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Partners from Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador join OHIO in celebrating International Week (PHOTOS)


Joining Ohio University in an annual celebration of its rich global heritage was a South American university whose partnership with OHIO has resulted in life-saving research and whose growing collaborations with OHIO is positioning it as a Bobcat home in the Americas. 

Among the distinguished guests at this year’s International Week festivities was a delegation from Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE), led by PUCE Rector Dr. Fernando Ponce Léon. The delegation spent the week touring facilities on the Athens Campus as well as some of the local communities; engaging in discussions with OHIO administrators, faculty and staff; and participating in several International Week activities, including the popular International Street Fair.

Vice Provost for Global Affairs and International Studies Lorna Jean Edmonds and Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis welcome three of the five-member delegation from Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador to the Athens Campus.

(From left) Vice Provost for Global Affairs and International Studies Lorna Jean Edmonds and Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis welcome three of the five-member delegation from Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador to the Athens Campus. Members of the PUCE delegation pictured are Dr. Marleen Haboud, a linguistics professor and researcher; Dr. Graciela Monesterolo Lencioni, provost; and Rector Dr. Fernando Ponce Léon. Members of the delegation not pictured are Dr. César Eduardo Carrión, dean of the College of Communication, Linguistics and Literature, and Dr. Francisco Pérez Pazmiño, dean of the College of Medicine. Photo by Evan Leonard

Ohio University’s official partnership with PUCE dates back to 2000 and a joint-research project led by Dr. Mario Grijalva, a professor of biomedical sciences at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and director of OHIO’s Infectious and Tropical Disease Institute (ITDI). A native of Ecuador, Dr. Grijalva, partnering with colleagues both at OHIO and PUCE and working with faculty and students at both institutions, has dedicated much of his research to the elimination of Chagas disease, an infectious and deadly disease transmitted by the bite of the triatomine bug. 

The OHIO-PUCE partnership experienced a major turning point in June 2016 when the two universities joined together to open the Center for Research of Health in Latin America (CISeAL), a one-of-a-kind research and training facility providing opportunities for OHIO and PUCE faculty and students to conduct life-changing and life-saving health research. A delegation of Ohio University students, faculty and staff traveled to Ecuador to participate in the grand opening of CISeAL, which operates under the direction of Dr. Grijalva.

Mario Grijalva, professor of biomedical sciences at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, director of the Infectious and Tropical Disease Institute and the Center for Research of Health in Latin America, addresses those at the welcome reception.

Dr. Mario Grijalva, a professor of biomedical sciences at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, director of OHIO’s Infectious and Tropical Disease Institute and director of the Center for Research of Health in Latin America, addresses those attending the PUCE welcome reception. Dr. Grijalva noted that while formal relations between OHIO and PUCE began in 2000, they date back to 1989 when the founding members of what was then known as Ohio University’s Geographic and Tropical Disease Institute traveled to PUCE as their very first activity. “It is their work,” he said, “that allows us to be here.” Photo by Evan Leonard

Since 1999, more than 600 OHIO students have participated in study abroad and research programs in Ecuador, and more than 40 Ecuadorians now count themselves among the global network of Bobcat alumni. Over the past nearly 20 years, the OHIO-PUCE partnership has extended beyond the Heritage College to include the Center for International Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Health Sciences and Professions, and the Scripps College of Communication. 

Representatives from all of those academic units and more were on hand April 4 during a special International Week welcome reception for the PUCE delegation.

“This is a very special week at Ohio University and in Athens because we are just thrilled to have our friends from Ecuador here to celebrate International Week with us,” Lorna Jean Edmonds, OHIO’s vice provost for global affairs and international studies, said in welcoming everyone to the reception.

Dr. Edmonds was joined by Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, who told the delegation that the city of Athens was open to them, and by Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis. 

In addressing the group, Dr. Nellis thanked Dr. Grijalva and his colleagues both at OHIO and at PUCE whose work and interdisciplinary collaboration, he said, has been “truly transformative.”

“I think many of the key questions that we face in our world today and certainly in our United States as well as our local region are very interdisciplinary,” Dr. Nellis said. “It’s those interdisciplinary interfaces where we have the greatest opportunities for meaningful solutions.”

Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis delivers opening remarks at the welcome reception for the PUCE delegation.

Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis delivers opening remarks at the welcome reception for the PUCE delegation, saying, “Your visit is one of the highlights of our year.” Photo by Evan Leonard

“The OHIO-PUCE community partnership is making a difference, and it is a positive and progressive relationship that we have and that we are proud to be a part of,” Dr. Nellis continued. “This partnership and global partnerships generally are central to our mission…, and it is these kinds of initiatives that provide enormous and incalculable benefits.”

