A Fulbright to Colombia builds on years of Sara Garcia’s work here and in Mexico.
For educational psychologist Sara Soledad Garcia, when it comes to finding the right models for teaching and learning, context matters: the human dynamics and the knowledge that we construct as members of a society, in our particular place and time. “Innovation comes in many forms,” she says.
And often collaboration is key. In her case, collaboration meant, this past academic year, a short-term, intensive working visit to a university in Bogotá, Colombia, through the Fulbright Specialist Program.
Garcia is an associate professor of education in SCU’s School of Education and Counseling Psychology, where she created and co-directs the master’s program in interdisciplinary education. In October, her Fulbright grant took her to Universidad Colegio Mayor de Cundinamarca, a major public university in Bogotá. The specialist program, which supports visits of up to six weeks, promotes linkages between U.S. scholars and their counterparts overseas, with a focus on supporting the development needs of host institutions.
Colombia is emerging from decades of narcotics-fueled civil war; recent years have been a time of important transition, so Garcia’s work in Bogotá comes at a key time for a university taking stock and adapting its programs to a shifting society.
“We are changing constantly as institutions in the way we focus on human development and how we work with communities,” Garcia says. In Colombia, her approach included a focus on ethics and value systems and incorporating those into teaching, assessment, and research.
The drought in Chihuahua
While this was Garcia’s first trip to South America, it wasn’t her first Fulbright. In 2001, she was one of two scholars selected for the U.S.-Mexico Border Program. She developed a nine-month project in the Chihuahua region for teacher development in the public schools, working in collaboration with biodiversity researchers at the Instituto de Ecología there. She helped assemble teams of teachers from preschool to secondary schools who could build a model for teaching concepts related to the devastating drought faced in the region.
“My work also focused on how NAFTA was changing the society of the desert that I worked in,” she explains. Maquiladoras—factories in the free-trade zone of Mexico—were dumping toxins that seriously polluted the water.
The long-term Fulbright was also a kind of homecoming for Garcia. “I’m Mexican born. My parents immigrated when I was a child, so I was raised in California. To go back to Chihuahua was a big deal for me, since I had not been back for more than 40 years even to visit.”
The outcome of the work included collaboration for years following the fellowship. It led to a book, published in 2005 by the Instituto de Ecología: Ecological Education: Reflection and Praxis in the Context of Drought in Chihuahua.
Garcia hopes that the short-term Fulbright to Colombia will also be fruitful in the way it influences interdisciplinary research design for the public education system.
While in Bogotá, in addition to her work at the public university, Garcia met with officials of Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, the Jesuit university in Colombia. She hopes that her work will augment the connections already built there by Luis Calero, S.J., an associate professor of anthropology at Santa Clara, who hails from Colombia and has taught at the Pontificia’s campus in Cali.