Innovation Fund program, administered by the Partners of the Americas, and underwritten in this cycle by the Mary Steet Jenkins Foundation.
The goal of the grant cycle for the Jenkins family, widely known for their philanthropic support of education in Mexico, was to encourage collaboration between U.S. and Mexican partners towards the goal of expanding north-south mobility in international education through innovative programs in study abroad and international education with a specific charge to reach students from groups traditionally underrepresented in opportunities for international educational enrichment.  
Steve Bell, U of A associate professor of Spanish and in the Latin American and Latino Studies program, was the principal investigator and author of the winning proposal, working in collaboration with Octavio Gonzalez, from the Office of International Programs at UPAEP, and Juan Jose Bustamante, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology and Latin American and Latino Studies at the U of A.
Though the grant award was originally announced at a ceremony in Mexico City in the fall of 2019, with execution of grant initiatives scheduled for summer of 2020, implementation of grant-sponsored activities had to be postponed until this year because of COVID pandemic restrictions.
The grant authors nonetheless remain confident that their grant efforts will succeed in expanding our pools of bilingual and bicultural students prepared for effective global leadership in the 21st century and in enhancing more broadly quality of life values in Northwest Arkansas, in the Puebla region of Mexico and, by extension, across the face of the Americas.
The program at the U of A is a northbound replication and extension of the experiential service-learning program that was launched in 2014 at UPAEP for southbound U of A summer students in Mexico in healthcare, business, education, engineering and community service. It has provided hands-on Spanish-language preparation for U of A students for integration into a global workforce and a full immersion into Mexican life and Mexican culture, which have proven transformative for virtually all the U of A student participants in recent years.
It is the success of this innovative, immersive, service-learning approach that the new northbound program for UPAEP students at the U of A seek to emulate and build upon.
"This program not only enriches our Northwest Arkansas area by identifying and addressing issues facing the Latino community, but it also serves as a transformative experience for these students from Mexico," Bell said. "Most of the northbound Mexican students are first-generation students who have never traveled outside of Mexico. They have been selected from a special UPAEP scholarship program for students from rural communities underserved in higher education, called 'Apuesta de futuro' (betting on the future)."
"Our effort seeks thus to fulfill the Jenkins Foundation Innovation Fund goal of reaching student groups not typically touched by existing international educational opportunities," Bell said. "This is, we hope, an immersive cultural experience that will develop leadership skills and experiences that the students will take back to Mexico and that will prepare them well for positions of leadership in their communities."
Namiko Bagirimvano, director of the Office of Sponsored Students and Programs in the Graduate School and International Education, agreed with Bell and added that "We are proud to provide well-rounded support services for smooth arrival and transitions for custom short-term program international participants."
Bagirimvano and the Office of Sponsored Students and Programs have coordinated and executed the programming on the U of A campus for the new northbound program.
"SSSP's goal is to assist faculty with planning logistics and to provide global learning opportunities on top of what they want to accomplish through their academic experiences so that we can maximize learning during their limited short-term stay," Bagirimvano said.
Bagirimvano said many offices on campus have been key collaborators in this effort, including prominently the Spring International Learning Center, the Office of International Students and Scholars, University Housing, the Multicultural Center and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, in addition to participating faculty from the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures and the Latin American and Latino Studies program, and the Office of Sponsored Students and Special Programs.
"It truly takes a village to welcome each and every group of international visitors we receive at the University of Arkansas," Bagirimvano said.
The Office of Sponsored Students and Special Programs provides support for international visitors through custom short-term programs, and it plans to expand collaboration with academic departments on campus moving forward. Those interested in partnering with Sponsored Students and Special Programs can contact Bagirimvano at 479-575-6861 or namiko@uark.edu.
Steven Bell, associate professor of Spanish and Latin American and Latino studies
Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures
479-575-5948, sbell@uark.edu
John Post, director of communications
Graduate School and International Education
479-575-4853, johnpost@uark.edu
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