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UST SEP Collaborates with Colombian Schools

Medellin, ColombiaTwo University of St. Thomas representatives visited Medellin, Colombia, on Aug. 11-15 to pursue a potential collaboration with four universities related to social entrepreneurship, service learning and corporate social responsibility.

Dr. Rogelio Garcia-Contreras, associate professor of international studies and director of the UST Social Entrepreneurship Program, and Dr. Ravi Srinivas, associate vice president of Academic Affairs and director of the Master in Liberal Arts program, met with Edgar Rodriguez, founder and director of an institutional alliance of four universities located in Medellin. The alliance is called Red de Emprendimiento Social Universitario de Medellin y Antoquia, or Red Suma.

St. Thomas Tapped for SEP Models

Dr. Rogelio Garcia-ContrerasRodriguez contacted St. Thomas to help Red Suma develop and implement social enterprise models for these universities.

“The idea is to help Red Suma develop something similar to what SEP has established with local field partners in marginalized communities around the world,” Garcia-Contreras said.

The Social Entrepreneurship Program at the St. Thomas is a student-run, service-learning, co-curricular program in which students practice the theories and techniques on development and poverty alleviation that they learn in the classroom. Students help identified, underprivileged communities ar

ound the world find and establish professional partnerships with local organizations; help raise funds; and later distribute these funds through microcredit programs.

Garcia-Contreras said the intention is to establish a collaboration with Red Suma institutions that goes beyond the exchange of resources and know-how, toward the implementation of concrete projects able to generate economic prosperity with social and environmental sustainability.

Red Suma institutions include University of St. Thomas in Medellin; University of St. Bonaventure, University of God’s Minute and the Metropolitan Institute of Technology. Three of these Universities are private Catholic universities like UST-Houston.

Collaboration in Progress with Red Suma

Dr. Ravi Srinivas

During the visit, Garcia-Contreras and Srinivas met with professors and administrators to learn about their programs, the expectations they have of Red Suma, and their particular interest in partnering with UST-Houston. They also met with a high ranked official of Ruta ɲ Medellin, a government-sponsored agency for scientific and technological innovation.

Garcia-Contreras was interviewed by the institutional TV channel of University of God’s Minute, and though connections at University of St. Thomas in Medellin, he became a guest on the popular TV show “Negocios en Telemedellin,” or Business in Telemedellin, interviewed about UST-Houston’s work in SEP and on the way UST will share information and establish collaboration with Red Suma. See the interview in Spanish.

UST and Red Suma to Offer Service Learning, Study Abroad

Aside from the collaboration to develop social enterprise projects around Medellin, Garcia-Contreras said the partnership between UST-Houston and Red Suma aims to establish service-learning and study abroad opportunities for UST students.

“These study abroad courses would include classes directly related to the nature of the projects designed for such marginalized communities in Medellin,” he said. “A variety of disciplines can take part of this study abroad or experiential learning opportunity.”

Garcia-Contreras said the goal is for Red Suma to have an opportunity send a group of Colombian students to visit UST Houston to take part in a bilingual two-week course on international development and social entrepreneurship during the summer or winter breaks for credit from the Center for International Studies.

“They would return to Medellin inspired by the experience of interacting with UST faculty and students, Houston community and business leaders, government officials supporting social causes, successful Colombian entrepreneurs and consular members,” he said.

Garcia-Contreras said the project is the result of years of work at SEP.

“The program is now in the position of sharing its experience and acting as a consultant agent for other institutions wanting to implement something similar in their own communities,” he said. “The opportunity is great, the possibilities, endless. This is just the beginning.”

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