Thoughts on leading the NSF US Delegation to Ecuador, July 2014
It was an honor and a privilege to lead the United States delegation to Ecuador for the National Science Foundation’s project on international engagement and broadening participation in engineering. Our group participated in the Foro Latinoamericano de Estudiantes sobre Educación en Ingeniería (FLEEI) for engineering students which was held at La Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL), the technological university in Guayaquil, Ecuador. We also participated in the XII International Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Consortium of Engineering Institutions (LACCEI). Our group has a blog and we invite any interested parties to participate in the discussions!
As the leader of the group, I wanted to say a few things about organizing a delegation to go abroad. This post will reveal some of my “behind the scenes” thoughts and activities.
- Have good colleagues in the home office who can help with the preparation for the group. There’s nothing like having an excellent group of people who are willing to work with you to coordinate logistics. We had a group of executive administrative support staff, accountants, international education professionals, and our program coordinator working to make sure that we had hotel rooms, registrations, flights, passports, and other details in place. Our Dean of the Graduate School and professionals in the Office of Sponsored Programs also worked with us to make sure that all of the right signatures were in place. _______________________________________________________________________
- Have good colleagues in the international location who can prepare for your group’s arrival. I met Professor Maria Denise Rodriguez from ESPOL in Mexico in August 2013. At that time, I told her that I wanted to bring a group to Ecuador in 2014, and that I would want to come in advance to learn more about the location. With the help of UMBC’s International Education Services (IES) Office and the Center for Interamerican Studies (CEDEI) in Cuenca, Ecuador, I went to Ecuador in January 2014 so that I could learn more about the region and the culture. I spent time in Cuenca with colleagues at the CEDEI, and then went to Guayaquil, the site of the conference. When I was in Guayaquil, I was treated to a tour of the city, a visit to the university (ESPOL), and meetings with the Ecuadorian partners for the conference. We went to the locations for the sessions, and had meetings with people who were in charge of certain sections of the program. This meeting provided the basis for excellent collaboration, because I continued to dialog with the ESPOL team (sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English) throughout the next several months. My colleagues at ESPOL worked out details for my group so that we knew exactly where to go upon arrival. This included details provided by the hotel for getting a shuttle from the airport, details for group bus transportation to the university, and details about our activities. As a result, I was able to present our US group with details in advance of this trip so that they would have a feel for the way that things were being organized. Our hosts from ESPOL were exceedingly gracious and hospitable. They even took time in the evenings to provide extra tours of other parts of the city, thus providing our group with cultural history and appreciation. _______________________________________________________________________
- Have a good agenda for the trip. We had a mission and a vision for our trip. Our specific goal was to implement Phase I of the “International Engagement and Broadening Participation in STEM from a Family-Friendly Perspective for Women of Color” project for the National Science Foundation. As part of that, our delegation participated in sessions for students, the National Science Foundation’s forum, sessions for women in STEM and diversity, and sessions on international engagement and research collaborations. Being connected to the conference helped with the details for our specific agenda. ______________________________________________________________________
- Organize a strong delegation. Our team was a mix of faculty, graduate students, and our program staff. All had been participants in one or more NSF based programs: Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Bridge to the Doctorate, PROMISE: Maryland’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), or ADVANCE Hispanic Women in STEM. As a result, I had either worked with or connected with all of the members of the team in another capacity either on the mainland US or in Puerto Rico and I knew that they would be good contributors to the project. Further, in various contexts, all had been responsive to inquiries in the past or had demonstrated good follow-through with respect to various assignments or projects. In other words, I knew that I could count on them. Several people in our delegation were bilingual, and it worked well to have approximately one person who spoke Spanish for every 3 who did not. This became extremely important for transportation by cabs (we often split into groups of 4). It also provided a level of comfort, and teachable moments. Most members of the group who were not bilingual took opportunities to learn and practice their Spanish.
Some notes to students regarding being prepared for nominations for special opportunities:
- Remain engaged with your faculty and program coordinators. When people know who you are, and understand your goals and objectives, they may keep you in mind when the doors of opportunity open. Talk with your faculty. Learn about their backgrounds and their research. Share your plans for the future. Seek their advice. When you take it, follow-up with them to let them know the outcomes. This process builds mentor-mentee relationships, and promotes a climate of shared success.
- Be good stewards of your current position. If there are opportunities to represent the university, the university’s administrators want good ambassadors, people that they can trust. This includes maintaining high academic performance, following through with assignments, and exhibiting high levels of integrity.
- Have your papers ready. Your passport should be up to date. Your CV should be updated every quarter and a version should always be available upon request. Your transcript should be clear of errors and incompletes, and should reflect strong academic performance.
- Cultivate strong relationships that include research connections. This circles back to the first bullet. You should always have faculty (at least 3) who will speak well of you and who will be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you upon request. In addition to your research advisor, you should know 3 other faculty in the department, plus your department chair, your graduate program director, your dean, and your graduate program coordinator for the department. All of these people should know you. If they were asked, one by one, to talk about you, what would they say? If their answer are scant and limited by “She received an ‘A’ in my class,” or “He is a nice person,” know that those are good, but they are not enough. They should know your goals, your research interests, your strengths, and some of your experiences.
Left: Gala, with faculty from Colombia. Top right: US delegation meeting at the Hilton Colon Hotel, Guayaquil, Ecuador. Middle: US delegation with two students from ESPOL at Plaza Lagos. Bottom Right: With leaders from the National Science Foundation and ESPOL.