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UNC's Barbara Stephenson (left) and USFQ's Diego Quiroga (right) sign agreement to renew strategic partnership.
UNC’s Barbara Stephenson (left) and USFQ’s Diego Quiroga (right) sign agreement to renew strategic partnership.

Diego Quiroga, president of Carolina’s long-time strategic partner Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) in Ecuador, recently visited the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to join Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and other UNC-Chapel Hill leaders in reaffirming their commitment to the UNC-USFQ partnership and to the institutions’ joint activities in the Galápagos Islands.

At an April 4 ceremony, which the chancellor attended virtually, Quiroga and UNC-Chapel Hill Provost Chris Clemens and Vice Provost for Global Affairs Barbara Stephenson signed an agreement to renew the strategic partnership between the institutions. The partnership began in 2006 with collaboration between Stephen Walsh, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Geography at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Carlos Mena, professor of geography at USFQ and a Carolina alumnus.

“USFQ is one of our longest and strongest partners, and it’s been thrilling to see the relationship continue to grow and evolve the past two years, even as international travel was halted,” said Stephenson. “When you have a solid foundation built with a partner, these challenges don’t break you, they bring you closer together.”

Walsh and Mena’s relationship laid a strong base for multidisciplinary collaborative research and student engagement centered around the Galápagos Islands. The two universities dedicated the joint Galapagos Science Center (GSC) in 2011 and are celebrating the 10th anniversary this year. To conclude its anniversary celebration, the GSC is hosting the invitation-based “World Summit on Island Sustainability” from June 26-30, featuring UNC-Chapel Hill and USFQ leaders and speakers from across the globe. Prior to the summit, a Carolina delegation including Stephenson will visit USFQ’s main campus in Quito.

Three people stand looking at artwork on the walls of FedEx Global Education Center.
USFQ’s Carlos Mena and Diego Quiroga tour the Galápagos photo exhibit in the FedEx Global Education Center with Kelly Weaver of the Center for Galapagos Studies. (Photo by Andrew Russell)

During the visit, Quiroga, Mena and several USFQ researchers explored possibilities for future research collaborations and student engagement. They met with UNC-Chapel Hill faculty and staff who have been involved in the partnership, including the interim co-directors of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for Galapagos Studies Amanda Thompson, professor of anthropology and nutrition, and Diego Riveros-Iregui, Bowman & Gordon Gray Distinguished Professor of Geography.

“The Galápagos are a unique opportunity to do integrated, planetary research in a small space,” said Thompson in a separate interview. “They serve as a test case that we can expand from and apply to other places.”

The range of Carolina faculty engaged in the Galápagos and with USFQ reflects the diverse research undertaken and the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration, including anthropology, biology, geography, geological sciences, marine sciences and nutrition.

Since 2011, more than 200 Carolina students have studied in Galápagos programs, more than 200 UNC-Chapel Hill students have studied at USFQ’s main campus in Quito since 2004, and an exchange was started in 2009 to bring USFQ students to UNC-Chapel Hill. Since Fall 2020, UNC-Chapel Hill faculty in Romance studies, anthropology and education have also partnered with USFQ colleagues to link students virtually through Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL). Graduate students have also conducted research on the islands and other parts of Ecuador for theses or dissertations.

In recent years, the partnership has expanded beyond the Galápagos to collaborations in education, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, social work and dentistry in other parts of Ecuador. A number of UNC-Chapel Hill and USFQ faculty are adjunct professors at the other university, serve on graduate committees and co-teach study abroad programs.

By UNC Global

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