I still remember visiting Stanford University for the first time with my father in April 1983.
I had been accepted to join the class of 1987, and flew out to see the place where I ended up spending my undergraduate years.
The row of palm trees on the appropriately named Palm Drive essentially sealed the deal-I kept repeating, “Palms trees, Dad. Palm trees.”-and the tour that followed knocked the exuberant air out of me for a little while.
While strolling around the libraries, main quadrangle, clock tower, and student center, the tour guide, who, if I remember correctly, was wearing a Stanford t-shirt, started running down the numbers of the year’s applicants.
If we wanted to more than fill the class with valedictorians, we could have done it, he said.
If we wanted to more than fill the class with people who made All State, we could have done it, he added later in the same conversation.
He went on in this manner, and, as the tour progressed, I find myself feeling less excited about Palm Drive and the campus’ beauty and more and more wondering how I had actually gained admission to the place.
Memories of the tour stirred within me this morning as I listened to five of my Fulbright colleagues present about their research, their teaching and their future plans at the University of Chile.
It was an impressive group of scholars doing significant, socially conscious and complementary types of projects.
Tim Warner, a reserved Zimbabwean native who was raised in South Africa, went first. A geologist from West Virginia University who’s working at the University of Concepcion, he presented about his work on remote sensing in Northern Chile. It’s a potent technology that can be used to map urban growth, natural disasters or mineral observation.
It’s also got interplanetary possibilities.
Tim explained that the minerals that exist in arid saline lakes in Chile are the same as in the Burns Formation in Mars. As a result, using remote sensing to understand the lakes in Chile has the potential to tell us something about what is happening in Mars.
He also said that he wants to use the class he is teaching and the time he is spending here as a basis to have a university wide and ongoing relationship between his institution and the University of Concepcion that could eventually include a Master’s program.
Collaboration was a core emphasis of the relationship between the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the University Del Desarrollo, according to John Katers, a UWGB professor.
He’s 14 days in an 18-day whirlwind trip that did not so much have a specific objective, but was the latest in a series of steps that began a couple of years ago when Alex Godoy spent eight weeks at the Wisconsin campus.
Katers, a burly Green Bay native who attended the public schools, graduated from the University in 1991 and lives two blocks from the fabled Lambeau Field, has engineering and business backgrounds. This interdisciplinary orientation not only helps him feel comfortable approaching industry for funding-he mentioned that he has raised $3.5 million in the past decade from area businesses, rather than traditional foundation funding-it is an integral part of campus life at UWGB, which in the 70s was known as “Eco-U”, he said.
Katers showed a series of images to illustrate Green Bay’s strong points and challenges (He included a slide that he said the Chamber of Commerce would like to or did use for its promotional material for the former, and showed images of sludge to illustrate the latter.)
The Ventanas community in Chile, which is about 90 minutes north of Santiago, also has both.
Katers talked about the many similarities in industry, poor educational outcomes and pollution that Green Bay shares with its Chilean counterpart. .
He’s used the time to see as much of Chile as possible-they’ve ventured north and south-and to work with Godoy to design a series of projects that could advance the relationship that the two institutions have forged during the past two years.
Katers did not come alone.
Rather, he spoke with university administrators about having more university faculty join Alex and him during their time here.
They agreed, and four of Katers’ colleagues, including Humanities Professor Cristina Ortiz, have been here in Chile, too. This shared experience between him and his colleagues increases the likelihood that the project will continue to advance.
Benjamin Crosby, a geologist from Idaho State University, is studying the progress of rivers, paying particular attention to the issue of dams.
A river has a pulse, he told us during his presentation, and he’s interested in seeing how the pulse is downstream as compared to upstream. As opposed to the United States, where many dams are already in place, certain parts of Chile, especially in Patagonia, have not yet constructed.
Ben’s hoping that the information that he learns about how the downstream sections of rivers act will be useful to the engineers who will make the dams.
It’s an ambitious task, and Ben’s staying a semester beyond the five months that most of us are doing in order to make progress on his project.
He’s also planning to drive home with his wife Cana, an ethnographer, and their two children.
They don’t yet have a car, and they’ve got time.
Time was a focus, albeit indirectly of Laurance Geri’s presentation.
The lean and lanky professor from Evergreen State College delivered his remarks about Chilean energy policy in Spanish, the only member of today’s group to do so. (When asked by an audience member whether he wanted her to ask a question in English or Spanish, he replied with a grin, “English is probably easier.”)
Like John and Ben, Larry put his comments and his work in the context of Chile’s current moment and the advantages and challenges it faces. He made the point that, while there is still time to make progress on energy policy in the country, urgent agent is required because of the ever-encroaching presence of climate change.
He also talked movingly about the role that civil society can and must play in helping to make these policies.
Larry spoke about how the traditional modes of hearing citizen’s voices have started to erode, but that this erosion only underscores the importance of creating spaces for meaningful citizen input on this and other critical issues facing the nation.
The people’s voice will be heard one way or the other, he said.
For her part, University of Richmond instructor Deborah Westin is interested in the assessment, measurement and evaluation of key competencies for teaching and learning.
Her particular slice of the people is adult learners. Deb said she’s passionate about working with this group to ultimately be able to help make the world a better place. Deb, who is working at the University of Chile, is doing research and working with her colleagues on a book about this issue. She’ll also be a guest instructor in some University of Chile classes.
Her presentation, like all of the others, elicited questions and discussion from the crowd, which included former Fulbrighters, students and members of the public, and folks from the United States Embassy.
In short, it was an utterly stimulating, near symphonic morning of sharing and conversation.
Meeting and learning about my colleagues and new friends’ work reminded me of how impressed I had been by my potential classmates three decades ago, when I first set foot on Stanford’s campus.
This time, though, rather than being intimidated, my dominant impression was of gratitude at being part of the community.
We’ve got six more presentations tomorrow, including mine, and lunch after that.
I can’t wait to learn some more.