Rebuilding our binational ties and strategic relationship with Mexico

Between October 24 and 26, I traveled to Mexico City and the City of León, in central Mexico, as part of a delegation with the City of Tucson, Chicanos Por La Causa, Visit Tucson, the Mexican Consulate in Tucson, and Start Up Tucson. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the highlight of our mission was a meeting with the former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, who hosted us in his Foundation, Centro Fox.

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Additionally, we had other high-level meetings with government officials that I would like to underscore.

The first day of our mission, we met with the Undersecretary for Higher Education of the Ministry of Education (SEP), Dr. Salvador Jara, and with the national CEO for public polytechnic universities, Héctor Arreola (also under SEP). The two men have supported Pima’s partnerships with Mexican educational institutions and have funded several groups of students who have come to PCC to study short term programs. The Ministry of Education has developed a new technical higher education model that emphasizes bilingualism, internationalization and sustainability, making PCC a partner in the United States. Mexico is now one of the world’s top countries for graduates in engineering, manufacturing and construction (more than Canada, Germany, or France), while total university enrollment has tripled in 30 years to almost three million students. Dr. Jara and Mr. Arreola were awarded the United States-Mexico Friendship Commendation, a recognition from the City of Tucson and Pima Community College, for advancing our binational links. We discussed the possibility of developing study abroad programs for PCC students who are interested in learning or improving their Spanish, Faculty-led programs, and dual degrees. See Undersecretary Jara’s Tweet

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From left to right: Emilio Gaynor, Director of International Development, Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC); David Adame President & CEO of CPLC; Ricardo Castro-Salazar; PCC’s VP for International Development; Salvador Jara, Undersecretary for Higher Education of Mexico; Jonathan Rothschild, Mayor of Tucson; Lee Lambert, PCC Chancellor; and Héctor Arreola, National CEO for Public Polytechnic Universities of Mexico.

 

Mayor Rothschild, Consul Pineda, and I also had a private meeting with Paulo Carreño, the Undersecretary for North America of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, who emphasized the strategic relationship that Mexico and the United States have in the global arena. The Ministry, through its Institute for Mexicans Abroad (IME), has awarded PCC scholarship grants for $116,000.00, which have helped many of our students with financial need. Furthermore, with the support of Consul Pineda, PCC has obtained scholarship funds from the private organization Juntos Podemos in the amount of $64,000.00. Ricardo Castro-Salazar, PCC’s Vice President for International Development, has been External Advisor to the Mexican Government through IME and has worked closely with the Mexican Consul to win these grants. This has given Pima a prominent position among US community colleges and a unique relationship with Mexican institutions. We expect to win additional grants in the coming months.

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The same morning, we had the opportunity to have a conversation with Dr. Martha Navarro, CEO of the Mexican Agency for International Cooperation and Development. She is also the head of Proyecta 100,000, the Mexican counterpart of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Initiative by Presidents Obama and Peña. Proyecta has funded thousands of scholarships for Mexican students to attend US educational institutions, including several groups of students who have attended Pima College. Dr. Navarro reiterated the Mexican government’s approach to US-Mexico collaboration, as complementary partners in the global arena, where Mexico could become the sixth largest economy in the world by the year 2050. She also received a formal recognition from Mayor Rothschild and myself for advancing educational diplomacy and binational friendship.

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Our fourth and final recognition was given to a great friend of Pima College, Ms. Maggie Suárez, who has been instrumental for our participation in the prestigious SEP-Bécalos-Santander international program. PCC is one of only five community colleges in the US participating in the program, through which we have hosted 177 international students since fall 2014. The program is possible through a partnership between the Mexican Ministry of Education, Televisa Foundation, and Santander Bank. Televisa is the largest telecommunications conglomerate in the Spanish-speaking world and Ms. Suárez is the head of educational programs for its foundation. Ms. Suárez let me know that Televisa Foundation was working on the creation of new international educational programs and she wants PCC to be part of them. This fall, PCC was selected to host 70 scholarship holders from 13 different universities in Mexico. Although one student could not make it, this is the largest cohort we have hosted, confirming our strengthening partnership.

