March 24, 2015

SIU, Mexican university sign agreement

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A new agreement between Southern Illinois University and the Universidad de Monterrey (UDEM) in Monterrey, Mexico, will create enhanced educational experiences for students and a variety of other benefits. 

UDEM officials recently toured SIU’s campus, the School of Architecture and its Interior Design Program.  Recently, a Memorandum of Understanding, which originated with the Interior Design Program, was signed between the two institutions that calls for cultural and educational exchanges. The agreement facilitates the exchange of students and faculty and other collaborative ventures. 

“The world is shrinking and international experiences and cultural exposure are very important to our students,” Walter Wendler, director of the School of Architecture, said. “Our goal is to ensure our students have every opportunity possible to obtain international exposure and experiences and we believe these agreements will enable that to happen. Initially, we are looking forward to student exchanges but eventually we anticipate exchanges of faculty and working together in other ways.” 

The UDEM delegation included Alejandra Yanez-Vega, head of foreign studies and international programs and Mariela Gonzalez-Gomez, director of the interior design program. Representing SIU were Andy Wang, dean of the College of Applied Sciences and Arts; Wendler; Craig Anz, associate dean and associate professor; Melinda LaGarce, interior design program director and associate professor; Jasmine Winters, academic adviser; and Rolando Gonzalez-Torres, associate professor. Gonzalez-Torres was instrumental in connecting the two universities initially. 

A delegation from SIU visited UDEM last fall, touring its workshops and labs and exploring the state-of-the-art Centro Roberto Garza-Sada de Arte Arquitectura Y Disenyo. Also known as the Gate of Creation, the unique six-story concrete structure was designed by Tadao Ando and features very modern accommodations, digital facilities, labs and much more, LaGarce said. 

LaGarce said details regarding curriculum pairings are still being finalized but that student exchanges can likely begin as soon as the spring 2016 semester. Instruction in the interior design and architecture programs at UDEM, a campus with an enrollment of more than 12,000, can easily be tailored so it is offered in English, as needed, making the transition easier for SIU students, she said. 

Another of the benefits of the collaboration involves tapping into the SIU Interior Design Program’s connections with the large Chicago network of global design firms, LaGarce said. A significant number of the students in SIU’s program are from the Chicago region and the SIU faculty members have strong professional ties to the windy city, resulting in excellent internship and job placement prospects for SIU students, and in turn the new international partners, she said. 

LaGarce also noted that although the agreement originated with the Interior Design Program, the connections will expand to include other elements of the School of Architecture, including architecture and fashion design, and later perhaps other units at SIU.  

In addition, SIU also recently signed a collaboration pact with Tecnologico de Monterrey, another institution of higher education based in Monterrey. There are more than 14,500 full-time students enrolled on the Monterrey campus and a total of more than 91,000 students enrolled at campuses around Mexico. LaGarce said this collaboration also involves the exchange of students, faculty and shared learning. 

This shared learning has already begun, she said, via online communication between students from Monterrey Tech and students in the senior architecture classes taught by Gonzalez-Torrez and by Michael Brazley this semester. Some of the Monterrey students have visited the SIU campus and the students from the two countries are simultaneously working on architecture projects pertaining to energy conservation and production.  The students are plugging in to share knowledge and ideas using technology in Morris Library’s smart rooms.  These shared learning experiences will continue and expand in time, LaGarce said.