In a nod to some of the benefits of the OHIO-PUCE partnership, the welcome reception included the screening of a promotional video produced by graduate students in the first cohort of OHIO’s master of fine arts degree in communication media arts, a program that launched this past fall semester. The video, which was shown at last month’s Ohio University Board of Trustees meeting, was introduced by MFA Program Director and Associate Professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies Eric Williams and Neketa Forde, a professional documentarian from Guyana and a student in the program. Forde explained that the video was produced as a class project and features President Nellis who noted that the film illustrates “what happens when two great universities like PUCE and Ohio University work collectively together.”

Student Neketa Forde and Eric Williams, associate professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies and director of OHIO’s new MFA program, introduce the promotional video that highlights ITDI’s work in Ecuador.

Neketa Forde, one of two students who produced a promotional video for the Ohio University Infectious and Tropical Disease Institute (ITDI), and Eric Williams, associate professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies and director of OHIO’s new MFA program, introduce the promotional video that highlights ITDI’s work in Ecuador. Photo by Evan Leonard

Speaking on behalf of his colleagues and university, Dr. Ponce thanked members of the OHIO community for the opportunity to visit the Athens Campus.

“For us, this meeting is not only an honor but also a great opportunity for the mutual enrichment and strengthening of our relationship – one that grows as our institutions get to know each other better and share their ideals and realities,” Dr. Ponce said.

Dr. Ponce gave a presentation on PUCE, Ecuador’s first private university, which was founded in 1946. He shared with the group both PUCE’s priorities, summing those up with one his institution’s favorite sayings – “To be more in order to serve better” – as well as its challenges. 

“We are sure that Ohio University can help us be faithful to our identity and mission, and we offer our help to Ohio University to achieve the same,” Dr. Ponce said.

PUCE Rector Dr. Fernando Ponce Léon gives a brief overview of his institution during the April 4 welcome reception.

PUCE Rector Dr. Fernando Ponce Léon gives a brief overview of his institution during the April 4 welcome reception. Photo by Evan Leonard

The welcome reception concluded with an informal discussion, during which members of the PUCE delegation and the OHIO community reflected on OHIO-PUCE collaborations already underway and explored areas of mutual interest between the institutions.

Terri Hood-Brown, an assistant professor of nursing in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, took the opportunity to introduce herself to members of the PUCE delegation, noting that she will be accompanying a group of 15 OHIO students to Ecuador in June for a study abroad program. The 2.5-week program, designed for nursing and Heritage College students but open to all OHIO students, caters to students interested in learning about the intersection of community and clinical health and the practice of health care in another country in both rural and urban settings. Hood-Brown noted that three students participated in the program last year and the positive experience they had boost student interest in the program this year. 

Theresa Moran, an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the college’s Food Studies theme, shared a little about the innovative seed-saving collaborative work and research occurring amongst OHIO and PUCE faculty as well as community partners in both countries. OHIO’s Innovation Strategy awarded a team led by the College of Arts and Sciences’ Dawn Bikowski a $20,000 planning grant to study seed-saving initiatives in Athens, Ohio, and Quito, Ecuador. The study addresses a top priority identified by the United Nations and explores how seed saving can impact food sovereignty, food security and sustainable living. In December, a delegation of faculty from a few departments within the College of Arts and Sciences traveled to Ecuador to work on the study with their peers at PUCE. In January, their peers at PUCE visited OHIO to learn about seed-saving efforts in Southeast Ohio and to share what they’ve learned in their country.

In discussing future partnerships, Dr. Ponce emphasized a need for innovation and building new areas of interest from scratch, something he dubbed “Collaboration 2.0.” As an example, he mentioned the possibility of developing a master’s program focused on a global issue, such as health or the environment that could evolve in both countries.

Greg Newton, the Scripps College of Communication’s associate dean for graduate studies, research and creative activity, said he was struck by PUCE’s emphasis on innovation and shared with the delegation information on the Scripps Innovation Challenge. The University-wide competition calls upon students to create innovative solutions to real-world media and communication problems. 

Betsy Partyka, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Modern Languages, expressed interest in developing an OHIO-PUCE relationship that involves the humanities, noting her department currently does not offer a study abroad opportunity in Ecuador. Emmanuel Jean Francois, an associate professor of educational studies, noted his interest in forging a partnership between PUCE and OHIO’s Patton College of Education.

