Welch: Why Mexico Campus for Arkansas State University?
By Dr. Chuck Welch
Why on earth would Arkansas State University open a campus in Queretaro, Mexico?
This question has been posed many times in recent years. Responses have ranged from explaining that A-State did not have to pay a dime for construction, operation or maintenance of the $100 million campus to describing the broad range of academic benefits this venture will afford the main campus. However, it was not until the recent grand opening ceremony of Arkansas State University Campus Queretaro that even I fully appreciated the real reason our university is engaged in this endeavor.
Her name is Samantha Morales. She is a freshman student at A-State CQ from Mexico City. Her uncle tragically died in the recent earthquake. She speaks five languages fluently.
Her name is Haley Stotts. She is a senior student and president of the Student Government Association at A-State in Jonesboro. She is from Little Rock. Her grandfather, whom she called Papaw, recently passed away.
These two young ladies are at different points in their educational journey. They are from different countries. They have different skin colors. They speak different native languages. They went to different schools and come from very different backgrounds.
Haley Stotts (left), Samantha Morales at Arkansas State University Campus Queretaro.
Samantha and Haley had never met or spoken to each other, but when they did first meet on Sept. 21, it was if they had known each other forever. I stood in awe as they hugged and immediately began to talk about their academic studies and social lives. They talked about their majors, how hard certain classes are and the amount of studying that is required. They exchanged social media contact information and even jointly produced a live Facebook video about their experiences at the grand opening.
The minute these two young people met it was as if their differences made absolutely no difference at all. They were simply two college students dreaming of a brighter future. They were two young women seeking college degrees in different countries, but both from Arkansas State University. They were Red Wolves, and that is all that mattered to them.
Too often the focus in this world is on what makes us dissimilar. Political, religious and cultural differences seem to be all anyone cares about. We are too quick to point out how someone is not like us and why that is a problem. Higher education has long prided itself on embracing our differences and binding individuals through common purpose. I now have hope that A-State CQ can be a vehicle to unite our nations and our people.
A-State CQ is a groundbreaking venture that will undoubtedly change the face of higher education in both Mexico and the United States. The 800,000-square-foot campus is breathtaking, the credentials of the faculty are exemplary, the prospect for enrollment growth and revenue generation is exciting and the partnership opportunities are endless.
However, when I looked into the eyes of our A-State CQ students, none of those things mattered. In those 18- and 19-year-old eyes I saw hope, commitment, anticipation and dreams. I also saw a gratefulness for the presence of Arkansas State University and the realization that this new campus was going to forever alter their life opportunities.
Samantha and Haley made an impression on me that day that will never go away. I left the A-State CQ campus with a renewed sense of understanding for why we are there and why this work matters. My view of our future is very positive knowing that what we have in common is what really matters and by bridging our differences and embracing our common purpose we can achieve anything.
I watched these two students talking and laughing, and I have a photo of them in front of the new Student Union. It’s a powerful photo and reminder that we all share the same hopes and dreams in life. The next time someone asks me why we are in Mexico, I will just share the photo.
Haley and Samantha have blindingly bright futures. They are smart. They are personable. They are passionate about their education.
Thank goodness they can both be Red Wolves. Wolves Up!
Dr. Chuck Welch is president of the Arkansas State University System in Little Rock.