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This month, the Institute of Water and Environment International Program (InWE-IP) welcomed Dr. Pilar Cornejo, Dean of the College of Maritime Engineering, Ocean and Biological Sciences and Natural Resources and Director of the Pacific International Center of Disaster Risk Reduction at the Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral (ESPOL) in Ecuador.

Dr. Pilar Cornejo (center-left) meets with Dr. Maria Donoso (left), Dr. Todd Crowl (center-right), and Dr. Rita Teutonico (right).

Cornejo met with several leading scientists and researchers at the Institute, including InWE Director Todd Crowl, to discuss the potential for a long-standing partnership supporting education and research exchanges between FIU and ESPOL. In the past, ESPOL and FIU have connected in the field of computer sciences. This partnership however, is the first to bridge the universities around the marine sciences, specifically focusing on coastal marine systems, emerging pollutants, and resilience.

The Institute is home to the Center for Coastal Oceans Research (CCOR), Southeast Environmental Research Center (SERC) and Sea Level Solutions Center (SLSC). Each of these centers support important initiatives that focus on the continued health of our coastal waterways, as well as identifies ways to improve and bolster resilience in our local, national, and international communities. The Institute also houses the CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment (CAChE), the leading center at FIU investigating environmental contamination and pollution.

“The work being done at the Institute is very complimentary to the work we are doing at ESPOL,” said Cornejo. “The idea is to develop a student and professor exchange, and then in the medium-to-long-term work on joint-research projects that can be implemented to address environmental concerns plaguing both countries.”

ESPOL has standing partnerships with other universities, but they focus on either research or student and faculty exchanges. The hope for this program is that it will encompass both the educational mobility aspect (which will be made available for both graduate and undergraduate participants), as well as the research collaboration element.

The geographic and environmental similarities that both Ecuador and South Florida share makes this a unique opportunity for network science regarding research and data sharing, as well as hands-on student learning. While FIU is located in Miami and ESPOL in Guayaquil, Cornejo explains that the two universities are actually not so different when it comes to their environment. Miami’s location at 25 degrees north manifests similar characteristics to some of the same natural elements found at the equator, where Guayaquil is located.

“The mangroves, the temperatures, the rainfall, the anthropogenic impacts, the pollutants in freshwater, changes in the wetlands, and most significantly how people in cities are affected by these fluctuations are very similar experiences in both locations,” she explains. “Essentially, we share the same problems.”

Sharing the same problems means testing similar solutions. The research collaboration that this partnership will bring is anticipated to open many doors in terms of implementing resilience initiatives, addressing water pollution, and investigating critical environmental concerns impacting our oceans. To add, the student and faculty exchange that is envisioned through this partnership would allow participants to gain in-the-field and lab experiences from both Ecuador and Miami, expanding the breadth of knowledge available to them.

For more information about this initiative and InWE’s international programs in Latin America and the Caribbean, please contact Dr. Maria Donoso.