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Silvia Castro

COSTA RICA - Health & Education

ULACIT students can choose to take 50% of their studies overseas

Rector, ULACIT

Bio

Silvia Castro holds a PhD in university administration from the University of Pennsylvania, a master of science in education from Harvard University, specialized studies program, and a degree in international relations, law and organization from Georgetown University. She also earned specializations in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University and Interactive Multimedia Design for Education, Columbia University. She is member of the Board of Directors of the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce and the Diversity Forum in AMCHAM, the Education Commission of the Union of Chambers and Associations of the Private Business Sector (UCCAEP), the Council for the Promotion of Competitiveness, the Business Association for Development, the National Advisory Council for Social Responsibility, the Balance Association, and the Board of Directors of Bellelli Education. She is a university professor with 22 years of experience.

“We are the only Costa Rican institution that is a member of the National Student Affairs Association in the US.“

What is the history of ULACIT?

ULACIT began to operate in 1987. It grew out of a technical school that was established in 1936, four years before the first public university was founded in Costa Rica. This is a proprietary institution, founded with the objective of offering science, technology, and other programs. ULACIT was the third private university founded in the country; comparatively, we are an established institution in Costa Rica, although internationally we could be considered a young university. Our mission is to educate and prepare leaders to serve the world. There are three key operative words in that mission statement: “leaders,” “service,” and “world.” We are not a university for everyone, but seek to attract the best performing students in the country. We seek to create and prepare leaders for business and public life. We have a high focus on activism and serving the community, and our teaching model encompasses that concept of service. That is why we have been ranked the best private university in Central America for six years in a row.

How do you prepare leaders for the challenges they have to face in the world?

The first step is to recruit and select leaders. We visit every town in the country and ask community leaders if they know people with the skillsets we seek. We search every corner to scout for talent. People come up to us and we analyze the credentials, test their leadership abilities, and interview them to assess their talents. We recruit full 100% scholarships, a free ride for the entire program, and we do that with 100 students a year. This allows us to select the best of the best in the country. These are not just students with high academic standing but also students with musical, sports, art, or other talents, and also a strong leadership orientation, a history of activism, and a spirit of service to their respective communities. Those are the key qualities we look for. We also seek to engage a diverse range of students of different ages, ethnicities, political and religious affiliations, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and abilities. We build a special community where people can come and learn from those who excel in many different fields. They not only learn about leadership from those with leadership experience and interests, but also come here to become leaders for the global world by being exposed to a rich, diverse, and multicultural environment. In that interaction, we provide a unique learning environment. We don’t just teach about leadership; we encourage students to exert their leadership abilities in real life.

What programs do you offer?

We have programs in three basic areas: engineering and design, social sciences, and business and economics. We are expanding in engineering and design, which the world is moving toward. We are not known just for the variety of programs we offer; we are known for the way we teach. We use project-based learning methodologies. We do not use exams like traditional universities do. It is project-based learning founded on inquiry, research, problems, and service, based on the Teaching for Understanding (TfU) framework developed by Harvard’s Project Zero. We tropicalized that teaching model to ULACIT. We have an Americanized curriculum, with aspects like Freshman Seminar, First-Year Experience, and Gen-Ed (general studies, or liberal arts). We are the only university in Costa Rica that incorporates a liberal arts curriculum as understood in the US. That means we include 14 courses—28% of the curriculum—that are general studies, and students have to learn how to reason verbally, quantitatively, morally, and aesthetically. Hence, it is a strong program based on developing reasoning skills. All students have to learn about entrepreneurship as well, regardless of their field of interest.

What is the importance of internationalization for ULACIT?

Internationalization is important to us. Our students can decide to take 50% of their learning requirements abroad. They can decide to do that by paying local tuition at ULACIT and taking courses at partner institutions outside of the country. That is a huge advantage for students who cannot pay USD3,000 per credit; they can study in 30 different countries. We facilitate those exchanges through our Global Education Office (GEO). Furthermore, we are the only Costa Rican institution that is a member of the National Student Affairs Association in the US. Beyond academic studies, we also have other support services to help students get the best results they can in terms of finding jobs and getting started on their careers as well, just as other American universities do.

How would you rate the current situation and level of education in Costa Rica, and how ready Costa Ricans for competing internationally?

Our points of reference are developed countries such as those in Scandinavia, and there are still challenges that need to be resolved. There are also strengths that we are known for in the region. One of those strengths is the level of English proficiency of the population, much higher than many other countries in the region. In addition, Costa Ricans are more reasonable in the sense that they are better at thinking through their decisions and being more systematic about their thought processes; that is due to the better skill set they bring from primary and secondary education, which is of higher quality than in other neighboring countries. In terms of challenges, we are not graduating as many students as we should from our high schools. This is an issue that the government is addressing. From my perspective, our students reflect more soft skills than I have seen in other countries in the region, and the areas of opportunity that need to be further developed are quantitative skills, such as statistics and mathematics. Their knowledge in those fields is still lagging.

What are your goals and priorities for ULACIT in the coming five years?

We just released our five-year plan, and our big priority is internationalizing the institution, in terms of teaching, research, extension, and social responsibility. We want to keep offering services and programs that are not offered in the country or the region. We want to also stay innovative in the delivery of education, in which we are currently ranked number one in the country through our project-based learning model, which is contextualized and applied to our particular context.

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