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University of Guanajuato, Mexico

In the evening, we took a plane to the City of León, a rapidly developing city with an extensive automotive cluster in the State of Guanajuato, where President Fox’s Foundation is located. On Tuesday, we would visit Centro Fox, learn about the region’s opportunities, and meet with President Fox. Dr. Ian Roark, PCC’s Vice President for Workforce Development, is working in collaboration with Martha Beltran, CEO of the Academic and Research Center at Centro Fox, exploring potential partnerships with PCC.

 

On Wednesday 26th, we met with Ricardo Mújica, the CEO of the Slim Foundation. Carlos Slim, considered the richest man in the world, has funded numerous cultural and educational projects throughout Mexico. His Foundation’s philosophy is based on Mr. Slim’s premise that philanthropic organizations do not solve poverty and other world challenges, but knowledge does. Thus, it focuses on educational and healthcare initiatives. Fundación Slim is a 30-year old institution with an endowment of $5.5 billion. We learned about the Foundation’s free online educational platform: Aprende.org, aimed at expanding opportunities to anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection.

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Left, Chancellor Lambert and VP Roark at Plaza Carso, in Mexico City, where Slim Foundation is located.

Our last meeting was with Ms. Rebecca Thompson, Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Mexico, as well as Nathalie Scharf and Martha Sánchez from the US Commercial Service. In the past two years, PCC has developed a strong relationship with the Department of State and the US Embassy in Mexico. The Embassy has supported PCC’s programs with Mexico by subsidizing visas for scholarship holders and providing resources toward the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Initiative. Ms. Thompson was enthusiastic about our meeting and has connected PCC with new institutions who want to work with US colleges.

At the end of this intense work agenda, I was pleased to learn that our relationship with Mexico is now acknowledged by numerous institutions and organizations in this vast nation, which is Arizona’s number one commercial partner and one of Tucson’s main sources of tourism and foreign spending. PCC is now recognized in many regions across this country and I was proud to hear this not just from one, but from three different sources at our meetings with the Mexican Ministry of Education, the Slim Foundation, and US Embassy in Mexico. Thanks to this recognition, we have received grants from the US Department of State, the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Relations, and a private international donor. As expressed by Ms. Thompson, from the US Embassy, “Pima is one of our star colleges in Mexico.”

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Representatives from the US Embassy and the US Commercial Service in Mexico.

Engaging our constituents

Recently, I had the opportunity to take part in two events that illustrate the breadth of the College’s impact on our community.

On Oct. 27, I attended our annual luncheon for the area’s K-12 district school superintendents. I shared our progress on accreditation, and spoke about advancing the development of Centers of Excellence around occupational professions at PCC. College personnel shared information about dual enrollment, Developmental Education, and Admissions & Recruitment. I want to commend the Provost’s Office for holding an informative event.

On Nov. 1 at our Downtown Campus, I took part in an informational event coinciding with the start of the Affordable Care Act’s 2016-2017 Open Enrollment period. I emphasized that as an institution of higher learning, PCC has a responsibility to make sure our students have access to the information they need to make informed decisions about their lives, including their health coverage.

Also taking part were Downtown Campus President Dr. David Doré, as well as Cynthia Estrada of the Pima County Enrollment Coalition and Melissa Stafford Jones, Regional Director for the Department of Health and Human Services. Thanks to all for helping the College connect with students and the community about a topic of high interest.

Ethnic, Gender and Global Studies rising at PCC

On Oct. 20, I had the great pleasure of making introductory remarks at the College’s inaugural Raquel Rubio Goldsmith Lecture in Ethnic, Gender and Global Studies, featuring Dr. Rosalva Aída Hernández Castillo.

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Dr. Hernández is a noted Mexican cultural anthropologist. She spoke on “Multiple Injustices: Indigenous Women, Law and Political Struggle.” An intellectual and activist, Dr. Hernández shared profound perspectives on how social justice, gender equity, human rights and race intersect globally.

Following the lecture, Dr. Hernández, along with Ethnic Studies scholar Rubio Goldsmith, engaged in a lively discussion with students and the social activists, educators, intellectuals and human rights defenders in the audience. It was pointed out during the community discussion that our region’s great diversity connects to environmental, political and economic issues that extend far past our borders in ever-changing ways.

