Linda Benedict, McClure, Olivia J. | 6/5/2014 8:47:00 PM
Panama official seeks stronger ties with business, agriculture
Panama’s relationship with Louisiana could be key to economic and educational development in the Central American country, according to Mario Jaramillo, Panamanian ambassador to the United States.
Jaramillo visited LSU on April 15 to discuss higher education with administrators and Panamanian students. A 1969 graduate of LSU in business management, Jaramillo said increased cooperation with universities like LSU would help equip more Panamanians with internationally competitive skill sets as well as an understanding of how other countries do business.
Panama has undergone many changes in recent decades, Jaramillo said, which has placed new demands on the workforce.
“We are not only a country that has economic growth — we’re also the highest in middle class growth,” he said.
The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 gave rise to a maritime sector that has grown significantly and attracted foreign businesses to the country. As a result, young people are more internationally minded and more likely than their elders to speak English, Jaramillo said.
Still, he said, Panama needs to improve in two areas: business ethics and education, particularly in the English language. With more international companies moving into the area, Panama must be able to meet the world economy’s standards to succeed, he said.
Louisiana and Panama have many things in common, such as issues with wetlands, which Jaramillo believes are areas for cooperation and learning.
LSU President F. King Alexander said the university used to have a stronger relationship with Panama and other Central American countries, but it has been in decline since the 1970s.
“We can either fight and resist this change that’s inevitable, or we can open up doors and make it happen far more smoothly and prepare the next generation for a new-looking America,” Alexander said.
Jaramillo said it is common for Panamanian undergraduates to study for two years at universities in Panama, then transfer to American universities to complete their degrees.
Improving recruitment of students from Central America to LSU is also important, said LSU Vice President for Agriculture Bill Richardson.
“These students are superb,” Richardson said. “Nurturing our connections with countries like Panama allows us to recruit highquality international students to LSU, where they have opportunities to study and work in unique environments, such as the LSU AgCenter’s research stations.”
Jose Brandao, a food science master’s student from Panama, said it is important to enhance international linkages between universities. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Zamorano Pan American Agricultural School in Honduras, which has many international students and frequently collaborates with the AgCenter.
Zamorano scholars gain experience
After a semester studying and working with LSU AgCenter faculty, nine visiting scholars from Zamorano Pan American Agricultural School in Honduras are returning home with some valuable practical experience under their belts.
Zamorano, an undergraduate-only university, requires its students to complete professional internships. The AgCenter’s visiting scholar program helps students fulfill requirements while giving them a chance to work with top-notch faculty on innovative projects in labs and research stations.
Food science student Franklin Bonilla worked in AgCenter food scientist Subramaniam Sathivel’s food processing lab on a project to improve shelf life of shrimp and catfish using nanotechnology. He also visited local processing plants, which he said offered insight into how his food science skills can be used.
After graduation, Bonilla plans to pursue a master’s degree at LSU, partly because of his experience as a visiting scholar.
“I like the food science area,” he said. “This gave me good experience and opened more opportunities in my future.”
Students also say they’ve benefitted from being exposed to Louisiana’s unique culture and getting to improve their English.
The AgCenter’s International Programs office has collaborated with Zamorano since the early 1990s and launched a visiting scholar program in 2005. Since then, the AgCenter has hosted about 60 scholars from Zamorano, said Susan Karimiha, assistant program coordinator for International Programs.
Scholars who come to LSU in the spring semester are fourth-year undergraduates who work in labs and take classes to finish their graduation requirements. There is also a 15-week summer scholar program aimed at preparing Zamorano alumni for grad school.
Zamorano does not offer graduate programs, but some of this semester’s visiting scholars plan to return to LSU in the fall to begin graduate studies.
The relationship with Zamorano exemplifies the AgCenter’s commitment to taking the mission of improving lives through research and education worldwide, according to Bill Richardson, LSU vice president for agriculture.
“This not only gives opportunities to students from other countries — it also benefits those here at home,” Richardson said.
(These articles were published in the spring 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)