Student Spotlight: Camila Vallejo’s Commitment to reform Chilean Higher Education

“Who would ever think that so much went on in the soul of a young girl?”
— Anne Frank

Courtesy of K12.KN3.net

The first time one sees a picture of Camila Vallejo, it’s an easy mistake to think that she closely resembles Catherine Zeta-Jones, or perhaps she looks like a distant Chilean relation to newly-minted royal Kate Middleton.  The 24-year old, Universidad de Chile student looks poised, bright-eyed, conversational and mostly nonchalant despite a growing paparazzi following that began documenting Vallejo’s life ever since early 2011.  This spotlight attention which constantly exposes her leadership efforts to bring change to Chile’s higher education system, echoes a true-to-life reality that history’s most admired figures all learned intimately: for those who enjoy substantial privilege, there comes a great responsibility.

Last spring Chilean college students started organizing the demonstration in order to voice their discontent about the country’s universities shortcomings to policymakers, and quickly nominated Vallejo as the movement’s premier spokesperson. Aware that such a role required one to stifle their anxiety, maintain composure and act peacefully, she eagerly pledged a commitment to support the initiative. One year later, her involvement receives international media coverage whether she’s traveling to meet with other Latin America students or just grabbing a coffee while waiting to begin the next speaking engagement.  A interview feature for UK-based, The Guardian, reports that the events concerning Chile’s higher education carry big political implications, “Sebastian Piñera, Chile’s president, has just 22% public approval ratings, the lowest ever in Chilean history.” Apparently the girl from Ipanema needs to take the back seat, because the world’s attention recently shifted to studying a young reformer hailing from La Florida.

Courtesy of http://www.Lupa.Io

Comparatively, although the ‘@GurlFromIpanema‘ describes herself as a ‘world traveler/saleswoman,’ who loves art, cocktails, and salsa; @Camila_Vallejo’s credentials date back to 2008 when she began acting as a prominent counselor to ‘Fech’ – also known as the Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile.  Shortly after this, she was voted the organization’s November 2010 President.  It’s a shining testament to her character as the 105 year-old student union nominated only one other female president. Although her bid to win another presidential term failed, her growing web presence will certainly prepare one to endure a political career long term. In addition to building an extensive YouTube archive, her Twitter account alone connects with 590,000+ followers.

Moreover, Vallejo’s online presence also expresses the empathy she feels toward similar movements taking place all over Latin America. This past summer when Mexican university students kicked off the ‘#YoSoy132′ movement to contest recent Presidential election results, Vallejo made a trip to the capital, ready and willing to lend assistance wherever possible. These collaborative moments reassure the lingering doubts she maintains about creating truly sustainable changes.  She frequently points out how “in Chile we are constantly hearing the message that our goals are impossible and that we are unrealistic, but the rest of the world, especially the youth, are sending us so much support. We are at a crucial moment in this struggle and international support is key.” Indeed, such efforts to band together as Latin America students proves an advantageous strategy as they try to overcome every new challenge involving higher education reformation.

So how will a University of Chile alum turned ‘media powerhouse’, with such an extensive, international reputation play her next move? A book deal seems more rewarding than a reality TV show, so that’s exactly what Vallejo set to accomplish right before the year’s end. In Janurary 2013, Vallejo’s new book entitled Podemos Cambiar el Mundo (We Can Change the World) will come out highlighting a collection of op-ed pieces she’s written, that outline the many problems plaguing Chile’s incredibly dysfunctional higher education system.  The book also discusses what Vallejo predicts will need to happen if South American countries want to adequately prepare future students to enter an increasingly, competitive, global financial market.  Not including the book pre-orders from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. the title already pre-sold 3,000 copies when launched earlier this fall.

Fortunately, modern emerging media platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Blogs allow a person to track the spotlight highlighting innovative education student leaders like Camila Vallejo, and support their efforts despite one’s physical address. And in watching Vallejo’s influence gain recognition more and more every day, it’s encouraging to know that her digital footprint serves as a positive reminder… any great change starts with a single, small action.

Buena Suerta mi Amiga y Continuarse!

Amanda // @acmontgomery
E acrawfordmontgomery@gmail.com
LinkedIn.com/in/AmandaMontgomery

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London: Student Visa Chaos jostles an Education Capitol

“Education aims to give you a boost up the ladder of knowledge.  But too often, it causes a cramp while you sit on one of its rungs.”  ~Martin H. Fischer

Every now and then, it’s important to keep an ‘ice breaker’ question handy, just in case the small talk chatter during a monthly happy hour fades, because really there’s only so much conversation mileage when it comes to football.  So last week during a monthly ‘Wine Roundtable’ as my friends like to call it, someone put forth a question to the crew that dumbstruck all conversation mid-sentence.  Which gig would you hypothetically avoid at literally all cost: Penn State’s current VP of Marketing or RIM/Blackberry’s CMO responsibilities?

Having read about the recent student visa issues taking place overseas in London, I chimed in to offer a third alternative, “Well either way at least they’re not the immigration lawyers on case at London Metropolitan University…” and with that we all clinked glasses, lifting a hopeful prayer to the Paperwork Gods.  As every international student knows too well, dealing with visa administration/processing requires a patience threshold to rivals Job’s.  So in an extra effort to send out optimistic energy to the overseas students under fire across the pond, I also lit some extra candles – better safe than sorry.

Courtesy of CSmonitor.com

In order to resolve any problem, it’s paramount to first consider why/how things collapse, so that later when creating future operations, new procedures avoid former detrimental, mistakes. However no amount of mediation will correct a disagreement if those arguing fail to establish consistent, fair terms outlining how they’ll proceed.

