By Lisa Romero, BIO5 Institute
Hart Visits Nogales to Reaffirm UA's Support of Rural, Border Communities and Partnerships
During a daylong visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Santa Cruz County, UA President Ann Weaver Hart met with community college transfer students, families, extension specialists, agriculturalists and education board members.
As part of statewide visits, University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart toured the U.S.-Mexico border region of Santa Cruz County, affirming the UA’s commitment to Arizona as the state’s land-grant university.
Hart's daylong visit included meetings and interaction with community college transfer students, families, extension specialists, agriculturalists and education board members.
The trip coincided with the 100-year anniversary of the UA's Cooperative Extension, established in 1914 and responsible for translating research into community solutions and economic impact, helping to shape the Arizona of today.
Cooperative Extension, a program of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has helped grow Arizona's agriculture to a $16.2 billion industry. In 2013 alone, Cooperative Extension served more than 585,000 Arizonans.
During the fall of 2013, Hart made a similar visit to Prescott, Arizona, to meet with alumni, college officials, industry leaders and elected officials. While there, Hart worked to determine ways to expand and launch partnerships in northern Arizona to expand educational opportunities and help drive economic development.
While in Nogales, Hart emphasized the historic tenets of the land-grant mission and its more contemporary charge to teach, research and partner with communities in ways that have local economic and social impacts while working in ways that have global relevance for current and future benefits.
"It is the work and service of Cooperative Extension that actively contributes to people being able to be more productive, to get jobs and pay taxes and to support the economy," she said. "That leads to a spiral up."
Hart explained that the UA, driven by its land-grant mission, works at the community level and the national level, initiating and partnering on varied activities of tremendous importance. Among other things, the UA has a long-standing connection to the border region, maintaining several study abroad programs in Mexico and dozens of Mexico-related sponsored research projects. The University supports the growth of the community garden movement, informs families about proper nutrition, involves youth in outdoor physical activity, helps to protect food crops, informs public policy on topics related to education and industry, and expands educational access and opportunities.
Maggie Gonzalez is a direct benefit of that legacy.
Gonzalez said she struggled with higher education options before learning that she could pursue studies in elementary education without having to move away from her home city.
She had moved to Tucson for a period to pursue studies at Pima Community College, but found that she did not have the time or resources to stay long term. Now, having just completed her associate's degree at Cochise College, she will begin the elementary education program through UA South in the fall thanks to a partnership between the two institutions.
"That really opened my eyes that there were things that I could do here, and it gave me a totally different perspective," said Gonzalez, who was among those who met Hart on Thursday. "Now that I can study what I want, I wouldn't do anything differently."
In speaking about the importance of ensuring access to higher education, Hart also emphasized the importance of supporting families and, in particular, young children.
"We contribute to helping families raise children with the developmental skills that will help them to be more successful in school and beyond," Hart said.
One such example is the Family Resource Center, operated by the UA's Cooperative Extension in partnership with the Nogales Unified School District, which Hart visited during her tour.
"This is a wonderful forward-looking program," Hart said. A unique and important site aiding in early childhood development and learning in the southern Arizona border region, the center serves families and their young children. There, parents, grandparents and other caretakers work alongside center staff to help youth learn critical motor skills, as well as how to read and count and speak English.
Debbie Curley, program director of the Family Resource Center, said the center ensures that family members are actively involved in the programming.
"You can't just come and drop the children off," Curley said. "We really involve the parents and are focusing on life skills and critical learning skills, which are important for helping in a child's ability to learn."
Families can then take that knowledge and apply it in other contexts beyond the center, Curley said. Given changes in the Common Core State Standards, a national initiative that is shifting educational standards, Curley said such training and support should eventually help children to be better prepared for the higher academic demands ahead.
The UA operates comparable sites in similar partnerships across Arizona, providing programs to accelerate learning and development for children, beginning at birth. In fact, such centers were established to help parents and other caregivers in the community better prepare children for kindergarten.
Such initiatives, along with the public-private partnerships and economic development initiatives the UA drives, are critical for the "the social and cultural well-being of our citizens, and also the economic well-being of Arizona," Hart said.