UC-Mexico Directors Seek Grants to Sustain Binational Project as Funding is Cut

In efforts to facilitate greater cultural, political and academic understanding between California and Mexico, the UC system in 2014 launched a vast binational collaborative project known as the  UC-Mexico Initiative. However, funding from UC President Janet Napolitano is soon to be short-lived.

University of Caliofrnia Regents President Janet Napolitano discusses the UC-Mexico Inititative with UC Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox in 2014, when the program was launched. (Courtesy of UC Riverside)

University of Caliofrnia Regents President Janet Napolitano discusses the UC-Mexico Inititative with UC Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox in 2014, when the program was launched. (Courtesy of UC Riverside)

Having recently launched a call for project proposals, the initiative’s hope is to build upon the UC’s existing exchange programs, research collaborations and individual faculty efforts in reaching their goals while creating unique synergies among them. Additionally, it hopes to stimulate the development of new programs and partnerships involving academia, government, corporations and foundations on both sides of the border.

Although this project is still in its early stages, Napolitano has only provided funding for this initiative for the first two years, meaning that its primary funding source will be cut off by January 2016. More specifically, $250,000 has been provided for each of the five working groups for the first two years. Once that period is complete, the Initiative will have to find new means to sustain itself.

Veronique Rorive, the assistant director of the project, commented that the five focus groups that evenly divide and organize the initiative have already sought grant funding, or are in the process of doing so.

“Addressing the long-term sustainability of the Mexico Initiative is a priority to us, and has been driving our approach since day one. We are also building partnerships with foundations and the private sector in both the U.S. and in Mexico to cost-share academic activities that are of shared interest,” said Rorive

The initiative was officially launched by Napolitano in January 2014, when the president appointed UC Riverside as the main campus to lead in its development. Later that month, UC Riverside held a binational workshop, with a turnout of 80 people — 25 of them from Mexico — who gathered to brainstorm the framework that would ensure the initiative’s success. In the several months following this meeting, UC Riverside and other appointed associates established “focus groups” and worked to strengthen relationships with both academia and government in Mexico to prepare for a comprehensive inaugural meeting in February 2015.

Since then, it has choreographed an interactive database representing a vast community of over 500 different faculty members from across the 10 UC campuses, national laboratories, extension offices, medical centers, and cooperative extension offices.  The “focus groups” that were established from these initial meetings divide the research proposals into 5 thematic groups: Education, Energy, Environment, Health, and Arts & Culture Each of these sections is chaired by key UC faculty members. This sophisticated interactive database shows every faculty member that has self-identified with having collaborations in Mexico or Mexico-related activities. Such partner institutions that UC agents are working with in Mexico include The National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Institution of Earth Sciences, Oceanology and Applied Physics (CICESE), The Binational Family Agency (CIAD), and The National Institute for Forest, Agriculture and Livestock Research (INIFAP), from a pool of over 140 different academic and research-based collaborators.

In a letter authored by Napolitano detailing the strategic framework of the initiative, the UC President states, “This is where new technologies, the advancement of the sciences, the exploration of arts and cultures, and other forms of scholarly endeavor will take place, all in the interest of solving problems and providing a global education for tomorrow’s workforce.”

Dr. Jacobo Sefami, a Professor within the Department of Spanish & Portuguese in the School of Humanities at UC Irvine, has proposed a project in collaboration with representatives from the University of Mexico (UNAM) and other supportive Mexican institutions. Sefami is one among 84 participating faculty members from UC Irvine, and his proposal is to establish a cultural institute of Mexico in California, one that celebrates Mexican culture and spreads awareness of its diversity and history for UC students, faculty and surrounding community members.

Although this proposal is in its early stages, some of his ideas include providing consistent speaker events, foreign film screenings, seminars, workshops and other culturally relevant events throughout the state of California that showcase influential Mexican leaders and educate on current affairs.

“People [in the US] think of Mexico mainly as a place and source of immigrants; yet they do not know the quality or prestige of its culture, nor do they know if its richness,” Sefami said.

Sefami hopes to provide some of that richness through the actualization of his project proposal.

For Dr. Sefami, this initiative is more than just an opportunity for international collaboration and academic prestige.

“My [Mexican] culture is as strong as any other in the world, and yet people don’t really know much about Mexico at deeper levels,” says Sefami. “It’s important that we promote a better understanding of our [international] neighbor. There is so much talent coming from this side of the world, so let’s start recognizing it. Having access to our culture gives [Mexican-American students] a sense of pride in who they are, and other students a chance to know more.”