GPP Ecuador: Reflections on community engagement and social responsibility

This year, I traveled to four different countries and visited ten universities through the Graduate School of Virginia Tech’s Global Perspective Programs based in Switzerland and Ecuador to study higher education around the world.

While traveling to Switzerland, Italy, and France in May, I researched two questions:

    1) How do universities and their faculty, staff, and students interact with the communities that they serve? How do they characterize their social responsibilities to these communities?
    2) How do universities train students to be socially responsible and ethical researchers and professionals?

I recorded my findings in an essay to be including in the forthcoming GPP Manual for 2016, but here I want to elaborate on my observations regarding these topics at the Ecuadorian universities visited during GPP Ecuador in November of this year.

During our trip, we visited two universities: University of San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) and Escuela Polytecnica Nacional (National Polytechnic School; EPN), both in the capital city of Quito, as well as the Galapagos extension of USFQ.

Together the mission statement and vision (excerpts translated below with the help of Google Translate) of USFQ clearly delineates the community the university seeks to serve as the local community, Ecuador, and Latin America.

The University of San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) is a private and non-profit higher education institution dedicated to educating, researching and serving the community within the philosophy of the Liberal Arts, incorporating all sectors of society, under the principles of gender equity, social inclusion and equal opportunities, which seeks to form leaders, people free of conditions, cultured, innovative, creative and entrepreneurial… The vision of USFQ is to become a model University in the application of the Philosophy of the Liberal Arts, entrepreneurship, scientific, technological and cultural development for Ecuador and Latin America, recognized for its quality, the leadership of its graduates, and its social responsibility.

Though not specifically aimed at serving the global community, our experiences at USFQ spoke to a strong emphasis on equipping students for success on a global scale. For example, students are required to take a course on etiquette and food from around the world.

Students and faculty from USFQ seemed acutely aware of their social responsibilities as part of the University. We visited a class in which students performed extensive service projects in the local community and shared their experiences. I was particularly impressed with the level of awareness among the students, as those presenting their projects during our visit expressed a sense of gratitude for their education and a desire to use their skills to serve their community.

The university also has a strong value for inclusion and serves the community by offering opportunities for education to underserved populations. The university’s Ethnic Diversity Program provides financial assistance to indigenous and minority students to afford such students an opportunity “to contribute to the scientific, social, economic and cultural development of Ecuadorian society.” Additionally, the Galapagos extension of USFQ offers opportunities for education to local students in order to “promote environmental conservation, island sustainability, and the well-being of local people.”

EPN also emphasized a strong sense of service to community. EPN’s mission statement and vision (excerpts again translated below with the help of Google Translate) emphasize a strong emphasis on training engineers and scientists to serve the local community of Ecuador, but also notes the importance of interaction with the international community.

The National Polytechnic School is to train scholars and professionals in engineering and science, ethics awareness, solidarity, critical [thinking], [and the ability] to contribute to the welfare of the community; And generate, disseminate, and transmit scientific and technological knowledge, social responsibility, as a result of a dynamic interaction with the actors of Ecuadorian society and the international community… [EPN’s] capabilities and efforts are oriented to serve the community, contributing to the cultural development within a framework of principles and transcendental values of human beings.

EPN’s dedication to the local community was evident. Students and faculty spoke passionately about the role of the university in training students to serve Ecuador through their engineering and design skills. Research seems to be EPN’s primary link to the international community as our hosts emphasized the university’s strong record of publication and showed us facilities well equipped with advanced equipment for use in teaching and in research in Mechanical Engineering.


I was also impressed that both USFQ and EPN emphasize the importance of social responsibility in their mission statements. The dedication of both universities to train students who are equipped to serve and strengthen the Ecuadorian community was evident during our visit.