By Peter Tase
In October 20-22, 2013, Notre Dame University and the Global Engineering Deans Council hosted the GEDC 2013 Chicago Conference with the participation of the top leadership from the National University of the East (UNE) in Paraguay, as one of the 45 delegations of engineering deans from across the globe.
The delegation of UNE was led by its Chancellor, Prof. Dr. Victor Brítez Chamorro, the Director of International Affairs Rolando Segovia; Dean of Agricultural Engineering, Ing. Rafael Vázquez Torres; and the Dean of the Polytechnic College, Lic. Lidia Graciela Benítez de Pérez. The Paraguayan Delegation was, perhaps, the only one who had to pay its own travel expenses due to major cuts in the university’s budget implemented by the Paraguayan Senate for the 2014 Fiscal Year. UNE is expected to maintain its doors open for the upcoming academic year even though the Senate has not approved the required funds that are designated towards the facilities management and purchase of supplies for engineering labs, classroom equipment and payment of utility bills. According to Chancellor Brítez, “in Paraguay only 2,4 percent of the Annual National Budget is intended towards the public universities across the country in order to prepare new professionals, stimulate investigation and innovation.”
In an interview for ABC Color in Asuncion, Prof. Brítez added that “the amount of USD 4.820 per year awarded to every student in a public university is very little if we pretend that from these universities we are aiming to contribute to our national development and raise a young generation of highly qualified professionals. In our nation’s private universities it is estimated that over USD 6.266 is spent for every student.”
According to Prof. Maria Victoria Zavala, “Paraguay has a long way to go in further improving research and development practices in public universities, even though the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) has worked tirelessly to improve the current state of research. However the National University of the East, through its distinct academic units and Colleges, has embarked in a serious journey to strengthen and make significant advancements in the fields of research and promoting cutting edge technology in its campus.” A tremendous contribution in this area of study is the opening of the Master’s program in Scientific Investigation, in order to increase the number of trained human resources and raise the bar of excellence in this premier public university in the heart of South America. Through the implementation of this master’s program Chancellor Britez “expect[s] it to bring new standards in research and methodology in the region.”
Given these unusual financial constraints at a time when UNE is celebrating its XX anniversary; this premier institution has demonstrated for the second time in one year – UNE’s delegation led by Dean Rafael Vázquez was also present at the World Engineering Education Forum, October 15-18 in Buenos Aires – that it has truly become Paraguay’s First Global University.
The topic for this year’s GEDC Conference was “Online Digital Education and Transformed Faculty Roles.” For over two days global engineering education leaders focused their discussion on how to make engineering education a more effective and attractive experience while using cutting technology practice including blended learning and MOOCS. Some of the keynote speakers where: C. D. Mote, Jr., President of U.S. National Academy of Engineering; Seeram Ramakrishna, Professor and Former Vice President of National University of Singapore; Tae-Eog Lee, Dean of Education for the 3.0 Initiative at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and John J. Tracy, Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President of Engineering, Operations & Technology of The Boeing Company.
The event was held at the Palmer House, Chicago’s best architecture example and symbol of civil infrastructure. The Palmer House is the United States’ oldest hotel in continual operation and one of the world’s last remaining “Grand Hotels.” The building was a wedding gift of Potter Palmer, a Chicago businessman, to his wife Bertha; it was built in the subsequent years after the great Chicago Fire in 1871 and opened its doors 1873. Many US Presidents, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have frequently visited this hotel.
In addition to actively participating at the conference sessions, Chancellor Brítez had various meetings at the Palmer House, with International university leaders such as Satish Udpa, Ph.D. Executive Vice President for Administrative Services at Michigan State University; Uriel Cukierman, Dean of Engineering at Palermo University in Argentina; Jaime Bonilla, Dean of Engineering at Tecnológico de Monterrey – Mexico; and Dr. Hans J. Hoyer, Secretary General of IFEES and Executive Secretary of GEDC, headquartered at Marquette University. Dr. Britez had also a memorable meeting with the current and former Presidents of the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies – IFEES.