Viva México! And viva IU!
If members of our delegation needed more evidence that the spirit of Indiana University and of the Hoosier state is alive and well in Mexico, the final day of our two-day sprint around Mexico City delivered it in MUY GRANDE fashion.
Here south of the border, Hoosier pride glistened like the bright Mexican sun — in the faces of bright-eyed IU students seizing the opportunity to show off their musical talents in front of an enraptured international audience; faculty finding a new forum for a lifetime of superb scholarship and research and experiencing, first-hand, its impacts on a global scale; and enthusiastic alumni eager to give back and reengage with a university that set them on a path to personal and professional success.
Our time in Mexico City also illuminated what also sets our state and its flagship university apart and puts us in rarefied air. Indeed, it reflected IU’s rapidly rising stature as an authentically global university, the Midwestern leader in this respect, that embraces the important role it plays in keeping our state and our nation out in front of today’s increasingly international and interconnected marketplace. Truly guiding all of our global engagement is a belief – to borrow from our legendary 11thpresident Herman B Wells – in bringing the world to Indiana and Indiana to the world. It also highlighted our renowned Hoosier hospitality, hard work, visionary spirit and practicality that – putting aside politics and the dominant headlines of the day – keeps our doors open to the best and brightest students from all around the world, as well as to successful businesses, business innovations and new entrepreneurial ideas that enhance our economic competitiveness, cultural diversity and overall quality of life.
Our time here also put into perspective what we’re witnessing all across our university and the communities around Indiana that we proudly serve. As IU President Michael A. McRobbie, who led our delegation to Mexico, outlined in his newest President’s Update letter to friends and members of the university community, our mission at IU has been to fill our state’s talent pipeline with graduates whose experiences in and out of the classroom have prepared them to make a major impact for their employers and in the environments in which they’re called to serve. To this end, nearly one-third of the roughly 8,000 students who made up our graduating class in Bloomington had participated in some form of study abroad by the time they arrived at commencement.
Our mission has also been to reflect our state’s increasingly diverse demographic and economic profile, which is why IU remains committed to keeping open the doors of educational opportunity to the best and brightest from every corner of the globe. Around 9,000 international students compose the fabric of our university, and they contribute unique and valuable cultural perspectives and experiences to our campuses. In doing so, they help transform IU’s living and learning environments into true training grounds for our students to become highly active, engaged and productive citizens of the world.
Thus the mission in Mexico over the last two days dovetailed neatly with IU’s larger international engagement strategy, which McRobbie has spearheaded with the support of schools, departments, centers and academic and cultural units all across our campuses that have worked to ingrain internationalization into almost every aspect of what they deliver to students and faculty. Monday saw the formal arrival of IU’s newest and fourth global gateway office – the IU Mexico Gateway – which will serve as an important point-of-contact for many of the university’s activities in Mexico and around a region of the world that continues to be strategically important to the success of the Hoosier state. (Check out these stories from IU’s Global Gateway Network, which also includes offices in Beijing, Berlin and New Delhi.)
There are more than 429,000 Latinos now living in Indiana, three-quarters of whom are of Mexican origin. They represent the fastest-growing and youngest segment of the state’s total demographic, and, not surprisingly, they have had a dramatic impact on the state’s business climate. Over a recent 10-year period, the number of Latino-owned businesses increased by almost 150 percent, from 5,482 in 2002 to well over 13,000 in 2012. Today, Mexico is our state’s second-largest trading partner, importing more than $5 billion in Hoosier-manufactured goods and products.
Once again, eschewing politics and popular debates over such important issues as free trade, immigration policy and border security, it’s abundantly clear that Indiana’s connection to this large and dynamic part of the world will continue to have an effect on our economic fortunes and cultural makeup regardless of what decisions are made in Washington and elsewhere. Certainly, IU’s involvement here will continue to grow, given the new connections we made on this trip, including with members of our swelling alumni ranks, enthusiastic partner universities and government, educational policy and other organizations seeking to engage us in projects and initiatives that promise to result in exciting new educational opportunities for our students, faculty and staff and enhanced visibility for our great state.
