A $47,700 grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE) to the College of Business Administration at The University of Texas-Pan American will result in a unique student exchange program to both Canada and Mexico.
Seven UT Pan American students, who will be designated "NAFTA Scholars," will be selected to spend two semesters abroad - one at a university in Canada and one at a university in Mexico. The exchange program, designed by a consortium of six universities in the three countries, is called "TriRED: Program for North American Mobility in Higher Education." Each of the participating universities - Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Lethbridge University in Lethbridge, Alberta, Universidad Autonoma de Tamaulipas in Ciudad Victoria, Universidad Anhuac in Mexico City, Buffalo State College of the State University of New York (SUNY), which is the lead institution, and UT Pan American - will have seven students spending a semester at a university in each of the other two countries.
The FIPSE award, totaling $47,736 over a three-year period, will fund curriculum development and travel for faculty in addition to the student travel.
"FIPSE awards are extremely selective," said Dr. Linda McCallister, dean of the College of Business Administration. "I consider this to be a very prestigious recognition of the quality of the College of Business Administration program."
Dr. William Thompson, professor in the Department of Management, Marketing and International Business and project director for UT Pan American, agreed.
"FIPSE is a very prestigious granting agency. They don't grant money just because you apply for it. You have to have a solid program.
"It's an honor to get this kind of grant. We had to work hard to get it and we're very proud of it," he said. "This program will enrich the lives of some of our students. They are going to get a rare experience."
The purpose of the TriRED program is to provide a unique way to learn and experience international business, provide exposure to the diversity of American, Canadian and Mexican cultures, and prepare students for commercial activity throughout North America.
"The students will have the enriching experience of living in another country," Thompson said. "While they're there, they'll also be working as interns in local companies." The grant will cover transportation costs for the students, who will pay tuition at their "home" institutions.
The program has a strong Internet component. In fact, the name of the program, TriRED, is a play on words of the Spanish term for the Internet, Red. TriRED is also an acronym for "Trilateral, Reproducible, Inter-institutional Red (network) for Educational Development in North America."
"The name of the consortium, 'TriRED,' is a combination of both English and Spanish words to signify the collaborative, multicultural spirit of the consortium," Thompson said.
As part of the program, students will enroll in an on-line seminar and in an on-line course titled "Haciendo Negocios en Norteamerica/Doing Business in North America."
The course is expected to be offered for the first time in Fall 1998.
"What I envision for this particular course is that there will be a lot of Internet exploring," Thompson said. "There will be links to go to for information and examples of on-line commerce as it is done in Mexico, Canada and the United States. Students will be doing research via the Internet and conducting their class over the Internet." The students also are expected to interact more informally on the Internet, exchanging e-mail and perhaps making living arrangements with NAFTA Scholars at the host institution where they will be studying.
The faculty and administrators involved in the program also have been making heavy use of the Internet. Although a meeting was held in October in Ciudad Victoria to initiate and plan the implementation of the program, and the group will meet again in February at UT Pan American, much of the planning of the program has been conducted over the Internet.
"This (the coordination of the exchanges) is going to take a good bit of correspondence, and that's one of the interesting things about the whole thing, it's an Internet-based experience," Thompson said. "All of the schools already have on-line conferences ongoing, where we are developing the on-line course and we are making policy decisions about how we are going to work out" the swap of tuition between institutions, transfer of credits and other details.
As local project director, Thompson is responsible for recruiting the UT Pan American student participants and providing internship opportunities for the foreign students while they are in Edinburg for a semester.
The project co-director is Dr. David Sturges, associate professor in the Department of Management, Marketing and International Business, who previously taught for a semester at Lethbridge University and has experience with on-line courses. Sturges is currently teaching a course via video to a university in Malaysia, for which he keeps on-line office hours.
Thompson said the program's web page will be managed at UT Pan American at http://www.coba.panam.edu/trired/.
"Students will be able to link to all six campuses," he said.
He said the first students could begin the program as early as next summer, but the target start date is Fall 1998. "The program will run for two years, so we're looking at (academic years) 1998-99 and 1999-2000."
Thompson said the selected NAFTA Scholars - so called because the trilateral program is made up of universities from the North American Free Trade Agreement countries - will find that participation in the program will not affect their majors or the time it takes them to complete a degree.
"The students can still major in anything in business, because there are only the two courses that they will take for credit - 'Doing Business in North America' and the on-line international business seminar. Those will fit in as electives in any business major.
"When they go away to the other campuses, they shouldn't lose any time, so they should graduate on time without any problem," he said, adding that the courses taken at the other institutions will transfer to UT Pan American and vice versa.
He added that one of the most challenging aspects of the program for UT Pan American students may be the cold weather in Canada.
"Someone at one of the universities in Canada told me they have a big box of winter clothes for exchange students," he said. "That's one of the things our students will learn - how do you cope with cold weather? How do the people in that sort of element live?"
Thompson said one of the important elements of the TriRED program is that it is reproducible.
"It's not just unique to us," he said. "This program could be replicated and expanded to other universities. We're just setting up the model."