The event was a huge success, filling the lecture room and overflow rooms at Downtown Campus. Major leaders of our community were present, including Dr. Anna O’Leary, head of the Department of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona, and Isabel García, who for decades has been at the forefront of immigrant and refugee rights.

The lecture series is the brainchild of our rising program in Ethnic, Gender and Global Studies. As an instrument for social justice, PCC is committed to diversity, inclusion and equity, and a robust, multifaceted program in Ethnic, Gender and Global Studies is critical to honoring our commitment.

The essential goal of the College’s initiatives in this area is individual empowerment. I shared that one in three people are affected by domestic violence within his or her lifetime in the U.S., and that 3 million children between ages 3-17 are at risk of exposure to domestic violence each year. I shared these statistics to drive home the point that achieving success is crucial for the College and the community.

My thanks go to everybody who helped pull this wonderful event together. Provost Dolores Durán-Cerda, Ethnic Studies faculty members Francisca James Hernandez, Rosalia Solorzano and their colleagues are to be commended, as are President David Doré and the team at Downtown Campus; support coordinator Yolanda Gonzales; and the Marketing, Web Systems, and Media Production teams at District Office.

As Dr. Hernandez’s research shows, communities such as ours are microcosms of global diversity and thus demand we develop new visions of “diversity within diversity” as we work for social justice. Ethnic, Gender and Global Studies are essential to understanding our history and setting the groundwork for a better future for all.

Scholarship Fiesta 2016

Our PCC Foundation annually hosts a Scholarship Fiesta where scholarship recipients and donors can get to know each other. I shared a few remarks at last week’s gathering, and had the opportunity to meet the extraordinary people who support the Foundation, and the students who benefit from their generosity.

This year’s awardees included Craig Bevan. At 60, Craig is a lifelong learner earning his second degree at PCC, in Paralegal Studies, and sixth overall. Craig is dealing with physical challenges but says they will never keep him from learning.

The student speaker, Itzel Ramos, intends to study Biomedical Engineering at the University of Arizona after graduating from PCC in May. Her career goal is to help design prosthetics for those who have lost limbs. She shared with me that she also is in ROTC, and intends to join the Air Force.

Itzel shared that her mother has worked the graveyard shift at her job in order to help put Iztel and a sister through college. The fiesta’s master of ceremonies, local entrepreneur Edmund Marquez, put it best when he told Iztel’s mom that she had raised a heckuva daughter.

Though coming from diverse backgrounds, Craig, Itzel and our scholarship recipients are alike in many ways. They are often the first in their family to attend college. They come from close-knit, multigenerational families of modest means. Some have experienced food or housing insecurity.  They want to attend school close to home. They need PCC’s flexible schedules to balance work, school and family. Most importantly, they understand that attending college is the pathway to a better life for themselves and their families.

As usual, the Foundation staged a beautiful event in the Community Campus courtyard, with delicious food and mariachi music in a pleasant and friendly setting. Kudos to Foundation Board member Staci Lopez, Interim Foundation Executive Director Rachel Schaming and her team, and to Special Assistant, External Relations Christy Camargo and Support Specialist Chris Mayer.

PCC headed in the right direction

Here is my commentary on PCC’s future. It was published in the Arizona Daily Star on Oct. 13:

On Sept. 26 and 27, seven members of a Peer Review Team from the Higher Learning Commission engaged in 50-plus meetings with more than 250 faculty, staff, students, board and community members, on four Pima Community College campuses.

During this visit, the College was asked to provide evidence that it has put in place systems that demonstrated effectiveness and sustainability in 11 key areas outlined in our “Notice Report” submitted to the HLC in June.  The College made a strong case to be removed from our current sanction of “Notice,” a status that means the HLC sees the college at risk of falling out of compliance with accrediting standards.

It was significant for other reasons as well. It was a turning point, where PCC demonstrated, without equivocation, that it is actively addressing problems and concerns, some of which date back a decade or more, and is fearlessly taking on problems as part of our new culture of continuous improvement.

