Cultural Excellence Following Purpose

Learning from roadblocks to globalization

This week, I challenge my readers to think twice about any stereotypes you have about Mexico.

When I was a junior at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), I realized I had to stop studying abroad, grow up, and get a practical internship if I ever was going to be hired for an engineering job. Yet, when the time came to actually put my big girl pants on and get that internship, I couldn’t get my heart behind it. Ever the multi-tasker, I thought…why can’t I just do my engineering internship abroad?

My inquiry on finding an internship abroad was passed around UNR like a hot potato for months, until, at last, one of my mentors introduced me to the Industrial Outreach Program in Mexico. The program was founded by Dr. Victor Muciño of West Virginia University (WVU). I was blessed to receive a full-ride scholarship from UNR’s College of Engineering to attend the program for Summer 2015. It was perfect: I was matched with a phenomenal company in Querétaro, Mexico for a summer-long internship.

Before I lived in Mexico, I was clueless on what to expect. My imagination was torn between dirt roads or tourism-based Mexican spots like Cancun. My parents and some of my friends were initially incredulous that I wanted to work in Mexico. After all, the only media we’d seen painted a vivid picture of Mexicans as violent and uneducated.

San Miguel de Allende
Not the dirt roads I was expecting… (San Miguel de Allende, Mexico)

Upon arriving in Mexico, I was shocked to see beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets, and a tranquil living environment. I so enjoyed my first summer working in Mexico that when Dr. Muciño invited me to return to work for the program in Mexico the following summer, I jumped on the opportunity.

Although UNR’s College of Engineering is one of the fastest growing majors by student population, very few engineering students study abroad. This trend is largely due to the rigor of the engineering curriculum. Taking time off to go abroad makes it virtually impossible for most engineering students to stay on track with their class schedule. As a result, for many engineering students, globalization in the workplace is not addressed. Here’s the catch: engineering is no longer a stationary career. The most competitive engineering companies and universities conduct business worldwide, not just in their backyard. In an ever-increasing global engineering environment, global competency in the workplace has never been more vital. The issue is well-summarized in the Initiative in Engineering Education Across Disciplines and Cultures

“Leaders from industry have expressed concerns about the deficiencies of engineering graduates, citing specifically the following: communication skills, the ability to work in teams, flexibility, the ability to accept ambiguity comfortably, the ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds, understanding of globalization and its implications, and adequate ethics training [1]. These issues, among others, are also addressed in the ABET-2000 Engineering Criteria [2].”

Engineering Education across Disciplines and Cultures

CENAM
Students from diverse backgrounds worked together on meaningful engineering projects.

The Industrial Outreach Program in Mexico tackles the issue of globalization. Here’s a brief synopsis of the program: American and Mexican university students work on meaningful projects together for 8 weeks within a Mexican company. By the end of the program, students earn 9 academic credits towards their major, respond to real-world engineering problems, bring value to industry, improve their employment opportunities, earn international technical experience, learn the “engineering dialect” of Spanish, and collaborate with students and professionals from diverse cultural backgrounds.

For the last two years, I collaborated with my university, UNR, to formalize this program for our engineering students. This included bi-weekly meetings with UNR faculty, class announcements, solicitation of funding, development of a scholarship program, a one-woman-marketing-team (me), and so on. Although I had no idea how to start this program on my campus, my love for Mexico fueled me. I found my life purpose: enabling engineers to go global. Slowly, the program gained traction. We had scholarship funding to pay the program tuition of two UNR students, multiple students submitted applications to attend the 2017 program, and word excitedly excitedly spread around campus.

Sadly, last week, all of our progress came to a screeching halt when UNR’s support of the program was withdrawn. Although I will never fully understand their rationale, I want to point out that I am incredibly grateful to UNR’s College of Engineering. For the past two years, they supported my ambitious goal to create a global engineering community here in Reno. Not only did the College provide a scholarship for me to go to Mexico the first summer, but time after time, they graciously listened to my insistence that our students deserve to engineer abroad.

Beyond thanking the University of Nevada, I want to especially reach out to my Mexico family:

Global Comp
Students from Mexico and USA present projects (posters in background) after collaborating on engineering projects for 2 months in Querétaro, MX.

First and foremost, Dr. Victor Muciño, the program founder, taught me what it means to truly lead with humility. He positively impacted the Querétaro community, my life and the lives of countless students for generations to come.

The Mexican participants of the program define excellence. These Mexican students completed an intense vetting process before the program even began. The rigorous process includes an English proficiency test and competitive math class (calculus through differential equations in one class). Repeatedly, Mexican students proved to be the most hard-working and intelligent people I know. The Mexican students opened their homes to me and made it a point to show me their favorite spots in the city.

Shaila
Shaila and I in Querétaro

Shaila Alvarez taught me how friendship defies language barriers, age differences, and geographical distance. Shaila and I frequently switch back and forth between Spanish and English bantering. She is more than a friend to me; she is a trusted mentor. Shaila often provides critical feedback of improvements I can make in how I conduct myself and treat others. She makes me the best version of myself.

I can’t forget about the Mexican families I met through the program. Luis’s family opened their home to cook us a traditional meal and teach us proper Mexican dancing. Celia catered my birthday celebration in Mexico, making me feel at home in a foreign country. Guille comforted me and lit a prayer candle when my friend back in America experienced a traumatic accident. The families I met in Mexico opened their hearts and homes to me- a stranger who they never had met before. Their warmth reflects true Mexican culture.

Mexico
Connecting with Mexican industry leaders.

The Mexican companies that I had the privilege to work with taught me how to adapt my education to the workplace. Not only was I provided the opportunity to collaborate on meaningful projects, but I was welcomed into the company culture with open arms. Adjusting to a different culture in a professional environment was an important challenge for me to face in my career. I know our American and Mexican students share these positive sentiments about working in Mexico.

It was a pleasure to work with faculty from West Virginia University (Dr. David Wyrick, Dr. David Mebane, Dr. Eduardo Sosa, Dr. Ethan Munson, Dr. Hugo Lopez), as well as Mexican professors from esteemed universities and agencies (CONCYTEQ, UAQ, ITQ, UNAQ, UTEQ, ITSJR, UTSJR, UTSRJ, and UPQ). I am grateful for the example set by these leaders in education on actualizing globalization for engineers.

Queretaro Family
Esquincles para siempre.

Last, but certainly not least, thank you to the students from West Virginia University I met in Mexico. I am forever an esquincle because of you all. It was a privilege to serve you, learn from and grow with you. I can’t wait for the next time we are all together, hopefully, back home in Mexico.

As for me, I am a Querétaro girl. Nothing can change that. Albeit disappointing, the current roadblock for the program at UNR is a learning opportunity. From my failure, I am learning how to effectively implement this kind of program in academia in the future. I now understand that change has to happen from the inside, not from the outside where I was operating. I see cracks in my own leadership that I did not notice before, while I was successful. Now, I have the opportunity to refine my process before starting anew again. I look forward to the future, and to the day I finally enable globalization within engineering.

This week, I challenge my readers to think twice about any stereotypes you have about Mexico. Although mass media is likely valid in what they report, do your own research before making a sweeping judgement on any country. When you eat Mexican food, talk to your waiter or the chef about their life back home. Ask your Mexican friend if there is any part of their culture they’d like to share with you. Heck, invite yourself over to your friend’s parent’s house for dinner (it will be delicious, I promise). Short on time? Google “Querétaro, Mexico” to see what Mexico actually looks like. If you are lucky enough to visit Mexico, eat some elote and gorditas for me. And don’t forget to leave a reply below to let me know how it goes!

2 comments on “Learning from roadblocks to globalization

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