The power of education, philanthropy and personal relationships
It’s amazing how a few simple words can stick with you when you’re bustling from office to office, fighting traffic, meeting new people and taking in all sorts of new information – all in the span of a busy 48 hours and while adjusting to a new climate, culture and language. (Unfortunately, my four years of high school Spanish did little to help me on this trip – sorry Doña Tucker – though I don’t think I’ll tell that right now to my high school sophomore.)
Here in Mexico, the locals will readily inform you, personal relations are everything. More than anything else that was shared the last several days, this helped explain the overwhelming enthusiasm for IU’s new gateway office in Mexico City, which is embedded within the country’s largest and most prestigious university, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM. Indeed, it was easily evident how much our Mexican hosts valued seeing and hearing from us in person and knowing that we will have a year-round presence here through the gateway and the office’s excellent stewards, academic director Christiana Ochoa, who is also the associate dean for research and faculty affairs and professor of law at the IU Maurer School of Law, one of many schools seeking to explore greater connections with UNAM and Mexico, and office director Beth West, who will remain on the ground here after we leave and continue, under Ochoa’s guidance, exploring some of the new partnership opportunities discussed during the delegation’s brief, but productive, visit.
Of course, it’s considered universal language that personal relations are inextricable from philanthropy, which, appropriately, served as the theme of the IU delegation’s first of several successful meetings yesterday. Drawing upon insights gathered from the Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council at IU and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI, IU First Lady Laurie Burns McRobbie led a roundtable discussion on the impact of and the latest trends in women’s philanthropy, which included more than two dozen women who are leaders in business, education, finance, community engagement, information technology, communications and other important sectors of Mexican and Latin American society. For an early morning breakfast gathering, it was a most lively, interesting and engaging conversation about the differences in the U.S. and also here in Mexico between women’s and men’s motivations for giving, how women prioritize their volunteerism and investments and the impacts they’re making, and how they’re passing along philanthropic values to new generations.
The meeting also provided an opportunity for First Lady McRobbie to honor one of the many distinguished women in attendance, Marcela Orvañanos de Rovzar, a highly recognized leader in Mexican philanthropy and founder of several social and humanitarian organizations in Mexico and the U.S. Those organizations include Procura, A.C., the most prestigious training institute for fundraising and institutional development in Mexico, an organization that since its creation has trained over 25,000 individuals in Latin America, the Philippines and the U.S.
While President McRobbie and Christiana Ochoa met with members of the Procura board in a nearby room, IU’s first lady surprised a joyous and tearful Orvañanos with IU’s Women Leading the Way Award, an honor recently presented to the award-winning American actress Glenn Close, in recognition for her lifelong commitment to making positive contributions in philanthropic giving, ethical fundraising, female entrepreneurship, financial education and empowering others to give back.
Tuesday also offered time for President McRobbie, Vice President for International Affairs David Zaret, who was making his last presidential trip as IU vice president before he retires next month, and the entire IU delegation to gather important insights into the current state of U.S.-Mexican relations, especially with regard to student and faculty exchanges and other academic collaboration, and how they have been – or will be – impacted by recent developments here in Mexico, which is nearing the end of a presidential election that will culminate with a July 1 national vote.
To this end, the day included an informal sit-down with senior officials at the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations, or COMEXI; an hour-long chat with the deputy chief of mission, William H. Duncan, at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City; and a meeting with Rodolfo Tuirán Gutiérrez, Mexico’s under secretary of higher education, during which the government leader came prepared with a list of possible educational development and joint research projects, including several in the areas of effective teacher training and student preparation, that members of the IU delegation will explore in the coming weeks and months.
