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NMSU graduate attributes success to university’s Colombian partnership

A soil science graduate of the New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Science Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences is attributing his success as a soil scientist to a partnership between NMSU and the University of La Salle in Bogota, Colombia.


Photo of man standing in a field of green grass next to a recently dug ditch for water lines.
NMSU graduate Jimmy Maynes, seen here during his visit to Colombia, has been working at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service since June, and attributes his success to NMSU’s partnership with the University of La Salle in Bogota, Colombia. (Courtesy photo)
Photo of two men and a woman holding a large yellow fruit.
NMSU graduate Jimmy Maynes, center, says he now has strong ties to Colombia following his participation in the Utopia project. He has been working at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service since June, and attributes his success to NMSU’s partnership with the University of La Salle in Bogota, Colombia. (Courtesy photo)

Since June, Jimmy Maynes has been working at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Maynes said he heard about the opportunity through an NMSU agronomy professor after Maynes traveled to Colombia as part of the NMSU-La Salle Innovation Fund Grant from Partners of the Americas and 100,000 Strong in the Americas.

NMSU’s Office of International and Border Programs spearheaded the grant “Leaders Innovating for the Reinvention of an Agricultural Sustainable Region in Peace,” which proposed the exchange between students and faculty at NMSU and La Salle’s Utopia campus in Yopal, Colombia, to address irrigation issues. Utopia is a rural campus designed for Colombian youth who have been adversely affected by the drug industry.

A group of four students and three faculty, led by Mick O’Neill, NMSU professor of agronomy in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, traveled to Colombia in November 2014 to interact with the Utopia students, lead classes in agricultural sciences and obtain data in order to design an irrigation system for an agroforestry field at the Yopal campus. An exchange group of four students and two faculty from the Utopia project came to NMSU in April. They joined classes in several ACES departments, toured local farms in the Mesilla Valley and the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, and participated in cultural events in southern New Mexico and west Texas.

Before traveling to Colombia, Maynes had heard his friends talk about their experiences studying abroad. When he was asked to travel to Colombia, Maynes said he wasn’t confident about his Spanish-language abilities, but he practiced and eventually became fluent.

“Once I got there to the Utopia project, I just felt this was a peaceful project that could possibly make big impacts on local, economic and agricultural issues,” Maynes said. “I’m so happy that the students at La Salle had the opportunity to come over here and visit their partners. My Spanish has improved dramatically. To be able to partner with this university is just awesome.”

Maynes said two of his biggest takeaways from his experience in Colombia are confidence and professional development.

“I am performing the same type of soil work that was performed in the remote fields in Colombia at USDA,” Maynes said. “I have gained the ability to present myself as a leader from the skills I acquired from numerous mentors who were involved in this project.”

Maynes recently spoke about his experiences in Colombia at a USDA regional meeting in Alabama.

“The Utopia project students were sponges for knowledge,” O’Neill said. “They understood the opportunities presented through the Utopia project would be their only chance for a productive future. I have never seen so many smiling faces on a college campus. Our students and the Utopia students made an instant and lasting bond through these two exchanges. I am so honored to have been a part of this unique university partnership.”

Cornell Menking, associate provost for NMSU’s International and Border Programs, called the Utopia project not only “unique in terms of successfully addressing difficult social problems introduced by the combination of poverty and the illegal drug trade, it is unique in that NMSU’s involvement has introduced a global education element that has allowed students from both Colombia and New Mexico to develop a vision for their countries, and their own personal lives, that go beyond their own borders.”

Menking said Maynes’ story is amazing but typical among those who have participated in the project.

“Students often feel reluctant to go abroad at first, but when they look back they can’t believe what a tremendous impact the experience had on their lives and their careers,” Menking said. “They often long to share that story with others so that they might inspire others to have that same experience. Our Office of Education Abroad has countless opportunities available, and many returned study abroad students (Study Abroad Ambassadors) help us get the message out that we can basically help any student study anything anywhere. However, the first step is always the same. The student must decide to seize the opportunity, as Jimmy did.”


To view video of Maynes’ interview with KRWG, visit http://video.krwg.org/video/2365486991/