Penn State's Global Engagement Network builds partnerships in Peru

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Since its inception in 2014, Penn State's Global Engagement Network has sought to connect the University with select partners around the world. Its overarching mission, according to Michael Adewumi, vice provost for global programs, is to "leverage our resources, and the resources of others around the world, in order to accomplish things that no single institution could accomplish on its own.”

When speaking about Penn State international engagement, Adewumi regularly uses an analogy of a "three-sided coin," where the two faces of the coin are "GO" (sending Penn Staters abroad) and "COME" (bringing international students and scholars to Penn State) respectively, and the third side between them is "PARTNER."

"Partnership is what brings all sides of the coin together," Adewumi explained. "This is the philosophy behind the Global Engagement Network."

So, what does that look like in practice?

To explore this idea, one needs only to look at Penn State's engagement in Peru. Penn State works with two major institutions there — PUCP (Pontífica Universidad Católica del Perú) and UNI (Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería).

"The genesis of these partnerships was really the Global Engagement Network workshop," said Patrick Tunno, director of Global Engineering Engagement. "I had recently been hired into this new position and I was searching for opportunities for the College of Engineering in South America, since our programs were European- and Australian-centered."

Tunno heard about the GEN workshop in Peru and reached out to Martin Trethewey, director of the Global Engagement Network.  During the workshop, Tunno was connected with Julio Urbina, associate professor of electrical engineering.

"Julio is incredible," said Tunno. "He grew up in Peru and returned in Spring 2015 as a United States Fulbright Scholar to teach at UNI. One of his main goals in life is to help underrepresented students like himself, both here and in Peru."

"I want to provide an opportunity for highly-motivated students who are facing incredible challenges," said Urbina. "I see their challenges every time I go to Peru, and I see them here as well."

Urbina, an alumnus of UNI, was excited to get connected with Tunno to create a Penn State presence in Peru.

"I thought it was important to give back to my university and to my country," he said. With Tunno and Trethewey, the threesome was able to create a partnership with not only UNI (a public school) but also with PUCP (a private school). In just over two years, the partnership has grown dramatically. There are already over a dozen joint research projects between Penn State and the two partners, involving professors from multiple campuses across the Commonwealth.

"It is very important to me to get the campuses involved. I believe we must provide opportunities for everyone," said Urbina.

While the research aspect is exciting, Tunno says he is mostly focused on undergraduate engagement. His aim is to increase mobility between the U.S. and Peru, and to ensure that all engineering students have the opportunity to have a study abroad experience, regardless of their background or financial need.

"There are studies that show a strong relationship between study abroad and student retention," Tunno said, "and this relationship is even stronger with underrepresented students and those with higher levels of financial need. So I want to increase the number of these students who go abroad. Studying abroad isn't a vacation — it's an experience that builds grit and creativity."

In an effort to provide this experience, Tunno and Urbina worked together to create a unique course — the first of its kind. Using money received from a grant from the 100k Strong initiative, they designed a six-week course which will take place in Peru beginning this month. While the course comes from the College of Engineering, students from many majors will take part, and the course itself is not heavily technical.

"The course is open to all, though the focus will be on STEM and culture," said Urbina. "It is an exciting course where we will tailor to the types of students in the class. I believe this course will provide transformative opportunities in teaching."

Tunno has even more to say about the class.

"We really want to include students from across colleges, across campuses, across disciplines," he said.

During the course, students will be working directly with Peruvian students on a specific problem in Peru, related to the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. Throughout the six weeks, students will not only be enrolled in this class, but will also learn Spanish from Fernando Fonseca Pacheco, a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.

The engineering side of the course will be broken into three two-week modules, each taught by a different pair of Penn State-UNI professors. One will be taught by Julio Urbina and José Oliden, UNI director of Telecommunications Laboratory; another by Esther Obonyo, associate professor of architectural engineering, and Miguel Estrada, UNI director of Risks and Disasters; and yet another by Akhlesh Lakhtakia, the Charles Godfrey Binder Professor in Engineering Science and Mathematics, and Juan Rodriguez, UNI director of the Institute of Research.

"This class is an interdisciplinary cohort, taught abroad by professors from different cultural backgrounds and disciplines." Tunno said. "It's very exciting. We hope to continue this program and get to the point where we have faculty from multiple colleges teaching the course.

"Different perspectives can be valuable," he added. "An engineering student is going to look at a problem differently than a student of foreign languages, or a history student, or someone studying economics. We think diverse perspectives are the best way to solve human problems."

This goes along with the College of Engineering’s focus on "Engineering for Humanity" — and with the ideals of the Global Engagement Network, to solve problems together that no institution could solve alone.

"This is definitely a GEN success story," Tunno said. "And I can see this class model being replicable at other partners — I would love to explore working with the University of Split, for example."

"I hope that this partnership will grow far beyond merely Patrick and I," said Urbina. "I want the relationship between Peru and Penn State to remain in place for many years."

Last Updated May 15, 2018