And despite a very tight schedule, delegation members managed to find time to break off and explore their cultural surroundings. To this end, while visiting the Ministry of Education building in the historic center of Mexico City, we toured a nearly 2,000-meter stretch of murals by the Mexican mural king himself and legendary painter Diego Rivera. One of the Rivera wall frescoes, a beautiful piece representing a cloth being died a vibrant shade of blue, brought us back to our day at UNAM and to the indigo cloth artwork that President McRobbie presented the university’s rector and that was designed by IU School of Art, Architecture + Design faculty member Rowland Ricketts.
El gran final – in celebration of the IU Mexico Gateway
Still I save the best for last.
As readers of past presidential trip blogs will know, one of the very top highlights of any of our overseas journeys is seeing our Hoosier students take full advantage of amazing opportunities made available to them far away from home. Having now met so many of these students, I can confidently tell you that these experiences can be life-changing. Equally gratifying is getting to know our growing ranks of graduates living and working abroad, who are, unquestionably, IU’s and Indiana’s greatest global ambassadors.
Tuesday evening, billed as a grand final celebration for the new IU Mexico Gateway office and IU’s nearly two-decades-long productive partnership with UNAM, delivered on both counts.
The night began on the historic UNAM campus, one of only a few campuses around the world to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, where the virtuoso instrumentalists who comprise IU’s New Music Ensemble, one of the standout groups housed at IU’s internationally renowned Jacobs School of Music, performed a rousing suite of songs in front of a standing-room-only and heavily Mexican audience, including members of UNAM’s acclaimed Faculty of Music. Directed by the celebrated composer David Dzubay, a professor of music composition in the Jacobs School, the 18-member ensemble gave a tight, inspiring and supremely professional performance that belied their youth.
(I’m hopeful to share some video of the performances soon. In the meantime, please take my word for it – these student-performers challenged the audience’s auditory senses with how they blended the traditional, the technological and the avant-garde. Also, keep an eye and ear out for baritone Zachary Coates, who delivered a memorably intense and playful singing performance during the final piece of the night, “The Nights of 1998,” a thrilling work depicting a night of debauchery in downtown Manhattan, composed by Jacobs doctoral student Christopher LaRosa, another individual artist to be sure to follow.)
The post-concert gathering was held at the Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones, or National Museum of the Interventions, a beautiful building that is located in a former monastery, which was built on top of an ancient Aztec shrine. The museum is dedicated to the military conflicts that have taken place on Mexican soil and how these have shaped the modern Mexican republic.
While at the reception, the student musicians intermingled with many beaming and prideful alumni gathered for one of the largest and most exciting gateway celebrations or any other type of global occasion that I’ve had the pleasure of attending. Roughly 200 former students, friends and other acquaintances – many sporting cream and crimson and sharing stories about their years at IU – were on hand for the occasion, which featured a few fun local twists, including a traditional Mexican mariachi band that led guests from the concert to the museum.
Among the distinguished guests in attendance were Roberto Salinas-León, president of the Mexico Business Forum and one of the most recognized names in economic policy in Latin America and the world. Salinas, folks in Bloomington might remember, delivered the university’s annual Patrick O’Meara International Lecture earlier this year. Several days ago, Salinas hosted the delegation at his beautiful home in the hills of Mexico City, where he spoke glowingly of his time spent in Bloomington, in particular, visiting with coach of the IU men’s soccer team, which is planning a major athletic event in Mexico City next spring, and immersing himself in the holdings at the IU Lilly Library, which he described, without a hint of exaggeration, as a “global treasure.”
Also at that dinner as well as Tuesday evening’s reception was Peter Tattersfield, a 1985 graduate of the IU Kelley School of Business who, as the energetic president of the IU Alumni Association’s Mexico chapter, has been instrumental in the university’s engagement in the region. Tattersfield, who grew up in Mexico City, has maintained close ties with his Hoosier roots since graduating from the university and, in recent times, the one-time Little 500 rider has welcomed prospective IU students to his home, helping to ease their concerns about college in the U.S. and selling them on an IU education, two efforts he says will be positively impacted by the new IU gateway office.
