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Former VP of Dominican Republic to Visit USU

Thursday, Nov. 07, 2013

former Dominican Republic Vice President Rafael Alburquerque visits USU

Former Vice President of the Dominican Republic will speak at USU Nov. 15.

USU Dominican Republic student Leslie McKinney

Leslie McKinney, from Santo Domingo, is majoring in special education at USU.

USU graduate Leonardo Pockels returned to the Dominican Republic

Leonardo Pockels graduated from USU with a master's degree in structural engineering. He is now back in the Dominican Republic helping his country as an engineer and a college professor.

The former vice president of the Dominican Republic will be a guest speaker Nov. 15 as part of Utah State University’s International Education Week, Nov. 11-15.

Rafael Alburquerque De Castro, who served as vice president from 2004-12, will speak at 1:30 p.m. in the Taggart Student Center Auditorium. His talk will focus on the current state of social and economic development in the Dominican Republic and trends for the future.

Alburquerque, a respected authority on labor laws and social security, earned a law degree from the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. He is a full professor of labor law and has taught at several universities throughout his career. He became active in politics in the D.R. in the 1960s, participating in the struggles at the end of the Trujillo dictatorship. He is a founding member of the Federation of Dominican students and its first assistant secretary-general.

As vice president, he served as coordinator of the Cabinet of Social Policies and Program and chaired the governmental commission pertaining to D.R. social security policies.

His visit to USU attests to the growing bond between his country and the university dating back to 2000. It was then that USU and the Dominican Republic Ministry of Education arranged for 36 full-time students from the D.R., both undergraduate and graduate, to study in Logan as part of a presidential higher education scholarship program.

Since that time, USU has gone on to house and educate more than 336 full-time students, including 240 undergraduates and 96 graduates, said Shelly Hernandez, program coordinator with the Office of Global Engagement and International Scholarships and Programs.

USU is the only university in Utah and only one of six in the United States participating in this unique joint educational venture with the Dominican Republic. D.R. students who attend USU must first qualify as superior students in their country’s presidential higher education scholarship program in order to participate. The intent of the millions of dollars the Dominican government invests in this scholarship program is to ensure that it has a highly skilled and educated workforce to meet the demands of its growing economy. Special emphasis is placed on science and technology, Hernandez said.

In addition to the 96 students on the Logan Campus, 14 D.R. students attending USU Eastern will also join their peers to participate in International Week activities, including the opportunity to meet with the former vice president.

To date, 215 D.R. students have earned degrees at USU in engineering, business, language teaching, landscape architecture and biology. Of this number, 52 students have earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees, with 91 receiving only undergraduate degrees and 72 solely earning graduate degrees.

“I value the way USU embraces people from a great variety of nations and equips us to excel and thrive in all areas of life,” said Leslie McKinney, 22, from Santo Domingo, majoring in special education. “During my time here I have grown as a person and my commitment to my country and the world has increased amazingly.”

McKinney considers it a great honor to have the former vice president from her country visit the campus. “I cannot imagine the amount of responsibilities he has, but the fact that he is taking the time to visit us is simply astounding,” she said.

When she returns to the D.R., she said she hopes to start a humanitarian project to bring special education to lower income rural and urban areas.

“Only the wealthy have been exposed to special education in the D.R. and I want to make it attainable for the poor,” she said.

USU’s tie to the Dominican Republic, which shares the island with Haiti, is special and one that the university will continue to foster, said Mary Hubbard, vice provost for International Education.

“Our relationship with the Dominican Republic through this scholarship program is exemplary of USU’s land-grant mission,” she said. “It elevates our historic role of providing access to higher education to a new, international level.”

In the process, the benefits to the students are immense, but it is definitely a two-way street, she said.

“While we provide access to world-class educational opportunities at low cost and in a safe, nurturing environment, these dedicated scholars bring new insights and perspectives to our classrooms,” she said. “They are enthusiastic and eager to share their culture. Coming to us from a variety of different backgrounds, they enrich and broaden our university community.”

Part of the requirement for participating scholars is that they be willing, after obtaining their degrees, to return to the Dominican Republic for at least two years to put their degree to work for the benefit of their country.

This was not a problem for USU alumnus Leonardo Pockels who today makes his living as a professional engineer in the D.R. working in the seismic rehabilitation of many important structures in his country such as banks, commercial buildings, supermarkets and, more importantly, private and public schools across the country.

“Since my return to the Dominican Republic, I have been able to put into practice everything I learned from USU,” he said.

He has also been working as an assistant professor in Santo Domingo at two universities and sharing much of what he learned at Utah State with his own students.

“All of the ideas, teaching methods, technical information, updated class contents, everything I learned from USU during my master program,” he said.

Pockels attended the Logan campus beginning in 2007, earning a master’s degree in structural engineering.

“I feel blessed for being able to obtain an education at a U.S. university,” he said. “USU is one of the best universities in the country, especially in my area of expertise, so I feel lucky for being part of this amazing experience.”

Pockels said he appreciates the way USU provided him with important opportunities to do research and to be in direct contact with faculty members in the civil engineering department on campus.

“They are a group of excellent professors and well recognized researchers, with advanced background in civil engineering and with numerous publications,” he said. “I learned a lot from them.”

And the environment in which he learned was another standout for him.

“The entire university was a perfect place to study,” he said. “You also had lots of resources at your disposal, from the USU library to the computer labs, which made the studying process a lot easier.”

Pockels said his ability to have direct contact with any of his professors was also a big plus.

“You could show up in their offices and have a face to face conversation about anything related to the class,” he said. “That was really helpful.”

In addition to the presidential higher education scholarship program, the Office of Global Engagement and International Scholarships and Programs also partners with the D.R. for select students to participate in USU’s Global Academy in Logan and Price over the summer. USU has hosted 349 students in this eight-week Intensive English program over the past four years, and this summer 58 of those students participated in this program on the Price campus.

It is the university’s close ties with the D.R. that allowed USU to branch out and provide shorter, summer offerings, Ortiz said.

Although not tied exclusively to D.R. students, the majority of the young scholars hail from the Dominican Republic. And while students from the summer program typically do not return to Logan or Price to pursue their undergraduate studies, it does not preclude them from doing so. For example, 14 of the students from past programs have since opted to return to USU and USU Eastern where they are now enrolled fulltime.

In addition to speaking to students, the former vice president will also participate throughout the day in several International Week activities, including helping to judge at the International Pageant held later that evening at 7 p.m. in the USU Stevenson Ballroom.

Nov. 11-15 International Week highlights:

  • International Family Night: “Tour the World” – Nov. 11, 6:30-8:30 p.m., TSC Ballroom. Free event.
  • International Fashion Show: Nov. 12, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., TSC International Lounge. Free event.
  • International Guest Speaker: Dr. Alburquerque, Nov. 15, 1:30 p.m., TSC Auditorium. Free event.
  • Mr/Miss International Pageant: Nov. 15, 7 p.m., TSC Ballroom, $3 per person ($1 off w/ donation of non-perishable food item).

See the full schedule in the International Week PDF.

More details are online at the Global Engagement website.

Contact: Shelly Ortiz Hernandez, 435-797-1647;

Writer: John DeVilbiss, 435-797-1358;

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