What Impact Does 100,000 Strong in the Americas Have on Higher Education Collaboration and Academic Exchange Opportunities?

Collage of speaker headshots and image of dtudents working in a lab with teacher Main Photo: NIH Image Gallery / Research Training / Flickr / (CC BY-NC 2.0) / Adaptation Blue Wash

On June 10, 2021, the Dialogue's Education Program, in collaboration with Partners of the Americas and the US Department of State, held an online event to present 'Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships to Expand Higher Education Collaboration and Academic Exchange in the Americas,' a year-long analysis of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas (100K) Innovation Fund, discuss its impact, and examine spaces for future growth and improvement.

The event featured remarks from Michael Shifter, president of the Dialogue; Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs in the US Department of State; and John McPhail, CEO and President of Partners of the Americas. Sarah Stanton, senior associate, and Anna Herrero, research associate with the Education Program at the Dialogue, presented the report’s findings and recommendations. Ambassador Alfonso Quiñónez, ambassador of Guatemala in the US; Paula Henao, director of the Office of International Relations Director at the Instituto Colombiano de Crédito Educativo y Estudios Técnicos en el Exterior (Icetex); Jon Piechowski, deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs in the US Department of State; and Aaron Gorenc, education advocate at the Fox Valley Technical College made up the panel moderated by Roberta Jacobson, Inter-American Dialogue member and former member of the National Security Council and former assistant secretary of State in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs in the US Department of State. 

In his opening remarks, Michael Shifter highlighted the importance of intersectoral partnerships across the Americas and the impact that projects like the 100K Fund have in Western Hemispheric relations.

Julie Chung spoke next and affirmed the value of public-private partnerships as a way of expanding innovative and sustainable educational and professional opportunities. Chung expressed satisfaction with the results of the first seven years of the 100K Fund, highlighting the fact that the program has built a network of more than 10,000 participants through over 250 grants in 25 countries and 49 US states. According to Chung, 100K-funded programs have enabled Latin American and US students to create meaningful collaborations, address real-world problems, develop inter-cultural skills, and transform their academic and professional journeys.

Anna Herrero and Sarah Stanton presented the main findings of their co-authored report ‘Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships to Expand Higher Education Collaboration and Academic Exchange in the Americas.’ The first section, presented by Herrero, detailed the methodology used in the report (surveys, interviews, and focus groups) and the impact of the Fund, divided into three levels. The first level is student development, where the report found that 100K-funded programs facilitated future academic and professional collaborations, professional exploration and training, as well as increased mobility for students, an impact that remains true after the end date of the programs. It was also noted that 100K students are more racially and socioeconomically diverse than the average student in US higher education institutions, and more likely to be first-generation college students. Some factors restricting student participation, however, were limited interest from US students, language barriers, and visa impediments for students in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The next level of impact is Higher Education Institution (HEI) development and growth. Within HEIs, 100K grants pushed internal growth and buy-in from leadership. For example, grant support could lead to increased institutional capacity through the creation of study abroad offices in small institutions or increased funding for foreign exchange at larger HEIs. Grants also facilitated collaboration between departments and colleagues that might not have otherwise interacted. Externally, 100K programs enabled HEIs to create lasting partnerships with other organizations. For HEIs, the most relevant remaining challenge is to sustain programs after only one cycle of funding.

The third and final level of impact is donor-partner engagement and strategic benefits. According to the report, there were three main factors that motivated donor-partners to contribute to the Innovation Fund: the opportunity to promote key topics in donor agendas, the focus on diversity and inclusion, and the externalization of fund management. The main benefits donor-partners reported from their collaboration with 100K were increased access to the academic sector, strengthened bilateral relations with the United States government, and a positive impact on policy debate around Western hemispheric relations.

Stanton presented the Dialogue's recommendations for the 100K Fund moving forward. First, she highlighted the importance of leveraging collaboration with existing State Department programs to reduce participation barriers, especially for Latin American and Caribbean students, such as language barriers and visa requirements. The report also suggested that a broad and active alumni network, for both students and HEIs, could support continued collaboration and exchange. Similarly, a unified donor network could be consolidated. Additionally, creating longer funding cycles would allow for greater sustainability in 100K programs, especially in smaller HEIs. Finally, it would be beneficial to focus more on skills development opportunities, possibly through internships with partner institutions or separate grant opportunities. 

Roberta Jacobson opened the panel discussion by asking Alfonso Quiñónez, Paula Henao, and Aaron Gorenc about their experiences with the project.

Quiñónez, who first engaged with 100K as part of a donor company, then as an Organization of American States official, and currently as the Guatemalan ambassador to the US, testified to the positive effect the experience had both on his former company and his home country, creating intercultural exchange for the Guatemalan population as a whole. Henao, on the other hand, reported her and her peers’ initial disbelief that such an initiative could work in the first place. However, having now worked with 100K programs in several institutions, she is glad to see the positive change it created after many years of hard work. Finally, Gorenc stated that it would have been hard to find a similar opportunity had he not worked with 100K, but after doing so, he reported increased visibility and professional and academic success for students at his institution.

Jacobson then asked the panelists which improvements they would suggest in addition to the Dialogue's recommendations. Henao, having experienced 100K programs during the Covid-19 pandemic, suggested strengthening internationalization not only based on physical mobility but also virtually and otherwise. She also recommended taking advantage of rejected proposals that were nonetheless good ideas. Gorenc also suggested that grant runners-up could work with winning institutions to strengthen their proposals, further collaboration, and ultimately create more employment and mentorship opportunities for students. Finally, Quiñónez proposed a stronger alignment of 100K programs and company interests for further publicizing and recognition of donor contributions, as well as more interactions between students, HEIs, and donors to create deeper connections and possible future opportunities such as internships in those companies.

Next, John Piechowski commented on the importance of the 100K model for hemispheric relations and how it relates to US policy goals. He underlined the importance of engaging with Latin American countries through programs such as 100K as a means to build prosperity in the US and abroad and strengthen democratic governance and citizen security. According to Piechowski, the Department of State will continue to invest in 100K programming and will take the recommendations provided by the Dialogue to improve their work.

Finally, John McPhail closed the event by thanking all involved and stating that the 100K Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund perfectly embodies the values and mission of Partners of the Americas, affirming that ''100K is going strong in 2021.''



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