UNM to Collaborate with Ecuadorian University

May 19, 2014

The Latin American and Iberian Institute (LAII) recently hosted visitors from Universidad Central del Ecuador, the country's second largest university, located in Quito.

UCE Rector Fernando Sempértegui, Vice Rector Nelson Rodríguez and Dr. Wellington Sandoval, director, International Relations, are at UNM to identify ways UNM can help bolster the educational attainment levels of their university's faculty.

"We have challenges because individuals must retire at 70 years old in Ecuador. We have lost more than 400 professors to retirement with 200 more expected by September. It is difficult to find young professionals because all candidates must have a master's degree or Ph.Ds. by 2017," Dr. Sempértegui said. UCE has 44,000 students and 1,500 faculty, he said.

Susan Tiano, director, LAII, said, "They have expressed strong interest in STEM fields, in particular, but also strong interest in Latin American Studies and architecture. We anticipate many opportunities for UNM faculty and students to collaborate with UCE on research in Ecuador."

"Partnership could take on many dimensions. UCE faculty will be coming as soon as possible to pursue Ph.D. work at UNM. Some UNM faculty may offer to teach long or short-term courses there. Some coursework may be taught electronically - some coursework may be offered in Spanish, others in English," she said, adding that faculty would also work on curriculum development and engage in collaborative research.

Rafael Correa, the current president of Ecuador, is driving the initiative to elevate the status of university faculty there. "He is an economist who was educated in Ecuador, the United States and Belgium," she said.

Through the Ecuadorian Secretary of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (SENESCYT), the Prometeo Project was established to further science, technology and research by inviting foreign researchers to Ecuador to develop research projects. Their aim is also to bring back Ecuadorian researchers who left the country.

In the agreement with UNM, UCE is taking financial responsibility for educating their faculty, either by having them come to UNM or by sending UNM professors to Quito, Tiano said.

Dr. Sempértegui earned his medical degree in medicine and surgery from the Universidad Central de Ecuador. He also has a master's in international relations from FLACSO and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and has help post-doctoral positions in social medicine and public health at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico and in molecular biology and microbiology at Tufts University in Boston, where he is an adjunct professor.

"People ask me why I don't ask to partner with Tufts, and it's quite simple. Their international work is primarily in Africa. We were looking for qualified partners and determined that UNM is best for us. UNM has important cultural ties to Latin America. Many of the professors we have met have links to Ecuador," Dr. Sempértegui said. He also encouraged UNM professors to go to Ecuador for research.

Dr. Sempértegui is fast-tracking this initiative. "We are looking to have the first cohort of 100 to start in January, in fields ranging from arts, economics administration and the sciences," he said.

During their weeklong visit, the two are meeting with the President Bob Frank, Provost Chaouki Abdallah, faculty from Earth & Planetary Sciences, exercise physiology, public health, Center for Stable Isotopes in biology and EPS, College of Education, Biology, School of Engineering, including Dean Joe Cecchi, School of Architecture & Planning Dean Geraldine Forbes Isais, as well as faculty in communication, geography and linguistics.

The plan is to sign a convenio before the Ecuadorians leave on Saturday, May 17, Tiano said.

"We are excited about our future collaboration. The people, the city, the landscape and the architecture are wonderful," Dr. Sempértegui said.