Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Benefits of Academic Exchange

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Diplomat Magazine
Diplomat Magazine
DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands. Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. "Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions." Dr. Mayelinne De Lara, Publisher

By H.E. Ms. Elizabeth Ward Neiman, Ambassador of Panama to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

As Ambassador of Panama to the Kingdom of The Netherlands, establishing mutually benefitting relations between Dutch universities and their Panamanian counterparts was one of my objectives within the bilateral agenda.  The purpose of this was to initiate academic collaboration ranging from the exchange of teaching methodology, knowledge, professors, students, amongst other opportunities.

Although it sounds like a simple task, there were many challenges along the way!  First of all, identifying and achieving contact with the correct person within the selected Dutch universities.  Secondly, prompting their interest to consider the collaboration.  Thirdly, connecting the appropriate counterpart in Panama.  Following this, the Embassy coordinated and participated in the subsequent virtual meetings until a well-defined and agreed project was reached.  This was, and is, followed by periodic contact to provide support between the actors if and when necessary.

During the COVID pandemic, a limiting factor to tend patients was the availability of the respirators.  Collaboration between Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) and the Universidad Especializada de las Américas (UDELAS) was achieved to create a COVID respirator which would serve as an international prototype.  One of the four produced was sent to Panama for UDELAS to continue with the process seeking medical approval and patenting.

True momentum started with a friend in Panama sharing the contact information of a Dutch who is well connected in both the logistics and the academic sectors. With his assistance, a virtual round table with 5 Dutch universities and 5 Panamanian universities and training centers was coordinated.  This took months of preparation in addition to personally visiting each Dutch university as well as numerous conversations with the Panamanian counterparts.  The effort paid off since it resulted in a successful round table with a focus in logistics.   However, it would take many more months of following up before any concrete results were produced. 

The first agreement signed was between the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences (RUAS) and the Universidad de Santa María la Antigua (USMA).  Although the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has not been implemented as expansively as expected, it’s a matter of time before it is.  The agreement between Fontys University of Applied Sciences and the Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá (UTP) followed with the assistance of the Dutch Embassy in Panama. 

Other mutually benefitting MoU´s in the final stages of coordination are between Panama´s Science, Technology and Innovation Institute (SENACYT) and University of Groningen, University of Leiden, and Wageningen University.  Also in process are two others between UTP and University of Groningen and University of Leiden. 

Although more complex and requiring much more time, conversations with the directors of the School at Sea program have been ongoing with the vision of implementing a similar program for students from Panama to the Netherlands.

Beyond the MoU´s that are already signed and those that are in the review process in respective legal departments, there are many success stories that are worth mentioning! 

To list a few:

Mats Ruwe, a student from Wageningen University (WUR) did his master´s thesis project with Riba Smith Supermarket chain, a large family-owned business that produces, processes, packages, distributes, and exports products. The project, “The decision making-dynamics of a perishable CPG-nanostore supply chain” consisted in optimizing the supply chain logistics of direct distribution to convenience stores around Panama in order to minimize stockouts, minimize waste and increase sales. Months of work was done in The Netherlands before his departure to Panama for two weeks on site.

Rosanne Bartholomeus, from Utrecht University, did her master´s thesis with Reef2Reef Foundation living in Portobelo, Colón for 6 months while researching the degradation of coral reefs and applying restorative interventions to enhance resilience against local and global stressors. Her comprehensive research was shared with the foundation and has been essential to their ongoing restoration efforts.  In addition, because of her work in Panama, Rosanne was selected to be a youth speaker at the Our Ocean Conference held in Panama in 2023.

Raf Verdaasdonk and Valentijn Elsman from WUR followed Rosanne´s footsteps with Reef2Reef doing their master´s research thesis with coral reefs as well. Their focus was in two areas respectively: 1.  the predation by fireworms and slugs and the negative effect it has on coral planting projects and 2. the planting techniques in a natural environment that allow us to increase survival.

An internship for Tessa de Wilde, from Saxion University, with Electron Investment S.A. (EISA), in the hydroelectric sector was agreed at the end of March.  Tessa will be traveling to Panama in July 2024 to initiate her work in civil engineering while focusing on the sustainability of the natural reservoir.

At Saxion University, in conjunction with Instituto de Innovación Agropecuario (IDIAP), a class project just concluded.  The study utilized data provided by IDIAP to explore ways to increase drought and flood resiliency in the La Villa River in Panama from a Dutch perspective.  Upon culmination of the project, Nout Lindenschot and Daan Smits, two of the four students who worked on it, delivered the results to IDIAP and to the Embassy during a personal presentation of the suggested recommendations.  Further collaborative activities are already being discussed to since both actors have benefitted greatly.

Between INDICASAT and University of Groningen (RUG), joint research is being conducted on a new medication for the treatment of patients with tuberculosis.  These findings will change the course of tuberculosis treatment globally.

Just recently, WUR initiated two class projects with challenges presented by MiAmbiente (the Panama Ministry of Environment) that focus on finding nature based sustainable solutions for the consequences of the predicted sea-level rise in regions in Panama.  The data to be used is provided from previous research.

With Leiden University, there are many ongoing projects within the archeology department.  Categorizing, documenting and packaging the 343 pieces of cultural heritage repatriated to Panama was done in conjunction with a specialized packaging company and students.  Numerous archeological explorations to the indigenous part of the Darien jungle, guided by Natalia Donner, a lecturer at Leiden University, have been done with Leiden´s graduate students.  Two Panamanian students are currently doing their doctorate work in archeology at Leiden.

Although the Embassy will continue seeking new opportunities, based on the proven success of mutual benefits, the road has been paved to further expand collaboration. 

With each new cooperative effort, we improve the process making it smoother, especially for the travelling students.  Prior to the Dutch students´ departure to Panama, we invite them to the Embassy, and brief them on topics such as Panama´s culture, gastronomy, public transportation, attire, places to visit, visa issues, amongst others.  A brochure has been elaborated that contains summarized vital information which we update based of students´ feedback when they return. For those students coming from Panama to the Netherlands we designed a brochure with information that would be helpful prior to their arrival; this we  shared with the Dutch Embassy in Panama since that would be a point of contact prior to their journey to The Netherlands.

In a globalized world, it is through the exchange of information and related experiences that we can learn from each other and advance more efficiently for the benefit of all.

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