Once touted as “The University of the Americas,” UNM has a mission to reach out to Latin America. Mary Anne Saunders, special assistant to the president on global initiatives, is putting that mission on the map. After establishing an office in Beijing, China, UNM is poised to open an office in Mexico City. The City of Albuquerque and UNM are partnering in a site that will be used for educational and trade purposes.

In a visit to Mexico City last May, Saunders, President Bob Frank and Vice President of Student Affairs Eliseo “Cheo” Torres were encouraged by U.S. embassy officials to develop a larger presence there. 

“The visits confirmed the existence of many opportunities in both trade and education in Mexico,” Saunders said. She is a member of 100,000 Strong in the Americas, an initiative launched by President Obama in 2011 to increase international study in the Western Hemisphere. She also participates in the U.S./Mexican Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research (FOBESII).

Saunders recalled Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Mexico in the fall. “He made it clear that establishing educational and trade connections with our southern neighbor is important for both countries and the White House,” she said.

In his speech to the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Biden said, “For the first time in all of our lives, looking at the entire Western Hemisphere, it is possible to envision a hemisphere that is middle class, democratic and secure…The rise of the Mexican middle class, more than 40 million, has not only bettered the lives of the Mexican people but it has created incredible opportunities inside of Mexico and outside of Mexico…Our border is the site of more than a billion dollars a day in trade.  But is there any reason why -- is there any one of you businessmen or women in here can't rationally picture 10 years from now that being $2 billion?”

He added, “There are steps where each of us can take to drive growth and innovation on both sides of the border.  We are convinced that innovation flourishes where people can breathe free air as they do in Mexico and America, where they have a court system that's free of corruption and adjudicates disputes fairly, where intellectual property is protected.”

Saunders said that embassy representatives in both Mexico and Washington, D.C. see UNM as a good partner. “And, Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de León [Consul of Mexico in Albuquerque] is a strong supporter,” she said.

UNM officials and others have been exploring ways to increase the enrollment of Mexican students at UNM. UNM recently hosted a group of leaders from a consortium of private universities and institutes in Mexico, AIESPEM. President Bob Frank signed documents with Iztel Carmona, president of AIESPEM.

He said, “We are excited to expand partnerships by opening an office in Mexico City, developing programs to expand study abroad and exchange programs and increase partnerships with Mexican colleges and universities.” The partnership will allow for discounted tuition for students from Mexican partner institutions, he added.

Saunders, who wants the office open by July 1, is in the process of identifying potential candidates for manager of academia for the Mexico City office. “The office will be used to recruit Mexican students to UNM, and to support sending UNM students to safe places in Mexico to study abroad. We want the office to develop relationships with Mexican universities and with the embassy,” she said.  

“Research opportunities in Mexico should be of interest to faculty, while students with financial restraints will find Mexico an inexpensive yet valuable place to go for study abroad,” she said.

“Establishing a recruitment pipeline takes about 18 months to build,” Saunders said. “We should see a small increase by fall of 2015,” she added.

Mexican institutions have expressed interest in English language instruction, which is a core mission of CELAC, UNM’s Center for English Language and American Culture, a department within the Global Education Office.

Saunders is hopeful that UNM will be submitting grant proposals, due April 1, to 100,000 Strong in the Americas. A proposal, if funded, could provide up to $25,000, and must demonstrate how the institution will “assert leadership to implement the innovations proposed, address on-campus barriers to academic mobility and how it will commit to making concrete changes to expand access to study abroad.” Up to eight awards for the 100K Strong Americas Innovator grants will be issued to higher education institutions in the western hemisphere, according to their website.

“Mexico is a strategic partner. We share a significant border and culture. The time is right to do this,” Saunders said.