In June 2003, a contingent of 11 Fordham faculty members and administrators visited Iberoamericana University, a Jesuit institution in Puebla, Mexico, with a modest proposal—a faculty/student exchange. They came away with a much more comprehensive and meaningful partnership that far exceeded expectations.
“What was designed as a get-acquainted mission,” said Nina Tassi, Ph.D., associate vice president for academic affairs, “resulted in incredible bonds of intellectual and personal kinship.”
The idea for the initial visit evolved out of conversations among Tassi; Gerald Blaszczak, S.J., vice president for University mission and ministries; and John Hollwitz, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs, about initiating partnerships with the international network of Jesuit universities. Convinced that the futures of the United States and Mexico will become more closely entwined, and considering the large number of immigrants in New York from the State of Puebla, the group agreed Iberoamericana University seemed the perfect place to start.
“It has been just one year since our first official contact,” said Alberto Fischer, director of external affairs and exchanges at Ibero, “and already we have exchanged several faculty as well as student groups. We have found similar interests in many areas, not only in academic fields but also in ways our two institutions can positively affect society. And we are developing this partnership as friends.”
The faculty at Fordham has embraced the opportunity to work with their counterparts in Mexico, and a number of academic programs and exchanges have already taken place or are being planned.
•Last spring, Orlando Rodriguez, Ph.D., professor of sociology, gave a five-day course at Ibero for graduate students and faculty on program evaluation research. He will return next year to work with Ibero faculty on the creation of an evaluation research group, an effort he hopes will lead to professionals trained to assist government, private business and other fields in solving social problems.
•Barbara Mundy, Ph.D., chair of the art history department, led a group of students to Puebla for a course on Mexican colonial art.
•Mary Beth Combs, Ph.D., professor of economics, and Jeanne Flavin, Ph.D., professor of sociology, team-taught a mini-course at Ibero on women, economics and domestic violence.
•Hugo Benavides, Ph.D., professor of anthropology and a member of the original contingent to visit Ibero, has invited two Ibero faculty members to guest lecture in his classes.
“We met as equals interested in mutual learning experiences,” said Benavides of his Puebla colleagues. “It impressed me that Ibero is willing to tackle such contemporary issues as gender and sexuality.”
Fordham and Ibero will jointly sponsor an international conference at Lincoln Center in August 2005 on entrepreneurship and human rights, and the possibility of additional student exchanges to Puebla is being explored.
“We think the importance of this partnership lies in the establishment of ties with other Jesuit universities in an intellectual and spiritual way,” said Tassi. “Already these mutual exchanges have lent a whole new dimension to the teaching and research enterprise.”
Father Blaszczak sees an additional advantage. “Education is one of the most powerful tools for advancing human understanding,” he said, “and that can help bring individuals and countries together.”