New Student Mobility Model Provides Unique Opportunity for Cultural Exchange


Outside the classroom, a select group of undergraduate students are guided by a commitment to solve problems in order to benefit their communities. They develop programs to empower women, create projects to promote healthier cities, and use teamwork to overcome challenges.

While united by the common thread of positive social change, they live in two different places – some in Sonora, Mexico and the others in Arizona.

In 2017, the Office of Global Initiatives bridged that gap by connecting students from Tecnológico de Monterrey in Hermosillo (ITESM-Sonora Norte) with those from the UA’s Blue Chip Leadership Experience, a 100% Engagement program that encourages leadership outside the classroom.

“The UA has a strong, longstanding relationship with ITESM, and so we traveled to Hermosillo to meet with our partners to discuss internship opportunities,” said DeFazio, Director of UA Study Abroad and Executive Director of the UA Global Mobility Lab. “We ended up meeting a wonderful group of students who were eager for international experiences, so we invited them to collaborate with our students at the UA.”

The ITESM-Sonora Norte students were part of an initiative called Semana i, a non-credit program required for graduation.

“Semana i translates to incredible week. It gives all ITESM students, faculty, and staff – regardless of income – the opportunity to participate in national or international mobility for one week each year,” said Nadia Alvarez-Mexia, who directs Study Arizona Short-Term Programs, an initiative that provides academic and research opportunities for international students. She added, “This is a great way to ensure intercultural competence, and it fits well within the framework of the UA’s 100% Engagement program.”

ITESM students visited Tucson to tour the campus and have an exploratory meeting with students from the UA Blue Chip Leadership Experience. 

“The students from both Hermosillo and Tucson shared an appreciation for social entrepreneurship – both having worked on projects in their respective communities,” said Alvarez-Mexia. “It was really inspiring to see the connection they had with one another.”

The students brainstormed and decided to collectively work on a project called “Little Wings,” a curriculum that seeks to empower young children in a rural community outside Hermosillo who are at risk of not finishing school. 

“We want to encourage children that they can do anything they put their minds to,” said Natasha Rochin, a student at ITESM-Sonora Norte. “Maybe we take them to a playground and then explain afterward that an architect or an engineer designed it, and they can one day attend college to do the same thing.”

Based on the interaction between the students, DeFazio and Alvarez-Mexia saw the opportunity to develop a new international education model.

“Many U.S. students are opting for shorter, more group-oriented programs – so we’ve been working to create programs that include opportunities for meaningful cultural exchange in shorter time frames,” said DeFazio. “This is a prime example of how this can work: We’re seeing students from the U.S. and Mexico working together toward a common goal.”

In order to provide deeper cultural immersion, DeFazio and Alvarez-Mexia arranged to send the Blue Chip Leadership students to meet their peers in Sonora during spring break of 2018 to implement the curriculum. The students were able to collaborate remotely in the meantime.

“This is something new and exciting for the UA Office of Global Initiatives. It’s the first time we’ve developed a reciprocal model that allows students to learn from one another in their respective countries while working on a common project,” said Alvarez-Mexia. “It’s also the first time the Study Arizona: Short-Term Programs team has developed a project with UA Study Abroad. Having both units under the umbrella of the Office of Global Initiatives has allowed us to coordinate efficiently on an inbound-outbound mobility model.”

DeFazio sees potential in the model to provide study abroad access to more students and institutional partners.

“This program model provides opportunities for students who may not be able to study abroad for longer periods of time, but it still provides deep cultural immersion because of the teamwork component,” she said. “It also doesn’t rely on reciprocity in terms of pure number balance, which gives the UA and its partner institutions flexibility.”

Alvarez-Mexia hopes the pilot program becomes a permanent fixture, alongside traditional exchanges and UA faculty-led study abroad programs.

“Right now, this seminar is open to all Blue Chip Leadership students at the UA and all ITESM-Sonora Norte students, but we would like to expand it,” she said. “The model can be easily adapted for other universities and for specific disciplines and research areas.”

Partners at the UA also see the program model as a way to bilaterally address issues of concern to the Arizona-Sonora region.

“The Blue Chip Leadership and ITESM Semana i programs both value creating solutions to the challenges faced by our shared communities, as well as working with community members from a collaborative and empowering approach,” said Devon Thomas, Senior Coordinator for Leadership Programs at the UA. “I look forward to this student-led experience as an exciting opportunity for UA and ITESM students to work together and learn from each other to create positive change.”

Hermosillo, Mexico Spring Break Program

This unique program offers UA students the opportunity to work toward a common goal with students from ITESM in Hermosillo, Mexico. UA Students will collaborate with ITESM students in Tucson and then implement the project collectively in Mexico during spring break. Open to UA Blue Chip Leadership students, this program is a 100% Engagement opportunity that seeks to encourage positive change in the Arizona-Sonora region.