Number 40, Spring 2003

Mexico-California Commission on Education, Science & Technology
La Comisión México-California sobre la Educación, la Ciencia y la Tecnología

Specialists move into action to initiate collaborative projects

January’s meeting of the bilateral Mexico-UC research group took off like a racehorse leaving the gate.

The Mexico-California Commission for Education, Science and Technology, composed of academics, business and government leaders from Mexico and UC, was created in 2001 and met formally for the first time in 2002. Despite the newness of the Commission, the 2003 meeting was crammed with reports of progress to identify issues and research that lend themselves to collaborative efforts.

“These projects are already underway,” said Alfonso Serrano, vice chair of the group “Contacts with companies and outreach to researchers has begun.”

Specialists from agriculture, biomedicine and education were lining up with recommendations at the ready. The committee will hear about an additional three fields of research at the next meeting later this year.

Educators from Mexico and UC already had met several times and concurred that their basic educational issues in terms of better science education ran along parallel tracks.

Even though California has a more highly developed economy, both regions face workforce development problems. Science and technology, the key to prosperity in both areas, needs researchers to make new discoveries and a workforce to produce the industrialized results, said Susan Hackwood, a UC Riverside professor of electrical engineering. The state’s developed economy lacks a local workforce flow that will feed it in the future, while Mexico needs a better-educated workforce to help it develop such an economy.

The bottom line for both is a solid base in science education.

Recruiting scientists to help raise the quality of science teaching would improve science education for school children, coordinators agreed.

Study of a generation of California grade school students showed that the quantity and quality of science education turned students away from the sciences at each step in their education.

The study, Critical Path Analysis of California's Science and Technology Education System, was completed last year by California Council on Science and Technology, said Hackwood, who is executive director of the Council. So few students are majoring in the sciences that California must import bachelors and doctoral students from other states and countries.

“A good teacher, next to socioeconomic status, is the highest predictor of student success,” Hackwood said. The Council is now embarking on a study of the reasons behind the teacher shortage in science and math.

Training youngsters in the sciences also is a critical challenge for Mexico, also said Judith Zubieta, Directora Adjunta de Formación de Científicos y Tecnólogos, CONACYT.

Currently, only half the population acquires a 9th grade education, she said. Of those, fewer than a half complete high school, and only 50 percent attend university in any discipline, much less science. Teacher education also presents challenges.

“There is enormous institutional diversity and an absence of standards,” Zubieta said. In addition, many teachers quit the profession; few can teach science, and many schools lack labs or equipment.

“We are studying what kinds of programs we can design together to address these shared problems.”

A successful pilot program in Mexico City, La Ciencia en tu Escuela, partnered scientists and graduate students with teachers to develop classroom material. The trial will expand nationwide next year, said Jose Antonio de la Peña, president of the Mexican Academy of Science.
The Academy and UC meanwhile should evaluate programs in the Latino community on both sides of the border, de la Peña said.

“We must try different approaches and see what works best,” he said.

By the next meeting, the educators will identify goals and decide on partners for a collaborative analysis, Hackwood said.

If educational issues don’t recognize borders, neither does disease.

“Parasites and viruses don’t need passports,” said Misael Uribe Esquivel, who heads Mexico’s national institutes of health.

“Nile disease, first entered Mexico with an immigrant from the U.S.,” he said, “just as Mexican immigrants bring disease across the border.”

The health risks are exacerbated by a lack of medical coverage for most of this population.

The situation cries out for joint research, subcommittee leaders said. A third of the population of Jalisco lives in California, making the group and others like it ripe for joint research. A strong relationship with UC in the area of genomics would help Mexico address the health issues of a changing population, Uribe said.

“We haven’t completely resolved the diseases of the poor while at the same time inheriting the diseases of wealthy people, making healthcare delivery complicated,” said Guillermo Soberón, executive director of Fundación Mexicana para la Salud (the Mexican health foundation).

“The people of Chiapas have similar health status to the poorest countries in Africa,” he said.
The ministry of health’s national network for genomics, which encompasses the ten specialized institutes of health, will help develop research protocols and tackle problems in all areas of disease.

Researchers from UC and Mexico already are exploring ways to put genomic technology to work on disease, said Hugo Barrera, Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León and the Center of Biotechnological Genomics of the National Polytechnic Institute.