In the case of LMU versus the UK Border Agency (UKBA), it’s evidently clear that neither party knows how to handle the system pitfalls concerning student immigration data and visa control.  As a result, according to a BBC World News report, come December 2012 “some 2,o00+ foreign students are affected and have until 1 December to find an alternative course or arrange to leave the UK.”  Comparatively, this almost makes waiting to find out about flight cancellations feel like a spa treatment.  It’s true, although LMU’s current predicament fortunately excludes child abusers and/or tanking stock values – it’s not exactly a rosy picture.

When it comes to discussing international student/staff university recruitment successfully, this London campus carries the burden to clarify issues involving the UKAB so that other UK colleges won’t endure a similar fate.  In a statement to the media, the campus administration made sure to note how, “London Met appreciates that as the first UK university to be placed in this position, [we have] a duty to the sector to try and bring an end to the damage arising from UKBA’s decision.”  Moreover since coming off a summer long media celebration involving Olympic preparation and a monarch’s Diamond Jubilee, it’s certainly understandable that the press openly welcome a new feature subject.

Courtesy of Hydromontage.com

In an effort to bring some relief and order to chaos, a task force with representatives from the academics’ union UCU, the UKBA, and the National Union of Students will help genuinely qualified international students enduring the investigation figure out alternative enrollment options and get back to their studies as quickly as possible.  A wise Englishman once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal.  It is the courage to continue that counts.”  It’s a good lesson to remember while waiting to re-enter the classroom, but until someone issues a logical verdict, LMU’s foreign students must try to keep calm and carry on.

Here’s hoping to a swift solution.

#YoSoy132 – Mexico’s Students & Media Use

“The educated youth of a nation are the trustees of it’s posterity.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Courtesy of DallasNews.com

If we measure news traveling down a grapevine exchange between Dallas, Texas and Mexico City- each headline journeys 1,135 miles every time these neighbors trade updates. But several weeks ago, the Dallas Morning News wire (one of today’s numerous digital grapevines…) released Alfredo Corchado’s fascinating story describing a student-driven movement that uses the name ‘#YoSoy132 as a way to identify/raise awareness about their cause which they hope will bring permanent change to a corrupt education system plaguing the current and future Mexican student community. It’s a genuinely inspiring article that lends a unique perspective to research investigating how Latin American university environments employing emerging media platforms deal with the consequent implications- both positive and negative.

Corchado’s reporting and other field accounts from major news networks like CNN and the BBC World News, all documenting the passionate activity surrounding #YoSoy132’s student protest movement coincidentally began to receive coverage just as this research project began; therefore it’s critical to read, analyze and monitor this story’s ongoing online development and how Mexico’s university campuses will or will not advocate relevant discussions.

At the end of 2012, Mexico will induct the newly elected President at the conclusion of current President, Felipe Calderón’s term. That said, ever since the election’s beginning numerous reports continue to debate the country’s transition and also question several broadcast media platforms who’ve allegedly given selective endorsements supporting the Institutional Revolutionary Party that presumptive president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto represents.

Courtesy of CNN.com

As a result, when Peña Nieto made an appearance on the Ibero-American University / Mexico City campus earlier this summer, students formed a heckling protest voicing their opposition toward the government’s passive reforms, Peña Nieto, and other responsible leaders (i.e. Elba Esther Gordillo, leader of the national teachers’ union).  According to Corchado’s observations, “The candidate’s team tried to play down the incident, saying that the crowd had been infiltrated by supporters of rival Andrés Manuel López Obrador who were posing as students.

Courtesy of YouTube.com

The protest retaliation took a viral turn three days later when a YouTube video featuring 131 students introducing themselves while presenting their school identification card as proof, received 1 million+ views in a 10 day period.  #YoSoy132 also circulated on Twitter as a hashtag discussion and news about the movement spread worldwide.  #YoSoy132 and the  students, parents, and other individuals wanting to help spread awareness about education conditions failing to help Mexico’s student community use an expansive arsenal of emerging media platforms to generate dialogue, organize committee meeting strategies and designate spokespeople.  Beyond Twitter and Youtube, wikipages and of course other university Facebook accounts all offer information about how to help those supporting the movement.

In the coming weeks, students everywhere will begin a new Fall semester at their respective universities but it’s undeniable that 100s of universities throughout Mexico will continue to discuss events surrounding #YoSoy132.  More importantly, educators, administrators, and students will also converse about what significant changes will impact their country’s future students socially, economically, politically and culturally.  But not surprisingly, a select percentage feel concern that creating a lasting impact to ensure permanent, enduring changes will require more than a strategic albeit dynamic social media effort which supports #YoSoy132.

Courtesy of CNN.com

Raul Trejo Delarbre, a professor who studies social media at the National Autonomous University of Mexico observes that indeed, “Social media savvy isn’t enough to maintain a movement… the leaderless group — accused by critics of lacking direction — must better define its main demands.”  And to his point, Reforma newspaper columnist Carmen Aristegui F.  asks “Are we or are we not before an authentic Mexican Spring?  Depends, of course, on students believing it themselves and on many other sectors of society … finding in them the creation of a space where their own hopes and concerns are reflected.

Yet even considering these daunting aspirations, there is a confident optimism delicately circulating amongst the student masses and those who support them.  As Angel Rodriguez, 19, a student at a music school run by Mexico’s City’s cultural ministry shares, “There is a spark, but if we leave it apathetically, it will dissolve.”  What an incredibly earnest observation but imagine the detrimental consequences if this discussion never even caught fire?

Connect with Amanda Montgomery || @acmontgomery