Our Chancellor - Fall 2010 Ivy Leaf Magazine

Ivy Leaf - Fall 2010

Our Chancellor

Memories of Guanajuato

In academic life, we are fond of speaking about the ways in which higher education serves to expand students' horizons, and about the new worlds to which we introduce them beyond their everyday lives. Through our study abroad initiatives, this goal often becomes real in a very literal sense.

Last summer, Associate Dean Ken Womack and I had the opportunity to experience these possibilities firsthand when we visited the University of Guanajuato. A beautiful mountain town, Guanajato is located at Mexico's geographical center. With its rich colonial history and its stunning architecture, Guanajuato is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As university towns go, it is the seat of a highly literate culture with a strong artistic and socially progressive bent.

In recent years, our students have enjoyed the opportunity to travel to Guanajuato on summer study abroad excursions in the able company of Dr. Roselyn Costantino and Dr. Yaw Agawu-Kakraba, two senior faculty members in our Division of Arts and Humanities. Under their guidance, our students have the opportunity to enroll in a variety of Spanish language and culture courses. With its breathtaking vistas and fertile arts scene, Guanajuato makes for the perfect backdrop for the students' learning experiences.

Ken and I visited Guanajuato in the venerable company of the Honorable Samuel E. Hayes, Jr., a member of Penn State's Board of Trustees since 1997, former Secretary of Agriculture, and a state congressman, serving as Majority Leader and Whip in the House of Representatives. As many of you know, Sam has been a great friend of our college over the years. Not surprisingly, he is looked upon with great respect by the many friends that he has made in Guanajuato, where he is known, with great affection, as "Samuel the Pennsylvania Gringo."

With Sam as our guide, we traveled throughout Guanajuato and its environs, meeting several faculty members and administrators who are working with our college to establish a vital faculty and student exchange program with Penn State Altoona. Through such programs, we would be enabled, in very real and lasting ways, to provide our students with global perspectives that will shape the course of their futures.

As Ken and I discovered, Guanajuato's natural beauty and unforgettable architecture make for an inspirational learning laboratory. It is the kind of place that finds even the most jaded tourist yearning to soak up its culture. In Guanajuato, there are treasures for everyone to sample, from its street marketplaces and dazzling array of restaurants to the museum-home of artist Diego Rivera.

And speaking of museums — I could not wax nostalgic about our visit to Guanajuato without remarking on the city's world-famous Museo de las Momias — the Mummy Museum. As many of you know so well, I have a penchant for all things Halloween, and the Mummy Museum did not disappoint. The Museum finds its roots in an 1833 cholera epidemic, when the mummified bodies were originally buried in a desperate attempt to stop the spread of the disease. The mummies were disinterred between 1865 and 1958, a period in which local law required relatives to pay a tax in order to maintain their relatives' burial place. Because of their mummification, the bodies survived their disinterment, subsequently becoming a local curiosity, and so the idea for the museum was born.

While it may not be for everyone, the Mummy Museum is just one more fascinating aspect of Guanajuato, one of the world's most remarkable cities. And soon, as our study abroad initiatives go into full swing, it will make for one more opportunity for our students to experience the world beyond their lives back home.