Tattersfield was joined in attendance by Nancy Pearson, a graduate of IU’s College of Arts and Sciences, who, after studying Spanish at IU and in Spain, eventually made Mexico her home. As vice president of IU’s Mexico alumni chapter, she has contributed countless hours to the success of IU’s engagement in Mexico.
And representing the ever-increasing impact of IU’s regional campuses was Mexican-born entrepreneur Isaac Torres, who came to IU South Bend in the mid-1990s to earn an MBA and also to learn English. While in Indiana, Torres, who also has an accounting degree from UNAM, developed an idea, part of an MBA class project, to help his fellow Latinos transfer money to their families outside the country. This led him to establish, in 1999, InterCambio Express, which has since grown into a multi-million-dollar financial services company that specializes in wiring funds from Hispanic foreign nationals in the U.S. to family and friends in Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Based in Elkhart, Ind., InterCambio Express now has 1,600 locations in 32 states, and it employs around 250 people, with half of those employees in Mexico and half in the U.S. His oldest son, Isaac, is following in dad’s footsteps as a business student at IU Bloomington.
Here’s Torres speaking about how IU South Bend helped him realize his dreams:
During the formal part of the event program, President McRobbie used the occasion to emphasize IU’s increasing engagement in Mexico and the surrounding region, illustrate the importance of the new gateway office as a hub for all of the university’s activities here and welcome a number of parents of current and former IU students.
He also called attention to the extensiveness of IU’s ties to Mexico, explaining that IU’s first graduate from Mexico was Josephia Amada Grima, who was originally from Matamoros and was also among the very first class of five students to graduate in 1917 from the IU School of Nursing.
“As I have said on many occasions, IU’s international alumni are among the most dedicated and loyal to their alma mater of any that I have encountered in my extensive travels, and this is true of our Mexican alumni. You are part of the spirit of Indiana University, and your successes are the university’s successes,” McRobbie said.
Making for the evening’s most heartwarming moment, McRobbie invited up to the front of the room Luis Niño De Rivera Lajous, who, as a student at IU in the late 1960s, was a member of IU’s tradition-rich men’s swimming and diving team. Under the legendary swimming coach, Doc Counsilman, IU earned six consecutive NCAA swimming championships from 1968 to 1973. Under the equally legendary Hobie Billingsley, who was IU’s diving coach from 1959 to 1989, IU athletes won more than 100 national diving titles.
Luis was among the first of those national champions. He won the U.S. National Diving Championship in the one-meter springboard event in 1967. A year later, he was elected co-captain of the team that won IU’s first NCAA swimming and diving championship. He represented Mexico in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics and in the 1967 and 1971 Pan American games.
The first president of the Latin American Student Association when he was at IU, he went on to a long and distinguished career in banking and finance, holding senior management positions at a number of banks and financial institutions. In 2002, he joined Banco Azteca, which began that same year with a mission to serve low- and middle-income customers who had been historically underserved by the traditional banking industry. Banco Azteca has since grown to become one of the largest banks in Mexico.
In honor of all of these accomplishments, President McRobbie presented Luis with the Thomas Hart Benton Mural Medallion, awarded to those who have provided meritorious national or international service to IU and who, in their work, have reflected the values and principles of the university.
Following the award presentation, there was time for one final musical performance, courtesy of 2004 IU Jacobs School alumnus William Harvey, who is now the violinist and concertmaster of Mexico’s National Symphony Orchestra, the country’s important classical music and symphonic ensemble and the second-oldest symphony in the Americas. Harvey punctuated his playing with a spirited “Viva Mexico!” that elicited loud cheers from everyone in attendance.
It was a fitting coda to a trip where many new and harmonious connections and lasting memories were made, where IU once let it loudly be known that the university’s impact is EVERYWHERE, and where the university, its people and the state we proudly represent made it also known that Mexico and Latin America will be an increasingly important focus of our collective internationalization efforts, as we work together to build a strong, prosperous and innovative Indiana.
Hasta luego, muchas gracias and thank you for reading, and see all of you soon back home in Indiana!