Scholar Earns Fulbright Award to Lead Professional Development Institute in Paraguay

By Tom McLaughlin

Since 1997, Gloria Bonilla-Santiago has shepherded the LEAP Academy University Charter School from a small charter school to its transformational position today in Camden– and the world has taken notice.

Gloria Bonilla-Santiago

“The LEAP Academy has become a national and international success story,” says the Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers University–Camden.

Bonilla-Santiago will further extend her message of hope and innovation to the global community as a 2017-2018 Fulbright Specialist at Universidad Nacional de Asunción (UNA) in San Lorenzo, Paraguay.

The Fulbright Specialist Program, sponsored by U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is a unique opportunity for U.S. academics and established professionals and researchers to engage in two- to six-week consultancies at host institutions across the globe.

Bonilla-Santiago will travel to Paraguay this summer, as well as in fall 2017 and spring 2018, to lead a professional development institute on leadership, resource development, and community engagement for a select group of UNA faculty, administrators, and stakeholders.

“I’m very honored and excited to have the opportunity to share my research, teaching, and public service initiative that has brought together Rutgers University–Camden with the Camden community to create new schools of excellence for poor children and their families in the city,” she says.

According to the Rutgers–Camden scholar, Paraguay is among the countries where the educational system is desperately looking for new models to solve the educational crises in its cities. She notes that officials and stakeholders there are particularly interested in duplicating the LEAP Academy’s unparalleled, 100 percent high school graduation and college admission rates.

“They are exploring how to scale best practices from the LEAP enterprise model as a linchpin for developing a university partnership that creates and leads a school improvement plan in Paraguay,” she says.

As Bonilla-Santiago explains, she will train UNA officials to develop a multifaceted strategic planning process with the goal of launching a targeted effort to bring needed educational innovations to Paraguay. This effort will follow the approach of the Community Leadership Center at Rutgers–Camden, which anchors community development and innovation within a university-school partnership that becomes the hub for upscaling, research, teaching, and learning.

“The focus is on using the university as the anchor of resources and social capital in order to support community development and develop the kinds of partnerships that are needed to launch effective and sustainable community and school-development initiatives,” she says.

Bonilla-Santiago notes that, among the long-term goals, there is great interest in formalizing the relationship between UNA and Rutgers–Camden through an official memorandum of understanding for the exchange of students, faculty, and research.

“There are considerable needs in Paraguay, a country with high levels of poverty and very low educational attainment,” says Bonilla-Santiago. “This is a place that could be of great interest for many of our faculty members and students.”

In addition, she says, there are opportunities for the recruitment of Paraguayan undergraduate and graduate students – particularly those pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in areas of need, such as the STEM disciplines and education – due to the Paraguayan government’s support of a national scholarship program that sponsors graduate students studying in the United States.

Furthermore, she says, there are a number of external stakeholders, including the U.S. Embassy – a partnering collaborator in the UNA training program – interested in exploring opportunities for collaboration in Paraguay, including faculty exchanges, AmeriCorps programming, and work with local school leaders.

“We have discussed some specific opportunities through the ‘100 Strong in the Americas’ Initiative, which provides funds to increase student exchange and training programs between the Americas,” says Bonilla-Santiago.

As an applied scholar, she looks forward to serving as a Fulbright Specialist due to her steadfast belief that local community development impacts global community development, creating global independencies as well as new opportunities for collaboration.

“Global independencies – economic, political, social, cultural, or ecological linkages – create bonds of fate between people in different parts of the world,” she says. “I don’t simply want to study poverty and community problems in isolation of practices. The research, teaching, and learning that I do in Camden allows me to apply local best research-practices to global communities in cities in Cuba, China, Africa, Brazil, Paraguay, and Puerto Rico. While there are differences in context and geography, the root problems are parallel to those experienced in Camden and other U.S. cities.”

Posted in: Community Outreach

Comments are closed.