Number 39, Fall 2002

Students first to feel effects of funding

The immediate impact of the Institute’s increased financial stability was most strongly felt by the Mexican doctoral students attending UC under the agreement with CONACYT.

“The critical beneficiaries are the graduate students,” said UC MEXUS International Programs Officer Marlene de la Cruz.

It was critical indeed for such graduate students as UC Davis’s Pedro Andrade, who specializes in interactions between soil and agricultural machinery. The biological and agricultural engineering student is designing a sensor to detect soil compaction problems – very real issues as several years of first-hand experience working in Mexican agriculture have shown him. One of the first groups to attend UC under the new agreement, Andrade was entering his third year with funding very much in doubt.

Although the original agreement delineated a cost-sharing formula for Mexican graduate students to be administered by UC MEXUS, UC’s portion lacked specific funding provisions. Before the state legislature approved the Institute’s new funding, the time was approaching when UC was to assume part of that support. But it began to look as though Andrade and 15 fellow students could not count on money coming through.

Andrade’s situation was among the most dire. There seemed little chance of additional funding from Mexico and, after taking an extra year of engineering courses to bring him up to par, he needed a full five years to complete his work. The new UC-CONACYT cost-sharing agreement, with the influx of funds, enabled UC MEXUS to ensure that each student would be fully funded.

“It is very good to have the certainty of funding,” Andrade said. “I’ve been able to dedicate myself full-time to my research...writing the thesis and at least two journal papers.”

In the last two years, the number of Mexican graduate students attending UC campuses has grown to 100. The Institute anticipates helping support up to 200 students within the next two years.

The agreement allows UC to devote an extraordinary level of support to Mexico’s present and future academic community. No one knows that better than the students themselves.

“UC MEXUS support has been essential for me to continue my doctoral program so successfully,” said Marco Rodriguez, now studying mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC Irvine. Rodriguez, who works on computer modeling of global air pollution with particular emphasis on aerosols and their possible effect on global climate change, said he finds himself mixing with some of the top experts in his field. He believes that the nascent study of scientific solutions to pollution control will provide ample opportunity for continued research when he returns home. In the meantime, access to the San Diego Supercomputer Center allows him to work at a level of technological sophistication that would have been impossible without the support.

The program provided CONACYT student Marcela Romero a rare opportunity. Already certified as a dentist in Mexico, she is not only realizing her dream of studying at UCLA medical school but also of finding a way to alleviate chronic and orofacial pain – a little-studied topic in Mexico, she said.

“My country needs a clinic and research in the area of chronic and orofacial pain, and academic personnel who have the necessary skills,” she said.

Romero plans to start such a clinic when she returns to Mexico, and to continue her research into chronic pain.

Fellow UCLA student Jose-Felipe Martínez-Fernández is already using his new skills to address Mexico’s educational issues. Martínez, a student of statistical methods in educational research, compared the results of classical SAT-like testing methods to an alternative approach using data from Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes and CENEVAL. His goal was to evaluate whether different testing methods affected the profile of students being accepted to university. He will present the results at an education forum in Ensenada this year.

The UC-CONACYT funding was his only chance to study abroad at such a prestigious university, he said.

“The grant had a huge impact on the range and quality of academic opportunities open to me,” he said. “In the three years I’ve been here, I’ve been able to take classes with top level scholars, as well as attend and take part in some of the most important conferences in my area of specialization.”