Ministers and High Authorities of Science, Technology and Innovation from Latin America and the Caribbean visit the University of Illinois
During the week of March 17–21, 2014, the University of Illinois, in collaboration with the Organization of American States (OAS), hosted the first iteration of the “Executive Immersion Program”. Over the course of three days, ministers and high-level government officials from the Ministries and Councils of Science and Technology of several Latin American and Caribbean countries visited the University of Illinois. Guided by the program’s principals and the University’s expert researchers, delegates were afforded a firsthand look at and experience with some of the most advanced technologies in the world. The program also served as a good opportunity for all involved to collectively reflect on how these tools could be used to spur development and to build new partnerships.
Participants included: The Honorable Jerome K. Fitzgerald, Minister of Education, Science and Technology of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas; Mr. Santiago Núñez-Corrales, Director of Research and Technological Development at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Telecommunications (MICITT) of Costa Rica; Dr. Felix Augusto Campos Martín Farías, Director of Information and Communication Technology of the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology (MESCYT) of the Dominican Republic; Mr. Milton Abel Sandoval Guerra, Executive Director for Research and Development of the National Council for Science and Technology (CONCYT) of Guatemala; Ms. Misty Raquel Ramos Argüello, Director of Science and Education for the Nicaraguan Council of Science and Technology (CONICYT); Mrs. Claudia Guerrero, Director of International Technical Cooperation for the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation of Panama (SENACYT) and Shaliza Mohammed, Senior Specialist of Science and Technology the Ministry of Science and Technology of Trinidad and Tobago.
“The purpose of the Executive Immersion Program is to build stronger relationships between the Organization of American States, the University of Illinois, and the Ministries and Councils of Science and Technology in Latin America and the Caribbean” explained Dr. Scott Poole, Director of the Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Science (I-CHASS). “We want to make all parties aware of the different resources everyone has to offer, and in turn encourage long-lasting international collaboration for economic and social empowerment in the Americas.”
Dr. Poole also explained that Latin America and the Caribbean have some of the fastest growing economies in the world. Through the Office of International Studies and Programs, the University of Illinois can remain connected to the Southern hemisphere by building strong programs to support young Latin American researchers and continuing to collaborate with OAS. Dr. Poole also said that “the Executive Immersion Program definitely positions the University of Illinois as a leader in these sorts of international outreach efforts”.
Mr. Danny Powell, Executive Director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, also highlighted the importance of the program from a development standpoint: “In today’s world, the key issues we deal with are increasingly global in nature – climate change, environmental management, food security, economic development, public health, etc. Finding solutions to these problems requires that researchers, educators, and policy makers from across the world find better ways to collaborate. OAS-ARTCA realizes this, and has very effectively established the Executive Immersion Program to help move these discussions along, and find the types of partnerships that can work to find the solutions that are much needed.”
The delegates toured four of the main research institutes of the University of Illinois: the Prairie Research Institute, the Beckman Institute, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), and the Institute for Genomics Biology. Delegates also interacted with faculty from the College of Engineering and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Each institute and college offers extensive international outreach programs and participants were able to identify appropriate partners for projects that met the national priorities of their countries.
Participants visited Blue Waters, one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world and the fastest supercomputer on a university campus. They met with researchers at the Advanced Visualization Laboratory (AVL), which creates high-resolution, data-driven scientific visualizations that can after be displayed in digital full-dome planetariums, IMAX theaters, and documentary television. Delegates also interacted with students of the SPIN Program (Student Pushing Innovation) to see how their research frames the world of tomorrow.
Mr. Cesar Parga, Chief of the Section of Competitiveness, Innovation and Technology of the Department of Economic and Social Development of the OAS underlined the effort and investment that both the University of Illinois and officials of countries attending the program made to make the exchange program possible. “The OAS supports initiatives that help countries engage in policy dialogue and share best practices in key areas of the economic and social development agenda, such as innovation. The Executive Immersion Program serves as a catalyst to facilitate further collaboration among OAS member States and with the University of Illinois, reaching other stakeholders in the region, to work on projects that can contribute to improving the quality of life of citizens of the Western Hemisphere. In that sense, the OAS is very proud to be part of this initiative.”
Claudia Guerrero, Director for International Affairs of the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation of Panama, said she felt immediately impressed when she walked into NCSA and the Beckman Institute. She felt “a sincere willingness from the faculty members and the directors to collaborate with Panama”. She said that “making connections with people at the University of Illinois was especially helpful due to their greater experience with locating resources for projects, may they be financial, technological, expertise, or other.
Another participant, The Honorable Jerome K. Fitzgerald, Minister of Education, Science and Technology for the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, expressed his interest in pursuing collaborations with the College of Agriculture, among others. He said: “I am glad that I was able to come to the program in person instead of sending a representative. It is one thing to have someone come back and explain to you what they’ve experience, and another to come and see the facilities for yourself. I can say that from a policy-development stand point this experience has been very beneficial.”
At the end of their 3 day experience, participants received a certificate from the University of Illinois during a closing ceremony. Certificates were signed and handed by Dr. Bryan E. Endres, Interim Associate Provost for International Affairs of the University of Illinois. Participants appreciated this initiative and strongly encouraged the University to host a second iteration of the program in 2015.
The Executive Immersion Program was created in collaboration with the Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (I-CHASS) of the University of Illinois, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Illinois International Programs and Studies, the Organization of American States, and the Advanced Research and Technology Collaboratory for the Americas (OAS-ARTCA). I-CHASS extends special thanks to the OAS Office of Competitiveness, Innovation and Technology, whose long-term relationship with the University of Illinois made this Program possible.