Written by Mary C. Dillon
West Virginia University is one of 10 higher education institutions in the United States to be awarded an Innovation Fund grant to grow study abroad partnerships with Argentina. The U.S. Department of State, Partners of the Americas and NAFSA: Association of International Educators announced the winning teams as part of the Argentina-U.S. Workforce Development competition sponsored by Chevron and the U.S. Department of State.
WVU will partner with Universidad Nacional del Comahue to implement a new program to allow engineering students to learn more in-depth practical knowledge about exploration and production of shale oil and gas. Students from both universities will travel to host institutions to interact with their students and faculty, participate in workshops and gain more understanding of shared challenges and opportunities in this field of study.
Eduardo Sosa, a research associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at WVU’s Statler College, became interested in exploring places where mobility programs could be implemented after visiting WVU’s Industrial Outreach Program in Mexico. The Mexico program is run by Victor Mucino, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and associate chair for education. Mucino will co-direct the new initiative with Sosa.
“I found that there are places and institutions in Argentina that share similar interests with us for enhancing the education of engineering students, by providing meaningful experiences in a multicultural and multilingual professional environment,” Sosa said. “I found that faculty at Universidad Nacional del Comahue located in Neuquén, Argentina, share common interests that could benefit both institutions, and we decided to partner for developing a new mobility program. When there was a call for proposals from Partners of the Americas, who work in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State on the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund for developing programs for exchanging students between higher education institutions of the Americas, we decided to apply.”
The Innovation Fund inspires U.S. universities and colleges to team up with higher education institutions in the rest of the Western Hemisphere to create partnerships that construct bridges of connectivity, increase academic exchanges, provide access to training opportunities and strengthen regional education cooperation and competitiveness throughout the Americas.
Since January 2014, the Innovation Fund has awarded 178 grants to 350 teams of higher education institutions from 25 countries and 41 U.S. states. Innovation Fund grant awards are typically $25,000 each with grant-winning teams contributing additional resources to implement sustainable academic exchange programs and increase opportunities for students in the United States and the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Additional support for the program will be provided by WVU Global Affairs, the WVU Energy Institute, UNCo and the WVU departments of mechanical and aerospace engineering and petroleum and natural gas engineering.
According to Sosa, there were many commonalities between the two universities that made them an ideal fit.
“WVU and UNCo share similarities regarding geography and economic activity, as both institutions are located in regions of high exploration and extraction of shale oil and gas,” Sosa said.
“WVU is located in the Appalachia basin within the Marcellus and Utica shale regions, while UNCo sits on the Vaca Muerta region, which is a geologic formation located at the Neuquén Basin in the northwestern part of the Argentinian Patagonia. Both geological formations are known for being the host rock of major deposits of tight oil (shale oil) and shale gas. In this geographical context, industries look for engineers of different specialties for their operations in both regions. Some of those industries send their engineers abroad for training or specialized activities, and in most cases, that is the first opportunity in which young engineers are exposed to a multicultural environment with different languages and different customs.”
The program, intended for engineering students in the sophomore or junior year, with majors in mechanical engineering, petroleum and natural gas engineering, civil engineering, mining engineering and chemical engineering, is also open to students in other majors who might benefit from the program. Sosa anticipates the first group of students traveling to UNCo either during spring break or the first summer session of 2019. UNCo students are expected to arrive at WVU next summer.
“Public-private partnerships address society’s most pressing concerns by fostering innovation that builds the 21st century’s workforce critical thinking skills to solve real-world problems,” said Edward C. Prado, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina. “The 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund provides Argentina and the United States with dynamic partnerships that fuel economic prosperity for the region.”
Argentina ranks fourth in this signature hemispheric-wide education initiative with 17 Innovation Fund partnerships between 36 institutions in 14 U.S. states and seven Argentinian provinces.