With a history that stretches back centuries, Texas and Mexico have an enduring connection. Not only do we share a 1,200-mile-long border, similar economic approaches and many cultural traditions, but we share a desire to leverage each of our strengths for a mutually beneficial return.

Building upon this deep-rooted relationship, it should come as no surprise that The University of Texas at Austin—the state’s flagship university — has made a recent push to enhance its ties with Mexico in two critical areas: research and education.

“We have had excellent UT undergraduate and graduate students from Mexico who are already playing key roles in their country in administration, research and industry. We have also had many professors from UT and Mexico collaborating on research for both short- and long-term visits,” said Carlos Torres-Verdin, professor in the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering and one of the university’s most passionate ambassadors in these efforts. “Several social, cultural and economic situations have prompted these new conversations, but we have been friends for a long time.”

I truly believe UT and Mexico are and will continue to be excellent partners in education and research.”

Four years ago, Mexico announced that it would privatize its oil and gas industry, ending a 75-year monopoly held by the government-run oil company Pemex. As a result, states throughout Mexico began to evaluate their infrastructure and preparedness for a significant increase in investment and development across all energy sectors.

The shift in the country’s energy policy re-opened the doors for renewed research and academic partnerships between Texas and Mexico — so, naturally, it was our expertise as “the energy university” that jumpstarted our overall research relationship. UT community members, such as Jorge Piñon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program in the UT Jackson School of Geosciences, and alumnus Sergio Alcocer (Ph.D. CE 1991), former undersecretary for North America in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, began having conversations with Mexican organizations and universities about future collaborations, ultimately helping to catalyze the launch of our newest initiatives.

“There was this perfect storm that began our whole process—from the energy reform to an agreement with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to two of our senior members being inducted into the Mexican Academy of Engineering,” Piñon said. “Everything came together at once and enabled us to develop a university-level, interdisciplinary strategy to focus on our relationship with Mexico.”

In 2016, the university took its first-ever delegation of more than 40 Longhorns to Mexico to continue discussions and make plans to develop research collaborations and exchange programs, grow alumni engagement opportunities and design customized offerings for students and professionals.

“Such relationships allow us to better address questions that face the entire border region, from building a strong economy with opportunities on both sides to finding new and efficient ways to develop energy sources,” wrote UT President Gregory L. Fenves in an op-ed in The Dallas Morning News before the visit.

Multiple initiatives and agreements are in place to begin and energize the research relationships between UT Austin and Mexico. Initial collaborations, which include workshops, seminars, exchanges and more, will tackle additive manufacturing; water systems and sustainability; robotics and intelligent systems; infrastructure and smart transportation; and, of course, energy. In addition, the university will work on faculty, staff and student exchanges; study abroad opportunities; graduate student recruitment; professional training; ESL programs; and shared cross-disciplinary grants.

If we stay on course, this will be an extremely rewarding partnership – no question about it.”

“To ensure the success of these programs, UT faculty and researchers need to continue making connections with their Mexican peers and identifying those areas of collaboration,” Piñon said. “If we stay on course, this will be an extremely rewarding partnership—no question about it.”

Faculty members, students and researchers across campus continue to develop new ideas to create new partnerships and bring new types of funding, programming and brainpower to this joint initiative. And, as conversations about research have advanced, it has become clear that there are many other equally beneficial areas in which Texas and Mexico could team up.

“I truly believe UT and Mexico are and will continue to be excellent partners in education and research,” Torres-Verdin said. “Being Mexican and being part of UT, I have a personal connection to these initiatives. I can see a win-win for both of my homes.”

John Ekerdt, associate dean for research in the Cockrell School, said the two partners identified the areas for research exchange based in part on areas that will advance the Cockrell School’s strategic research plan, which was launched in 2015 to help shape the school’s investments.

“Partnering with Mexico provides exciting opportunities for our engineering community,” Ekerdt said. “We work on the same problems but the solutions are unique to our situations and geographic locations. That’s how we learn from each other. Simply put, this partnership just makes sense.”

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