From left: Nadia Alvarez Mexia and Ismaylia Saucedo with Leonardo German Gandarilla, Nubia Felix and Adrian Arroyo, key collaborators in the international partnership building activities.
Nadia Alvarez Mexia and Ismaylia Saucedo grew up close to each other in Mazatlán, a historic city on Mexico's Pacific Coast known for its centuries-old landmarks and long, sandy beaches.
Growing up in the same neighborhood on the same block, and raised by families of similar socioeconomic means, Alvarez Mexia and Saucedo became friends fairly quickly, attending nearby private schools. Eventually, they opted to study at the same college. With Saucedo's support, Alvarez Mexia decided to pursue a master's degree in management and information systems at Tec de Monterrey, Campus Mazatlán. They graduated together in 2000.
"There were always some jokes about us, so we always identified ourselves as helping each other, as we grew up with the same kind of experience," Alvarez Mexia recalls.
"Our parents share the same idea about education, and this was the first step to start building our friendship. We listened to our parents and recognized their efforts to give what they thought was the best education for us. We grew up together sharing a lot of memories and really good times."
Eventually, Alvarez Mexia relocated to Tucson to pursue a doctorate and now serves as the director of the University of Arizona's Office of Latin American Partnership Initiatives . Saucedo returned to Mazatlán, where she is a professor and academic program director of engineering in computer science at Universidad Politécnica de Sinaloa.
Alvarez Mexia visits home frequently enough, often reconnecting with Saucedo. During a holiday visit in December 2011, the two of them met over coffee and began to speak about their work at their respective institutions. Saucedo's institution was in the process of opening a new polytechnic campus with a stronger focus on master's degrees, and it had an eye on a collaborator in the U.S. The UA had simultaneously been expanding its binational partnerships.
"After all these years, we grew together and we have matured little by little together," Saucedo said.
"The friendship that has binds us has improved collaboration between both universities," she said. "Both are in a strategic atmosphere, and we are confident that our students would have the competencies and skills to complete their stays successfully."
Later, Saucedo contacted Alvarez Mexia with an open invitation to collaborate, hosting students in research internships to enrich their academic training and prepare them in a global context. Saucedo would eventually connect Alvarez Mexia with contacts in Santiago de Querétaro, where the UA now has student research-focused partnerships through Universidad Politécnica de Queretaro. The UA has had a similar partnership with Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México since 2011.
"There was not a question about it. This idea not only represented an opportunity to expand our programs," Alvarez Mexia said. The first two students from Universidad Politécnica de Sinaloa arrived at the UA in October 2012.
"It was not easy. The polytechnic system in Mexico was very young, and we found that, instead of the U.S., a lot of students were going to China and Korea," Alvarez Mexia said. "Each of us looked for the institutional support and learned from each university."
Ultimately, the connection between Alvarez Mexia and Saucedo would lead to the November signing of a cross-border agreement between the UA and the National Association of Universities Polytechnic in Mexico, which will result in more Mexican students pursuing advanced studies and research opportunities in Tucson.
"Maybe Isma still does not realize it, but she also gave me the opportunity to come back to my hometown under my professional role, promote higher education, exchange experiences and assist local students and faculty who believe in education as much as we do," Alvarez Mexia said.
"For me, this partnership represents a personal commitment, too."