Associate Professor Anna Nogar of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at The University of New Mexico and former UNM Mexico Studies Chair Lorena Ojeda-Dávila, professor at the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, recently collaborated on a project that brought together students from UNM and Mexico to foster international conversation and cultural exchange and gave participants a chance to interact across borders despite pandemic restrictions.
Nogar’s teaching and research specializations include Mexican American cultural and literary studies, colonial Mexico, New Mexico, and community oral histories. She is the award-winning author of Quill and Cross in the Borderlands: Sor María de Ágreda and the Lady in Blue, 1628- the Present, a study that examines nearly 400 years of history, literature and lore concerning the 17th-century bilocating Spanish nun Sor María de Jesús de Ágreda.
Ojeda Dávila was named Mexico Studies Chair by the UNM Latin American and Iberian Institute in 2019. This position was jointly established by UNM and the Fulbright-García Robles program as part of an agreement between the LAII and COMEXUS, the U.S.-Mexico Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange. A nonprofit organization founded in 1990, COMEXUS represents a binational effort between the U.S. and Mexico to promote educational and cultural exchange for students, faculty, and researchers from both countries.
The Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) program is an approach to online international collaboration that fosters cultural interaction and parity between both parties, where faculty from two cultures work together to develop a shared syllabus, emphasizing experiential and collaborative student learning. The courses give new contextual meaning to the ideas and texts they explore, while providing students new venues in which to develop their cross-cultural awareness, Nogar explained.
Nogar, Ojeda-Dávila, and their students participated in a specific COIL implementation, the Programa de Internacionalización Curricular US-México (PIC US-Mexico), the Program for International Curricular Implementation between the United States and Mexico. This particular program is sponsored by the United States Embassy in Mexico, Banco Santander, and the Asociación Mexicana para la Educación Internacional (Mexican Association for International Education).
The classes from Mexico and UNM met for four weeks during the Spring 2021 semester and were conducted mostly in Spanish. Students began contributing videos introducing themselves in Spanish and/or English before the classes.
“Students were aware from the first day in each of our classes that this collaboration was a main feature of the course,” Nogar said, adding, “In my class, I have students from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Latin American and Iberian Institute, at the M.A. and Ph.D. levels. It helps a great deal that all the students are bilingual and most of them bicultural, so they benefitted from these ongoing conversations and from the connections they fomented through the course.”
“We thought, given the difficulties and limitations of the past year, that this collaboration would provide students with the opportunity to get to know each other, their studies, and cultures through a very accessible platform, in spite the inability to travel in person. It also provided Dr. Ojeda-Dávila and me with the opportunity to work together and get to know our research and teaching interests. Students have responded enthusiastically to the course,” Nogar continued.
Guests speakers included retired Distinguished Professor of American Studies and former director of UNM Center for Regional Studies A. Gabriel Meléndez, who discussed his book Hidden Chicano Cinema; Assistant Professor of Southwest Studies Karen Roybal from Colorado College, who led a conversation about her book Archives of Dispossession; and UNM Distinguished Professor Emeritus Enrique Lamadrid, who discussed ethnographic research involved in two of his books, Hermanitos Comanchitos and Nación Genízara.
In the last session, students shared insights into their final projects and research and the course collaboration. They were keen and engaged, Nogar noted, and time for questions and discussion after each session had to be extended. Participants shared thoughts about the class online afterwards.
"Going into the school-year amidst a pandemic, I did not think an international education was possible. I was so pleasantly surprised by the success of the program, and it was refreshing to hear such a wide range of perspectives," said Victoria Peña-Parr, teaching assistant and graduate student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
“El proyecto COIL es un ejemplo de cómo se puede trascender las fronteras. Un espacio de colaboración cultural en un momento de la historia de la humanidad, que pareciera que estamos más lejos que nunca,” said Universidad Michoacana student Luis Pablo Pedraza. (“The COIL project is an example of how you can transcend borders. A space for cultural collaboration at a time in human history in which we seem to be father away from each other than ever.”)
“I think this class provides them with a taste of what an in-person international collaboration could look like, while providing them with the tools and means to establish such a connection. From my perspective, it has helped students find new perspectives on the course materials, their research projects and even to the study of Spanish language, literature and culture,” Nogar remarked.