Ten years ago, NAFSA, the National Association of International Educators, created the Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization to recognize colleges and universities making what NAFSA describes as “significant, well-planned, well-executed and well-documented progress toward comprehensive internationalization—especially those using innovative and creative approaches."
Today, in 2012, the University of Arizona counts itself among those prestigious recipients, recognized with one of only three Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Awards granted nationwide.
The award resulted from a concerted effort by the UA Graduate College to bring together students from Mexico, Latin America, underrepresented minorities and women in science. Through the program, which focuses on science and engineering fields, undergraduate students from Latin American countries come to the UA over the summer to do research alongside faculty mentors and prepare for graduate school.
A Global Meeting of Minds
Given its proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border and the rich Hispanic history of the Southwest, a natural affinity arises between domestic students and those coming from abroad.
“We live in a very global situation, an international situation,” says Maria Teresa Velez, associate dean of the UA Graduate College and director of the summer program. “Part of what our students learn through building these relationships is that people from other countries are not that much different from themselves.”
The benefits of these global meetings-of-the-minds cross borders in both directions. The international students certainly gain experience of U.S. culture and the Southwest by studying here, but the reverse holds true as well: in bringing individuals from outside the U.S. to the Tucson campus, domestic students have a greater opportunity to get to know and appreciate these other peoples and cultures.
Extending Mentoring and Collaborative Networks
When students from abroad come to the UA, they develop relationships with faculty through their collaborations and research. That said, mentoring is not the only benefit. A natural outgrowth of the program has been an increase in cross-border collaborations between faculty from the UA and participating universities abroad.
For example, according to Velez, the Binational Migration Institute, a partnership between faculty from the UA Department of Mexican American Studies and Mexico’s Universidad de Sinaloa, traces its beginnings directly to one of these mentoring relationships.
Preparing for Prestigious Positions
“Not only are Latin American students from abroad obtaining an excellent educational experience,” says Velez, “but the interactions with local students give them a way to understand this country better and explore whether graduate school is important and useful for them.”
Today, the program boasts a total of 12 international graduate students who originally became acquainted with UA as undergraduates through their summer research.
“We now have the largest number of students sponsored by the Mexican government than any university in the entire United States,” says Velez. “And once they return home, they’re likely to be in positions of power and prestige, particularly in academic institutions.”
As academic institutions go, the international nature of the UA campus will only grow – an excellent direction for the land grant institution of the 21st century.