University of Texas at Dallas: Public Affairs Students Gain New Perspectives in Exchange Program

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As part of a summer exchange program, three graduate students from the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences (EPPS) at The University of Texas at Dallas spent a week in Mexico City in July learning about Mexican government administration and economic development.

In return, UT Dallas hosted students from Mexico City’s Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE), a research and academic institution focused on social sciences and public policy in Mexico.

While in North Texas, students from both CIDE and UTD visited the UT Dallas Office of Facilities and Economic Development and the city governments of Dallas, Plano, McKinney and Allen; attended lectures and events; and toured Dallas-Fort Worth attractions, including Trinity Groves, Legacy West, NorthPark Center, the Bishop Arts District, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and the Office of Counsulate General of Mexico in Dallas.

In Mexico City, students attended lectures and got behind-the-scenes looks at the city’s government administration and its finance department. Students also visited the cities of Toluca, where they learned about skills certification for municipal workers, and Puebla, where they got an inside look at municipal public finances.

The exchange was fashioned to introduce students to issues of financial inclusion, urbanization and sustainability in Mexico and the U.S. It was made possible by a grant that Dr. Meghna Sabharwal, a UT Dallas professor of public and nonprofit management, received from the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund. The organization, a collaboration among the U.S. Department of State, U.S. embassies and Partners of the Americas, encourages U.S. universities to partner with higher education institutions in Latin America on projects related to economic advancement, entrepreneurship, technology, workforce development and other areas.

Providing opportunities to experience global engagement is one of the most valuable learning experiences UT Dallas can provide to its students, Sabharwal said.

“The UTD-CIDE exchange benefited our students’ educational and career trajectories, as well as provided them with a deeper understanding of issues related to global governance,” she said.

The EPPS students who participated were Jonathan Craig Richards, Ali Alirezaieyan BS’21 and Sabrine Oujout BA’21, all public affairs master’s students. Oujout is also studying public human resources management.

Oujout said that in addition to gaining new perspectives on Mexican governance, she also appreciated the cultural differences between the neighboring countries.

“Mexico was so lively and colorful,” she said. “It was just awesome seeing that in person, then seeing how much the culture affects the way the Mexican government runs.”

“It was refreshing to hear students from CIDE ask questions about how we operate our economic development programs, which gave us new insights into how we can improve the outcomes of our economic development initiatives.”

Teodoro Benavides, associate professor of practice in public and nonprofit management at UT Dallas

Richards, who spoke no Spanish before the trip but now plans to take lessons, said that the UTD students formed closer bonds with one another while making new friends across the border.

“They were so welcoming and so nice,” he said.

Teodoro Benavides, associate professor of practice in public and nonprofit management who also went on trip, said he was interested in the similarities in issues faced by both the U.S. and Mexican governments.

“I was very pleased to see the cities in Mexico were having the same challenges as cities in the United States in creating economic development within their communities and validating that their incentives were having the desired results,” he said. “It was great to learn from their similar experiences.”

The input and presence of the CIDE students was invaluable as well, Benavides said.

“It was refreshing to hear students from CIDE ask questions about how we operate our economic development programs, which gave us new insights into how we can improve the outcomes of our economic development initiatives,” he said.

Dr. James Harrington, associate professor and program head of public and nonprofit management, also attended the trip and said the exchange gave the UT Dallas students a better understanding of both the theory and practice of economic development in an international context.

“During our time in Mexico, we attended world-class seminars with leading experts, toured awe-inspiring cultural sites such as the Basilica Cathedral of Puebla and Cosmovitral Botanical Garden,” he said. “Without a doubt, we made lifelong friends from this trip.”

Sabharwal said she and her colleagues will continue to pursue future grants from the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund to support exchanges with institutions in other Latin American locales.

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