The new technical degree program in Logistics, Transportation and Port Operations at the Universidad Cristiana Evangélica Nuevo Milenio (UCENM) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras has collaborative ties with nearby ports, cargo transportation, and customs businesses. During the curriculum mapping stages for this degree, the Advance Program (“Program”) organized working sessions between UCENM and these relevant businesses. The relationships built during these curriculum sessions blossomed in the final quarter of 2019 into an opportunity to strengthen the knowledge of four faculty members – and ultimately curriculum and pedagogy – through an externship program.
Generally, universities do not move at the speed of the private sector, and businesses are largely interested in concrete results. This makes a strategic partnership between the two a difficult task, but an externship program can be beneficial to both sides. In this case, UCENM was able to provide businesses with competent professionals who then returned to the classrooms to teach about the practicalities and realities of the sector. The faculty externships are a win-win scenario, as the businesses gain more brand recognition among the community and, in the long-term, students graduate with knowledge and skills aligned with market demand.
The UCENM faculty had not considered the possibility of externships for themselves prior to this opportunity and their initial reaction was to ask and reflect on the following questions: Why would we want to do an externship with a business? Aren’t we already professionals with knowledge in the sector? As the initial meetings progressed, Advance highlighted the value of externships and the discussion and questions shifted from reluctance to focus on potential learning from the experience: Are we teaching classes based on updated practices and theories? Do we understand current innovations in the sector? This reflection paved the way for the Faculty Externship Program, which was carried out in March 2020 with a strong connection to courses in Transportation and International Agreements for Maritime Transportation and Navigation.
The Advance Program worked closely with UCENM faculty to support the design of the externships providing technical guidance for planning, organizing, implementation, monitoring, and systematization throughout the experience. Of the four participating professors, two carried out their externship in a cargo transportation company, where they witnessed and filmed the process of using heavy machinery to move large shipment containers. Now these videos serve as valuable didactic materials that enhance UCENM’s transportation courses. The other two professors worked at a customs agency, where they were able to see first-hand how the complexities of laws and regulations play out in the real world with a variety of incoming product shipments.
Each faculty extern experienced the challenges that arise and solutions that result in the industry. Professor Ramón Maradiaga shared, “We were surprised, because in so little time we have been able to update our knowledge and witness innovative technology. We have more ideas to develop our classes and new resources which are directly validated within the companies.” Luis Maradiaga, another faculty participant, expressed, “Now we feel more motivated and more confident to adapt in-class training. We are now better professionals.”