University of Illinois System President Tim Killeen launched an initiative Wednesday to expand connections with Mexico, seeking to increase enrollment of Mexican students as well as academic and research partnerships with universities, government agencies and private industry in Mexico.
The University of Illinois System Mexican & Mexican-American Students (I-MMÁS, pronounced I-MAS) initiative will provide life-changing educational opportunities for more Mexican students and create new, large-scale collaborations to foster innovation that will benefit the people of both Mexico and Illinois, Killeen said.
“This important initiative is rooted in the bedrock mission that we have carried since our founding – to open our doors wide, unlock the talents of every deserving student and create the next-generation workforce and innovation that paves the way to progress,” Killeen said.
The initiative will build on a long history of collaboration between the U of I System and institutions in Mexico, including agreements signed in 2016 when Killeen led a delegation of U of I trustees, faculty and administrators on a four-day visit to Mexico. That trip created a partnership with the Department of Health in Mexico City for diabetes and obesity research, and initiated funding from the Mexican Science and Technology Council to support doctoral studies for 10 Mexican students every year at U of I System universities.
Agreements also were signed with Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), the largest university in Latin America; Technológico de Monterrey, one of Latin America’s leading private universities; and the National Institute of Public Health that formalized years of cooperation and laid the groundwork for new partnerships.
Killeen said I-MMÁS seeks to bring more Mexican undergraduate and graduate students to the system’s campuses, providing opportunities for a world-class education while also enhancing the cultural diversity that benefits every student as they prepare for careers in an increasingly global workplace. During the 2018-19 academic year, the U of I System enrolled fewer than 50 of the nearly 16,000 Mexican students studying in the U.S. on student visas.
“I am delighted that our state’s flagship university system is leading the way to promote diversity and inclusion, reaching out to expand our ties with an important international partner,” said Trustee Ricardo Estrada, who joined the 2016 Mexican trip along with Trustee Ramón Cepeda. Estrada is president and CEO of Metropolitan Family Services in Chicago, a human services agency that is one of Illinois’ largest and seeks to strengthen families and communities.
I-MMÁS also will create mentoring and other programs to support Mexican students and promote their success. Through similar programs for students at large, the U of I System’s retention and graduation rates both outpace national averages.
In addition, the initiative will work with universities in Mexico to create new exchange programs that will provide international study opportunities for students from the system’s universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield.
I-MMÁS also seeks to expand partnerships between the U of I System and Mexican academic, research, government and private sector institutions to support faculty exchanges, collaborative research and workforce development training. That will include agreements between selected Mexican higher education institutions and the Discovery Partners Institute, a research and workforce-training initiative led by the U of I System.
The initiative will open the system’s first office ever in Mexico City. The office, scheduled to open in late 2021, will be located on the UNAM campus and will support student recruiting and alumni engagement, as well interactions with Mexican universities and the private sector.
I-MMÁS also will enhance ongoing efforts by the system’s three universities to increase Mexican-American enrollment. Latinx enrollment grew to nearly 17 percent of the more than 90,000 students enrolled system-wide last fall, matching the Latinx population in Illinois. Enrollment of Latinx undergraduates exceeds the statewide percentage at 21 percent, and has increased for 16 straight years.
The U of I System’s commitment to underrepresented students has also increased enrollment of Black undergraduates for eight straight years. Across the system, underrepresented students now account for 32 percent of undergraduates, nearly a third of total undergraduate enrollment.
Hundreds of faculty and staff have expressed interest in working to support I-MMÁS, and many are already serving on groups exploring core issues such as undergraduate and graduate student recruitment, mentoring programs and expanding partnerships.