In May 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research (herein referred to as FOBESII) to expand opportunities for educational exchanges, scientific research partnerships, and cross-border innovation. The goal was to help both countries develop a 21st century workforce for our mutual economic prosperity and sustainable social development.
FOBESII builds on longstanding cooperation among our governments, the private sector and academic institutions, including in such areas as the Fulbright-Garcia Robles program, EducationUSA educational advising services and language instruction. It complements President Obama’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative, which seeks to increase student mobility between the United States and the countries of the Western Hemisphere, including Mexico. It is also consistent with Mexico’s Proyecta 100,000 program that aims to send 100,000 Mexican students to the United States and to receive 50,000 US students in Mexico by 2018.
Through FOBESII, the U.S. and Mexico bring together government, the higher education community, the private sector, and civil society to promote workforce development, educational and research cooperation and encourage broader access to quality post-secondary education especially for traditionally underserved demographic groups, including women, and in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. They also aim to expand student, scholar, and teacher exchanges, promote language acquisition, increase joint research, promote workforce development and share best practices between the two countries.
Becalos at Alamo Colleges
In August 2012, the Alamo Colleges became the first U.S. community college to sign an agreementMemorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Universidad Tecnológica El Retoño (UTR) in Mexico. Soon after, other rectors and representatives from new Bilingual Technical Universities (BTU) met at Alamo Colleges and signed three new agreements. Under the framework of Becalos, Alamo Colleges and the BTU updated their MOUs in anticipation of further collaboration.
The SEP-Becalos Santander Universidades Exchange Program was a four-month long academic and professional development experience for 87 BTU undergraduates during the fall 2014 semester. Based on their academic profiles and professional aspirations, students were placed at one of the Alamo Colleges. The two overall goals of the Becalos program partnership are to increase the academic and practical knowledge of BTU undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and to increase cultural understanding and affinity between the United States and Mexico.
To achieve these goals, the following objectives were implemented: providing BTU students with a four-month academic program of at least two academic/technical courses in STEM-related fields; providing professional development opportunities for BTU students at local STEM-related companies or organizations; enrolling BTU students in contextual English as a second language (ESL) programs with particular focus on STEM-related vocabulary and themes; and providing opportunities for students to interact with Americans through a variety of formal and informal cultural activities.
To facilitate the transition into a U.S. academic and social environment, Alamo Colleges offered a two-week academic, professional, and personal development program for the students prior to their beginning their STEM-related academic classes. The EASE program also included an intensive ESL component.
Each student completed four courses during their exchange at Alamo Colleges. Two academic/technical courses in STEM- related fields were selected in advance based on the academic requirements of the respective university. Those two courses also determined which college the student would attend during the exchange. TSI assessment scores determined the third course each student would take as well as the appropriate English class the student would take. The fourth class involved the professional development experience through the participating college’s professional internship course. All students were enrolled in 12 academic credit hours.
The professional development experience component of the exchange was fulfilled by enrolling students in a professional internship course at each of the participating colleges. Students and professors met a minimum of once per week to discuss the course and its requirements. The professional internship course was a credit course and each instructor was responsible for assigning students to an appropriate company or organization by October of the fall semester. Each student worked a minimum requirement of 40 hours at their companies, as specified by the program. Some students worked up to 100 hours by the end of the internship.
The Alamo Colleges Office International Programs offered a set of cultural activities to complement the program goals and provide students with additional opportunities to interact with Americans and practice their English language skills through a variety of formal and informal cultural activities.
Two workshops were offered to all students to develop their leadership skills and provide them with an extraordinary opportunity to apply these new skills to their daily lives in order to become more successful academically and professionally. These were: the 7 Habits of Highly Successful College Students and Leadership and Communication with Ted Baartmans.
Students also participated in volunteer opportunities which allowed them to become active members of the San Antonio community and to give back to those in need, while also putting into practice many of their newly acquired skills. They participated in events at Habitat for Humanity and the San Antonio Food Bank.
An analysis of the program’s results indicates that the goals and objectives of the program were met. BTU students increased in their academic performance in STEM-related fields, as evidenced by their GPA’s. Further, the results indicate that there has been an increase in cultural awareness and understanding attained by these students that will contribute to the affinity between the United States and Mexico.
The Alamo Colleges has submitted an application to the Televisa Foundaiton to fund a second cohort of Becalos students for the Fall 2015-Spring 2016 academic year.