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Monday, October 2, 2023

Academics & Research

Mexico partnership creates opportunities for post-graduates

Francisco Robles Hernandez, an associate professor of mechanical engineering technology, is leading the initiative with Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology. | Marialuisa Rincon/The Cougar

Despite the current U.S. administration’s efforts to build larger borders between Texas and Mexico, UH is partnering with the Mexican government to allow post-graduate students to expand their horizons south of the border — through a new academic partnership with Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology, or CONACyT.

Along with CONACyT, UH has partnered with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) and the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM), to create a five-year agreement that will allow master’s and PhD students to do research on any of the two universities’ campuses throughout the country.

“The idea is for those professors to come here and share their research expertise by integrating themselves in research, or to teach a class,” Robles Hernandez said. “Down the line, the idea is that not only the professor but her or his group look at us as a potential location for future collaborations and particularly for the students to come here for graduate studies.”

The research-friendly collaboration will be financed by Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology (CONACyT) and was made possible by the initiative of associate professor of mechanical engineering technology Francisco Robles Hernandez, who will serve as the liaison and facilitator.

“Since 2014, UH has become more strategic in choosing partners around the world,” said Jaime Ortiz, the vice provost for Global Strategies and Studies. “To that effect, we have put together task forces to identify continents, regions, countries and cities where we would like to establish meaningful academic and research collaborations. The first task force that I put together was in Mexico.”

Ortiz convened faculty members who were either from Mexico or had interest in working with Mexican institutions. As a result, the group applied some pre-defined criteria to identify a public and private universities to work with, Ortiz said.

Dr. Robles suggested the idea of connecting with CONACyT, equivalent to the NSF here in the U.S.,” Ortiz said. “The task force agreed for UH to pursue those three main relationships: UNAM, Tecnológico de Monterrey, and CONACyT.”

President Renu Khator’s initiative to make the University more globally focused and attract international graduate students was answered by Robles Hernandez, who suggested creating direct work-relationships with governments of different countries.

“It took me many years to convince them, because usually CONACyT signs these agreements with the best 100 universities in the world,” Robles Hernandez said.

Masters-degree exchange students enrolled in a Mexican institution will receive a six-month stipend to do research at UH, and doctorate exchange students will receive a one-year stipend.

In addition, Mexican students willing to do their masters and doctorate studies at UH will be financed by CONACyT for 24 and 36 months, respectively. Applicants should meet the requirements established by the University, Robles Hernandez said.

“Any UH student, who is willing to take a semester or a full academic year abroad in any of these two universities is more than welcome to partake in these endeavors,” Ortiz said. “Here, through the Office of Learning Abroad, we will make sure the courses they take over there will transfer to the student’s degree program.”

Any student who wishes to apply must be in good academic standing and fluent in Spanish, as well as fulfill the requirements outlined by CONACyT. As part of the partnership, UH students will be able to do research on any campus of the two universities throughout the country.

“Mexico has a lot to offer academically,” said UNAM alumnus José Ramón Guardiola Espinosa. “On the one hand, the human capital that we have is of great value and it has been demonstrated through the students who study abroad. On the other hand, in Mexico we have internationally recognized graduate programs in social and hard sciences.”

This opportunity will also open the doors for faculty from these institutions to become visiting scholars during their stay at the University.

Visiting scholars would have a host professor and a host department, and the requirements may vary for each college or within their departments, Robles Hernandez said.

It is a great opportunity to strengthen collaboration between nations and leave behind the idea of competition between institutions and countries in the STEM disciplines, Guardiola Espinosa said.

“The field of research, in any discipline, thrives on collaboration,” said Ricardo Sosa, a first-year chemical engineering doctorate student. “In fact, getting a PhD essentially requires you contribute something new and insightful to your research community.”

Sosa will not participate in the program because of a fellowship from the NSF but said he feels it will be beneficial for UH, Mexico and the students.

“This partnership seems to be a type of ‘we send them our best, we get their best,’” Sosa said. “This is fantastic as it will promote the influx of new ideas and a variety of perspectives on ongoing research or problems.”

Political science assistant professor Francisco Cantu said this agreement might not be affected by the current U.S. presidential administration.

“I think this partnership is going to build bridges over the wall that they want to build,” said political science assistant professor Francisco Cantu. “It is not about seeing each other as enemies, as people here in the U.S. or even in Mexico see Americans now, but actually how we can collaborate together.”

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