Todd Fletcher, an associate professor of special education rehabilitation and school psychology at the UA since 1985, was recently in the town of Cajones, in Guanajuato, Mexico, to open the Resplandor International Cultural and Education Center. The community-development center is a UA-sponsored project focused on literacy, technology and health-education training. The next step is a library and mobile rural classroom. For more information on Resplandor, visit www.resplandorinternational.org, or call Fletcher at 621-0939.
How did this UA relationship begin with the community of Cajones?
One graduate student attended my program for four consecutive summers. She fell in love with Mexico and the people, and decided that she and her family would move to Mexico to live and work. ... Under my supervision, she is completing her doctoral-dissertation research in Cajones. It just so happened that they were able to rent a house in Cajones last June. I visited them last October, and walking around the area, I came across an unfinished building and location that struck me as an ideal place for an educational and cultural center.
It took off from there?
Everything continued to unfold, and through discussions and synchronicity, everything seemed to be in place. The idea behind it was to establish a permanent presence in the area. I was inspired, because I had lived and worked in Mexico for the past 25 years and wanted to return and give something back to the Mexican community. I began to converse with students and colleagues about how this could be done. ... In January 2009, the inauguration day of President Obama, I was in Cajones and signed a long-term lease for the property. Construction began two days later.
How did your relationship with Mexico begin?
I ended up finishing my undergraduate degree in Mexico at the Universidad de las Américas in Puebla. That began my career looking for bridges that could be built between Mexico and the United States. ... After I completed two postgraduate degrees in Oregon, I was hired by the special-education department in the UA's College of Education to begin a program focusing on the preparation of special-education teachers focusing on cultural and linguistic diversity.
You got a grant in 1986 for Verano en Mexico, a study-abroad program to take grad students to Mexico.
I wrote that proposal to the federal government for a bilingual special-education program. ... The purpose was to take graduate students enrolled in the program to Mexico to learn about the Mexican educational system and work with children and families in clinical and educational settings. ... On a personal level, they could better understand and relate to some of the issues faced by immigrant students in our schools.
Has it always been UA students?
No. This year, I have five students from the University of Minnesota studying in a graduate program in the area of speech and hearing sciences.
But Resplandor is primarily run by UA students?
Juliana Urtubey is an undergraduate student in bilingual education. Susan Baker is a master's student in my program, and Jacqueline MacKenzie is completing her doctoral dissertation under my supervision in Guanajuato. They have been strategically involved. This summer, I asked Elizabeth Salerno, a recent UA graduate in Latin American studies, to serve as a program-development specialist to begin to organize educational activities for Resplandor. It has been a huge success. We have had a tremendous amount of support in Cajones. We are currently offering English, dance and music classes, and we have had up to 60 kids from the local community attending.
Why is the project important to you?
I want to see something concrete that I can do to make a difference in the world by providing opportunities to those who otherwise would not have them. ... I was also inspired by the book Outliers. ... The point that (the author) makes is that we need to find ways to provide equitable opportunities to all individuals, because in any given population, there could very well be a budding or potential Diego Rivera, Albert Einstein, Beethoven or Octavio Paz. ... Therefore, the name of the center—Resplandor International: Maximizing Human Potential.