Cross-border cooperation in agriculture is underway, said Michael Clegg, director of the UCR Genomics Institute and coordinator of the agriculture subcommittee.

Both sides of the border share similar problems and can benefit from joint efforts, he said. Both depend heavily on production of commodities such as avocados, cotton, citrus and beans. Large crop breeders use genetic resources to improve production but the cost lies far beyond the pocket of many subsistence farmers, he said.

"There is huge scope for improvement using a mixture of classical and modern methods," he said.
And huge scope for joint research, subcommittee members agreed. Researchers are improving both the nutritional value and yield of crops such as corn. Such advances are vital in Mexico and California where agricultural land is being lost daily to development, said Victor Villalobos, foreign affairs coordinator for the Mexican department of agriculture.

Both sides of the border also share a labor force, said UC MEXUS Director Juan Vicente Palerm. Impoverished Mexican family farmers comprise the labor mainstay for thriving California agribusiness – intimately but intractably connecting both farming systems.

“The social and economic consequences of this special relationship needs to be better understood,” he said. “Then public policy can be designed to address real problems and needs, and to properly charter future development.” Unilateral actions regarding technology transfer or immigration policy can have unintended but far-reaching consequences that could have counterproductive and destabilizing outcomes.

Agricultural and rural development need to advance hand in hand so that the needs of the farm population on both sides of the border can be properly considered and addressed.

In this area, UC is a perfect partner for Mexico, said Luis Herrera-Estrella, a genetic engineer at Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados (CINVESTAV) who was elected to the U.S. Academy of Sciences this year – one of only two Mexicans to be so honored since the turn of the century.

“UC has no equal in the areas of agricultural biotechnology that interest Mexico,” he said.

The agriculture subcommittee is exploring shared training in the form of sandwich programs, allowing doctoral students to study both in Mexico and UC. The subcommittee also envisions online sharing of conference and seminar resources now confined to UC-registered students, and a CONACYT lab at UCR Institute of Genomics to host short-term research programs. A couple of Mexican scientists could act as liaisons between Mexico and UC, he said.

The subcommittee is identifying areas of common interest and collaboration in such areas as strawberry, tomato and avocado production, which are common economic and scientific interests for both regions.

Since January, the group has also begun planning two workshops on intellectual property rights in agriculture and commercialization of research-based products.

The Intellectual property workshop is set for Mexico City during the 2003-2004 academic year. In addition, UC Davis and Colegio de Postgraduados will coordinate a series of workshops on post-harvest marketing.

Mexico-California Commission on Education, Science, & Technology
La Comisión México-California sobre la Educación, la Ciencia y la Tecnología
Mexican members

Jaime Parada Avila, Chair
Director General, CONACYT

Dr. Alfonso Serrano Perez-Grovas
Vice Chair, Director Adjunto de Investigación Científica, CONACYT

Dr. David Rios Jara, Director
General, Centro de Investigación en Materiales Avanzados (CIMAV)

Dr. Victor Villalobos Arambula
Coordinador General de Asuntos Internacionales, Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación

Dr. Misael Uribe Esquivel
Coordinador General
Institutos Nacionales de Salud

Dr. Leopoldo Rodríguez Sánchez
Director Adjunto
Girsa Corporativo, S.A. de C.V.

Dr. Juan Milton Garduño Rubio
Director y Gerente General
MIXBAL, S.A. de C.V.

Dr. Jaime Uribe de la Mora
Director General, Probiomed

Dr. Luis Herrera-Estrella
Departamento de Ingeniería Genética, Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados

California members

Richard C. Atkinson, Chair
President, University of California

C. Judson King, Vice Chair
UC Provost, Senior Vice President-Academic Affairs

Robert Byer
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor, Department of Applied Physics, Stanford

France A. Cordova
Chancellor, UC Riverside

Michael T. Clegg
Distinguished Professor of Genetics Botany & Plant Sciences, UC Riverside

Dr. Michael V. Drake
UC Vice President - Health Affairs

Susan Hackwood
Executive Director, California Council on Science & Technology, UC Riverside

Lon Hatamiya
Secretary, California Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency

Henry Riggs
President Keck Graduate Institute, Claremont Colleges