Western New Mexico University was host to 110 youth from Sinaloa and Sonora, Mexico, for the Winter 2017 Language Institute on Dec. 4-8, 2017.
During the weeklong course, the group of high school students and college-aged youth stayed on campus, sampled some of WNMU’s offerings and the area’s cultural and natural assets. Their itinerary included experiences at local radio stations, museums and art galleries. The students were also introduced to welding and drone technology at WNMU and toured the greenhouse in WNMU’s natural sciences department.
Participants came from Colegio Lux, Colegio Sor Juana, Colegio Progreso, Universidad del Fuerte, Universidad de Los Mochis and Universidad del Occidente—all private institutions.
“Bringing students who can afford tuition is strategic. We invite them for short visits with the hope that they will come complete a full degree here,” said Manuel Rodriguez, who is the director of WNMU’s Language Institute. “A degree from an American institution adds value to what they want to do down in Mexico, and we are enticing these institutions to look at WNMU as an education destination for Latin America. We have seen a lot of interest in returning to WNMU.”
All the students were placed into English classes according to their language skills determined through a test WNMU administered in Mexico this fall.
Teaching the students were Kathy Sorells, Larry Martinez, Anna Dagget, Grecia Rivas, Ann Timmons and Dr. Eric Ockerhausen.
One of Martinez’ students, Gisel Castro Vega from Universidad de Los Mochis in Sinaloa is in her third semester as an agriculture student and heard about the Winter 2017 Language Institute through her school, which has a formal partnership with WNMU.
“It surprised me the offerings this university has. I never expected that I would do the things that I did this week,” she said, mentioning welding in particular. “I sent my mom my pictures and told her I learned a lot. She’s happy to send me here. She’s glad for the opportunity to connect with this university. It’s a big opportunity. I had a lot of friends who wanted to come and couldn’t come,” she said.
Vega said she likes the WNMU campus, the teaching tools it employs and the Language Institute’s instructors. She said she hopes her friends who couldn’t make the trip last week can visit another time and added that she is looking exploring other educational opportunities at WNMU. “I feel comfortable and accepted. I would like to come here again. I feel like it’s a home here,” she said.
Brandon Lee Espinoza Montoya, also from Universidad de Los Mochis, is a fourth-year agriculture student looking for a master’s program. “This university came and offered us this trip to reinforce our English pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. I thought it was a good way to explore other universities for a graduate degree,” he said. “It showed me there is a possibility of getting a degree here in the United States. Most think it’s impossible — out of their reach — but it is possible.”
WNMU instructor Martinez said the group was enthusiastic about learning. “It’s great to see this number of students here, and maybe they will finish their studies here,” he said.
The laborious ordeal of bringing so many students to campus is worth the effort, Martinez said. Through courses like this, WNMU is able build and keep beneficial relationships with Mexican universities. “It’s quite a feat, but it works good both ways,” he said.
Dr. Eric Ockerhausen, who has taught ESL at the WNMU Language Institute for three years, said these experiences offered last week gave students the chance to see the differences and similarities between their cultures and ours. “I’ve had students from Los Mochis, but these were my first from Sonora. I got to learn about where they live, what they eat and what their day-to-day looks like in Mexico.”
He said the high school students he taught this week had higher language skills than any other class he has taught. The students also got to interact with the community more than usual. “This group was on the radio, sharing what they want to do with their lives,” he said.
What Ockerhausen sees in their faces is potential. “The future of Mexico is bright. If we work together, we could make everything better for both their country and ours. It demonstrates we need to build bridges not walls,” he said.
The week’s academic experiences wrapped up with a Mariachi performance in Miller Library and luminaria lighting ceremony Thursday night. A graduation ceremony and luncheon officially closed the winter 2017 Language Institute Friday afternoon.
Senator Howie Morales spoke at the closing ceremony. After noting the smiles and relief on each Mexican student’s face, he congratulated WNMU on having the vision to bring these young people to campus. “Western has shown that education has no boundaries, and connections have no limits.”