As I’ve settled into my new role with the Global Public Affairs team, there have been many exciting challenges and events already. This included the opportunity to visit our colleagues and students in Honduras to learn from them about how we can better collaborate and support each other. After spending three and half years at Monash South Africa working in the field on the campus level, I know how vibrant and challenging that work can be day-to-day.
Laureate’s presence in Honduras is extremely impressive, with two institutions, Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana (UNITEC) and Centro Universitario Tecnológico (CEUTEC) and an office with employees, many of whom are Laureate graduates, who support many different parts of our company. UNITEC is the second largest university in the country, and the largest private institution. Both UNITEC and CEUTEC serve their students in ways that are innovative and highly respected, and their programs, facilities and deep local connections are evidence of that.
In even a short trip, it was clear that these institutions are placing students at the center and seeing how that leads to meaningful engagement and growth. In recent years, UNITEC became the first university in Honduras accredited to deliver online graduate degree programs in business and project management. Their campuses have an active entrepreneurship program as well as a YouthActionNet program, and I sat in on project presentations from students who are putting forth ideas about how they might innovate in ways that serve vulnerable female populations, build IT skills with youth and connect skilled labor to those seeking it through a digital platform, to name a few. Since 2012, 25 young social entrepreneurs from the community have been recognized and supported through their YouthActionNet program, and more than 250 students take entrepreneurship courses every quarter at UNITEC.
I also toured the new facility for the dentistry program at UNITEC; besides being a world-class facility, it will serve local community members for a nominal fee, all while providing students with valuable practical experience working in the clinic. In just three months, the clinic has already served more than 1,000 community members.
On a national level, it is clear how deep this engagement with the community runs and reminds me how so often, our local leaders are vital to and highly respected by the governments in their countries. The longtime rector of UNITEC, Luis Zelaya, announced concurrently in September 2016 that he would step down from his role at UNITEC in order to pursue a run for president as the candidate for one of Honduras’ major parties. I was also happy to see that three out of the four deans at UNITEC are women, leading highly ranked programs at the institution.
There was one story from my short trip that I think illustrates so many important parts of why our local campuses and students are such vital guideposts for our work as a company. UNITEC has recently launched a new culinary program, one that they set up in partnership with Kendall College and that has been greatly anticipated in the country. They have brought many well-respected chefs onto the faculty, and their first class of 94 students has been hard at work since the program was inaugurated in October 2016. I heard from my colleagues about how in that class of 94, there is one student who is deaf. Motivated by the desire to all be able to communicate clearly, the 93 other students began to learn sign language in their spare time, all of them eventually gaining the capability to communicate in that way with their peer. Now, they even hope to contribute to building a standard set of sign language culinary terms in Central America.
Besides being deeply moved by this story, I was reflecting on how it so clearly illustrates our Here for Good spirit in action, making enduring commitments that lead to and inspire purpose and permanence. Just as those 93 other students saw how it was worth it to act in a way that served just one other student, we must always keep at the front of our minds that work that impacts even one student, is invaluable.