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Friday
May042012

UC MEXUS Symposium Offers Inspiration, Collaboration for 3 UCSB Grad Students

A recent symposium at UC Riverside brought together University of California graduate students, including three from UCSB, who represent some of the best intellectual talent from Mexico. They are doctoral fellows in UC MEXUS-CONACYT (the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States and El Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia).

UC MEXUS is an academic research institute that is dedicated to encouraging and contributing to binational and Latino research and collaborative academic programs and exchanges. The institute aims to provide “positive contributions to society in both Mexico and the United States, particularly in the graduate and professional areas.”

Since its inception in 1998, the UC MEXUS program has co-funded almost 300 Mexican students pursuing doctoral degrees at the 10 UC campuses in all academic disciplines but the arts. Here at UC Santa Barbara, there have been 27 fellows in the UC MEXUS program who have pursued graduate degrees in Anthropology, Computer Science, Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, and Physics.

The Riverside symposium sought to be a forum for addressing issues of interest to Mexican doctoral students nearing completion of their degrees. The day included a session with an alumni panel of UC MEXUS-CONACYT fellows who successfully found employment upon completion of their doctoral degrees. And a panel of prominent Mexican researchers offered advice for finding international research and funding opportunities.

The three UC MEXUS doctoral fellows from UCSB who attended are: Jaime Sainz from the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management (his home institution is Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana); and Saiph Savage and Victor Fragoso, both in the Department of Computer Science with the home institution of Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM).

The three recently told the GradPost about their research and what they gained from the symposium:

Jaime Sainz. Photo credit: Bren Media Liaison James Badham

JAIME SAINZ

Sainz earned a B.A. in Political Science from Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, and he has a Master’s degree in Public Policy from ITAM (Instituto Tecnológico Autonomo de Mexico). Sainz spent more than six years working as a public policy analyst for the Mexican federal government (at the Instituto Nacional de Ecologia-Semarnat) and as an environmental policy consultant before applying to the Ph.D. program in Environmental Science & Management here. He was supported by both a UC MEXUS-CONACYT fellowship and a Fulbright-Garcia Robles fellowship.

Sainz’s research focuses on natural disasters policy. “Particularly, I am interested in how governments affect how individuals perceive risk and implicitly choose a level of exposure to disaster,” he said.

“I have been fortunate to have great guidance and advice from Professors Oran Young and Sarah Anderson. Also, at UCSB I have taken classes with some of the best environmental economists in the United States, such as Gary Libecap and Christopher Costello, who also have provided excellent feedback for my research. I have interacted with some faculty of the Geography Department too, another world-class research group at the University and a great asset for people interested in spatial analysis.”

Sainz participated in the symposium because it allowed him to meet students with similar interests working on other campuses. Also, he is interested in doing research in Mexico and there were many people in attendance who were able to offer him excellent advice on that.  

“A pleasant surprise,” Sainz said, “was to find that many of the UC students had a passion to contribute to solve Mexico's problems. It was great to know that the cynicism that sometimes seems to pervade privileged people, and makes them look only for their own good, was not present in most of the people I met during the symposium.”

Sainz was inspired by keynote speaker Dr. Jose Sarukhan. The president of Mexico’s innovative Biodiversity Survey, Sarukhan is the only Latin American scientist to have been named fellow of both the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. and of the Royal Society in Britain. “Even when most of us will have a much more modest career compared to his,” Sainz said, “I guess we all can aspire to be like him to some extent: enthusiastic, engaged, eloquent, and fun (I appreciate good jokes).”

The UC  MEXUS fellowship, Sainz said, allows him to continue to do his research on how political dynamics and institutions interact with natural phenomena. Another goal for Sainz is to “teach and entice younger students to do rigorous research and find interesting research questions. I would love to find the opportunity to do this in a Mexican institution.”

 

Victor FragosoVICTOR FRAGOSO

Fragoso received a bachelor of science degree in Computer Engineering from UNAM.

As a Ph.D. student in Computer Science here, his research is primarily focused on computer vision for mobile devices. For example, he says, his research seeks to “understand the scene from images or video captured with smart phones or tablets in order to provide useful  information and smarter interfaces to the users.” 

He attended the symposium “to learn about opportunities that UC MEXUS offers to enhance the research/academic collaborations between Mexican and American universities.”

 

Saiph SavageSAIPH SAVAGE

Savage grew up in Mexico City and studied computer engineering at UNAM. While at that university, she did research in rehabilitation interfaces for stroke patients. “I developed novel, inexpensive interfaces that motivated stroke patients to perform their rehabilitation exercises,” she told the GradPost. “I want to be a doctor in computer science, and design interactive intelligent interfaces that better people's lives.”

Her dream, she said, is to create devices “that can automatically interpret through sensors a person's feelings, and change the interaction accordingly.” For example, she says, “if a person is depressed, the machine would deliver encouraging, motivating messages.”  

For Savage, “the best part of the symposium was building a discourse community of fellow Mexicans who dream of bettering the education system that minorities receive. All the participants were minorities in their field of study, therefore they all had the motivation of bringing diversity to the education system, of encouraging other minorities to enter the world of research."

Savage said she and other student participants plan to give talks at their alma maters about the research and work they have been doing on the UC campuses. “We hope to encourage other students to continue into academia,” she said, and to “motivate them to also have fun doing research.”

View a list of all UC MEXUS fellows from UCSB. For more information about UC MEXUS, visit http://ucmexus.ucr.edu/.

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