The visit was not about reliving the past, however. It was about putting PCC on secure footing with HLC standards and strengthening the College for the vital work of supporting our community.

Accreditation reviews usually happen every 10 years, but can happen more often if accreditors find areas of concern. Last week’s “Focused Visit,” was to find evidence of effectiveness in 11 specific areas, including things like implementation of the 2014-17 Strategic Plan and ensuring that proper metrics are being used to address progress in student retention, persistence and completion.

Some of the areas, such as assessing student learning outcomes, were the reason the college was placed on Probation in 2013. That sanction was reduced in March to “Notice.”  Others, including, ensuring syllabi have proper and specific learning goals, and ensuring consistency in review of dual learning courses and dual learning faculty training, were additional findings from a previous Focused Visit.

The good news is Pima Community College has addressed these issues.

The problems we faced were not created overnight and will not be resolved overnight, but PCC faculty, staff and administration have worked tirelessly over the last three years to move the college in the right direction.

It is important to note that Pima continues to be fully accredited. Credits for qualifying courses transfer to our state and other universities. Students who meet the requirements and are enrolled in qualifying programs of study may be eligible for federal aid.

Our community should be proud of the hard work of this college. We also should remember why this visit was important, not just for PCC, but for the region.

As a leading educator for so-called “middle skills,” in demand by manufacturers and other technology and technical employers, PCC not only helps prepare our residents for high-growth, high-wage jobs but also fills critical skills gaps for our workforce.

Further, our transfer programs give students a solid and affordable foundation toward a baccalaureate degree.

This is where PCC matters.

Proud to be an open admissions college, we also have developed a laser-focus on student success.  We have broadened our economic development role to include customized training for incumbent workers, career and educational pathways, and built key workforce partnerships.

Yet, in many ways, we are just getting started.  PCC has set its sights on being a premier community college. It is what our diverse population of students, employers and region need and deserve.

We are grateful to our employees and community members who participated in last week’s visit and to members of the community for ongoing support.  We look forward to engaging you as we continue the good, hard work ahead.

Helping our student-veterans

I had the honor earlier this week to speak to PCC student-veterans, veterans’ advocates and PCC employees at a breakfast sponsored by Support Education and Employment for Veterans, (S.E.E.4Vets). The group, which collaborates with Arizona community colleges in implementing programs that improve student-veteran retention and persistence, demonstrated its support for our student-veterans with a $5,000 donation, and a goal of another $5,000, to the PCC Grants Resource Office.

I shared with the group that the College is moving forward in a variety of areas to improve services and programs for our more than 700 Veterans Benefits Recipients. We have increased staff, and have a new Acting Director of Veterans and Military Affiliated Services, Hector Acosta, a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Army.

Additionally, a few years ago we expanded and improved our Veterans Center at Downtown Campus, which gets about 100 students a week. The center is a gathering place where students can study, relax, and get answers about a variety of topics, including information on transitioning to a four-year college.

One of those aspiring transfer students is Cody Andrews, who served five years in the U.S. Navy attached to the U.S.S. John C. Stennis in Bremerton, Wash. Cody has done two tours overseas, in Asia and the Middle East. He was honorably discharged in 2012 and received a Letter of Commendation from the Fifth Fleet’s Rear Admiral.

Cody intends to study Marketing at the University of Arizona. At PCC, he is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, and has participated in the Veterans Administration Work Study Program, helping hundreds of fellow veterans pursue their academic goals.

One of the high points of the breakfast was a talk by Eli Crane, an entrepreneur who has appeared on the TV show “Shark Tank.” Eli also is a former Navy SEAL. He spoke of the challenges veterans face when seeking employment in the civilian world, and reminded everyone that the skills and values vets learn in the military are those that employers need.

The College deeply appreciates the support of S.E.E.4Vets. I thank Ray Torres, Chairman of the S.E.E.4Vets’ Board, and Vern “Rusty” Findley, USAF, retired Lt. Gen. and Vice Chairman, for the donation, which will be used for tutoring support in English, Writing and Mathematics for student-veterans.

I also want to thank Hector Acosta, Desert Vista Campus Vice President Ted Roush and their teams for their leadership and support of our veterans.