UTEP partners with CONALEP in Juárez
January 29, 2013 | UTEP PROSPECTOR
In an attempt to help high-risk youth in Ciudad Juárez, UTEP President Diana Natalicio signed a training and development collaboration agreement with Felipe de Jesús Gonzalez Bermudez, state general director of the Center of Assistance and Technological Services at El Colegio de Educación Profesional Técnica del Estado de Chihuahua (CONALEP).
The goal of the agreement is to promote employment for high-risk youth in Juárez. This partnership sets to contribute to regional, state and national development by providing technical professional education services at the high school level.
"We are going to offer the technical assistance," said Virgilio Gonzalez, associate chair of the Electrical Computer Engineering Department at UTEP. "Our students will volunteer and directly collaborate with CONALEP in hopes of bringing some of the Juárez students to be part of outreach programs and sets of competitions."
The CONALEP system in Mexico is similar to a community college level education in the United States, which allows students to transfer into a four-year university. The difference between the CONALEP system and U.S. community colleges is that CONALEP students begin in the last three years of their high school level education pursuing an associate degree.
"CONALEP is trying to reach a broader population of students that are at risk because of their low income situation or are in need of additional resources," Vigilio Gonzalez said. "In that context, when trying to reach to those students, they (CONALEP) are looking for ways to attract students and this is where (the) UTEP partnership plays a key role."
UTEP and the College of Engineering have already started a robotics program and many other outreach activities to try to attract students in the El Paso del Norte region and help them become interested in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas.
The robotic program allows students at the high school level, in this case CONALEP, to participate in a challenge where they assemble a robot according to the category level. UTEP will provide technical assistance by presenting a topic the students will have to research. In the process, students will have the opportunity to interact with real engineers and get involved with the community.
"Students will not only realize that they can perform something technical," Vigilio Gonzalez said. "They will have fun, and at the same time, they will learn about a current problem in the community."
This robotic competition is part of a national program called FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology—they provide the topic for the competition every year. This year the competition will be held on Feb. 16. Students will need to identify how technology can improve their communities by proposing solutions to exposed problems.
"UTEP engineering students that live in Juárez will volunteer and mentor these high school students," Vigilio Gonzalez said. "Part of the objective is for UTEP students to directly support the expansion of these programs in the Juárez community."
Part of the collaboration's objective is also for UTEP students going through the program to gain a service learning experience. Besides the traditional education in the classroom, students will have another experience by engaging with the community.
"This partnership will allow for Mexican students who live in Juárez to have an opportunity to make a difference there and to give something back to that community," said Azuri Gonzalez, director of the Center for Civic Engagement at UTEP.
The Center for Civic Engagement will be assisting with training and connecting students with CONALEP.
"Students will develop first-hand knowledge and applicability of material they are learning in the classroom," Azuri Gonzalez said.
The partnership between UTEP and CONALEP will also help establish a network of potential financial sources for the projects.
"Through this partnership we should be able to tap into federal funding resources in both the U.S. and in Mexico," Azuri Gonzalez said. "An expectation is that both institutions can access grant money to expand the program."
Howard Campbell, professor in the anthropology department at UTEP, whose academic specialty is the border of El Paso and Juárez, said this collaboration between both institutions is a very good idea and hopes for its success.
"Clearly the success of Juárez and the success of El Paso are a joint effort," Campbell said. "There is a practical need to connect the two cities and improve life in both cities, and that UTEP can play a key role in this."
According to Campbell, there have been many agreements signed between UTEP and Juárez institutions in the past. He said that if this program is successful it can be replicated in many other places.
"UTEP is probably the only U.S. university that could do a program like this because not only are we located on the border, but we have 1,250 Mexican students enrolled at UTEP, the majority of who live or continue to live in Ciudad Juárez," Natalicio said. "This program capitalizes on that demographic and geographic proximity, which enables us to create a program where Mexican students play a key role and are able to contribute in ways to their own society and to their own city. It's a perfect fit for a very unique university."
Guerrero Garcia may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.