As OHIO and PUCE continue to develop opportunities for faculty and student exchanges, Mike Boyle, a senior scientist at OHIO’s Edison Biotechnology Institute, emphasized the need for immersive experiences that foster a greater sense of cultural sensitivity. 

Janet Duerr, an associate professor of biological sciences, advocated on behalf of OHIO students pursuing degrees in the fields of science who often struggle to be able to take advantage of the University’s rich study abroad opportunities due to their rigorous academic programs. Dr. Duerr suggested developing study abroad programs that incorporate required coursework these students need to graduate. 

Diane Cahill, director of operations for OHIO’s Office of Global Affairs and International Studies and interim director of International Student and Faculty Services, noted the importance of developing programs that include academics as well as community service. In doing so, she said, students, faculty and staff become more immersed in the communities, interact with people from different backgrounds and make connections they otherwise may not. 

Conversations concerning the future of the OHIO-PUCE relationship continued throughout the week, with Dr. Ponce aptly noting, “At first, I was seeing our connections as an arrival point. Now, I see them as a starting point.”

Members of the PUCE delegation and the OHIO community gather for a group photo on the second floor of Baker University Center.

Members of the PUCE delegation and the OHIO community gather for a group photo on the second floor of Baker University Center. Photo by Evan Leonard

Here are some additional photos taken during the PUCE delegation’s visit:

PUCE Rector Dr. Fernando Ponce Léon tries out some of the virtual and augmented reality equipment at Ohio University’s Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab.

PUCE Rector Dr. Fernando Ponce Léon tries out some of the virtual and augmented reality equipment at Ohio University’s Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab as John Bowditch, director and co-founder of the GRID Lab, looks on. Photo courtesy of the Office of Global Affairs

Members of the PUCE delegation and Ohio University community visit the Plant Biology Learning Gardens off West State Street.

Members of the PUCE delegation and Ohio University community visit the Plant Biology Learning Gardens off West State Street. Pictured (from left) are Christian Santiago Rodas Saa, an OHIO student who was serving as a translator; Clark Reed, an OHIO transportation associate; César Eduardo Carrión, dean of PUCE’s College of Communication, Linguistics and Literature; Francisco Pérez Pazmiño, dean of PUCE’s College of Medicine; Dawn Bikowski, director of OHIO’s ELIP Academic and Global Communication Program; Theresa Moran, an assistant professor in OHIO’s College of Arts and Sciences and director of the college’s Food Studies theme; Marleen Haboud, a linguistics professor and researcher at PUCE; PUCE Rector Fernando Ponce Léon; Graciela Monesterolo Lencioni, PUCE’s provost; and Ohio University students Julie Scott and Joy Kostansek. Photo courtesy of the Office of Global Affairs

Members of the PUCE delegation and Ohio University community gather for a group photo.

Pictured (from left) are: Lorna Jean Edmonds, OHIO’s vice provost for global affairs and international studies; Connie Patterson, assistant dean for engagement and outreach at OHIO’s Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education; César Eduardo Carrión, dean of PUCE’s College of Communication, Linguistics and Literature; Marleen Haboud, a linguistics professor and researcher at PUCE; Francisco Pérez Pazmiño, dean of PUCE’s College of Medicine; PUCE Rector Fernando Ponce Léon; Elizabeth Sayrs, OHIO’s interim executive vice president and provost; Joe Shields, OHIO’s vice president for research and dean of the Graduate College; Graciela Monesterolo Lencioni, PUCE’s provost; Matthew Shaftel, dean of OHIO’s College of Fine Arts; Scott Seaman, dean of Ohio University Libraries; and Mario Grijalva, a professor of biomedical sciences at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, director of OHIO’s Infectious and Tropical Disease Institute and director of the Center for Research of Health in Latin America. Photo courtesy of the Office of Global Affairs

OHIO President M. Duane Nellis, Vice Provost for Global Affairs and International Studies Lorna Jean Edmonds, and PUCE Rector Fernando Ponce Léon participate in the parade of flags at OHIO’s International Street Fair.

(From left) Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis, OHIO’s Vice Provost for Global Affairs and International Studies Lorna Jean Edmonds, and Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador Rector Fernando Ponce Léon participate in the parade of flags at OHIO’s International Street Fair on April 7. The International Street Fair capped off a week-long visit by the PUCE delegation and marked the end of OHIO’s annual International Week. Photo courtesy of OHIO’s Infectious and Tropical Disease Institute