Tuesday, July 19, 2011

uac-cp faculty: commitment and sacrifice

Last night, standing in the back of a classroom filled with UAC-CP professors and academic directors, I felt overwhelmed with both admiration and gratitude for the people who are responsible for carrying out a core part of the mission of the College--"to make higher education available to young people of rural areas and those who who, for whatever reason, are marginalized from the possibility to pursue such studies."

While I have often shared the inspiring stories of our students, last night I was reminded of the incredible stories of UAC-CP professors. They are professional men and women (mostly Bolivians) who go great distances (both literally and figuratively) to make higher education possible for young men and women studying at Carmen Pampa.

Dr. Hugh Smeltekop, Vice Director of the UAC-CP, and Dr. Martin Morales, Director of the Veterinary Science Department, talk to a group of professors during an orientation session for the upcoming semester.

Dr. Manuel Loza, who has taught classes like chemistry and microbiology at the College since day one, told the group of professors gathered last night that teaching in Carmen Pampa is a vocation--a calling to help serve Bolivia's rural area and contribute to its positive development.

Dr. Loza recalled life at the College nearly two decades ago and compared it to how things are today. He told stories of traveling in giant camiones (large trucks often used to transport animals or products in bulk) down the World's Most Dangerous Road. He said he and other professors would arrive at the College for their weekly classes covered in mud, dirty and tired from a long ride.  Dr. Loza also remembered that classrooms were ill-equipped--unlike today, there were no projectors or DVD players or televisions to use in the classroom.  All that, he said, has changed, but the mission and vision of the institution has not.

Dr. Manuel Loza has taught chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, etc., at the UAC-CP for 18 years. 

"I love going to Carmen Pampa," Dr. Loza told the group more than once, explaining that it's because of the students' desire to learn that has kept him going back to Carmen Pampa once-a-week for nearly 20 years.  He also noted that last night was a milestone for him, as sitting in the room was Dr. Claudia Cerruto, one of Dr. Loza's first students at the UAC-CP who received her PhD in May from Oklahoma State University and is now back to teach in the College's Veterinary Science Department.

Dr. Loza is one of about 90 professors who contribute to the success of the College. Because of the College's location in the rural Nor Yungas, professors usually make the 7-8 hour round-trip commute from Bolivia's capital city of La Paz to teach in Carmen Pampa once a week. While the College pays teachers fair wages, professors obviously do not work at the UAC-CP for the money. They are people willing to be challenged in exchange

Last night, two words stuck out for me. They were two words that people kept repeating when they stood up to introduce themselves and talk about their work at the UAC-CP.  The words were "compromiso" and "sacrificio." Commitment and sacrifice. I believe they are two words that adequately describe the people who are responsible for making higher education available to Bolivia's most marginalized populations. They are the characteristics of our dedicated faculty and staff that keep them coming back to teach at the College.