Virginia Tech’s academic partnership in Chile are entering a new phase as the 10-year-old center in Valdivia ramps up with small research grants for faculty members and new settings established for student engagement. The center, housed at the Austral University of Chile, is promoting opportunities and programs for students and faculty members, including:

  • Arranging internships for Virginia Tech students in Valdivia.
  • Offering grants of several thousand dollars to connect like-minded researchers in Valdivia and Blacksburg.
  • Communicating to Virginia Tech faculty members that labs, offices, and nearby lodging are available to facilitate research and study abroad in Chilean Patagonia.

Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs, said the center’s expansion, which builds on Virginia Tech’s long history with the Austral University, is “poised for growth” for reasons that include Chile’s positioning as a living laboratory in an era of climate change.

“Chile is one of the more economically vibrant nations in South America, rich in mineral resources, and with an ethos that celebrates entrepreneurship and innovation,” he said. “Equally important, it repeatedly experiences natural disasters, such as earthquakes and sea-level rise, making it of keen interest for Virginia Tech’s faculty experts who study environmental security, resilience, and disaster risk mitigation.”

Chile map showing university site

Map shows site of Virginia Tech center at the Austral University.
Virginia Tech has a long history with Austral University.

Loreto Quintana, executive assistant for the center, was in Blacksburg earlier in the fall to explain the new options to faculty and staff members. But they aren’t the only ones benefiting from the center’s expanding activities. New study abroad options involving the Global Education Office are also in the works. College of Science researchers Robert Weiss, who has gained recognition for his studies of disaster resilience related to sea-level rise, and Tina Dura, also of the Department of Geosciences, are developing a month-long course that could launch at the end of 2020.

The research grants – which both universities are underwriting – require a faculty member in Valdivia to find a research partner from Virginia Tech. Quintana said about half a dozen joint projects are underway on such topics as public health, business, tourism, and civil engineering. Faculty members interested in finding a research partner in Chile can contact her at loretoquintana@uach.cl.

Virginia Tech’s partnership with the Austral University dates to when Gerhardt Schurig, now special assistant to the vice president for Outreach and International Affairs for South America initiatives, was a faculty member in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Students from the college have been involved in exchange programs, and Virginia Tech Vet Med faculty have taught in Valdivia since 1996. Schurig, the college’s dean from 2004 to 2013 and now dean emeritus, was instrumental in originating the partnership along with John Dooley, then vice president for Outreach and International Affairs. Schurig has worked for the past year on the center’s expansion and was involved in earlier efforts to broaden its offerings to include students and faculty from other disciplines.

Quintana has been the executive assistant since the center’s opening. Marianna Werner, a veterinarian on the faculty at the Austral University, was appointed center director last year. She earned her master’s degree in Blacksburg.

“She’s a Hokie,” Ghosh said. “She’s a mover and shaker and wants to get things done. We’re looking forward to expanding Virginia Tech’s global footprint and being on the forefront of research and study abroad on key topics in Chile – an exciting place for the university to be.”