From left are Southeast Missouri State University alumni Luzmilla Vaccaro, Celmira Chang Ortiz and Karen Escudero; Rev. Pablo Varela Server, president of Universidad Santa Maria la Antigua; Linda Watt, U.S. Ambassador to Panama; Dr. Jane Stephens, provost at Southeast Missouri State University; and Sonia Guinard, a Southeast alumna.
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,
June 24, 2005 – Southeast Missouri State University officials recently signed a memorandum of understanding with officials from the Universidad Santa Maria la Antigua (USMA) in Panama, agreeing to share their joint expertise in a number of areas, including student and faculty exchanges.
The agreement was signed during a ceremony May 23 in Panama. Representing Southeast was Dr. Jane Stephens, Southeast provost; Dr. Adelaide Parsons, director of International Programs; and Trudy Lee, director of planned giving.
“We feel this agreement has the potential for long-reaching effects on the missions of our universities as well as our countries,” said Dr. Jane Stephens, Southeast provost.
Also during the visit, a Panamanian chapter of the Southeast Missouri State Alumni Association was formed, and a reception was held for Southeast representatives to reconnect with Southeast alumni from Panama. Fifteen members of the Panama alumni chapter were in attendance, representing various graduating classes – from the 1950s through 1998. The event recognized the history between Missouri and Panama as well as the long-standing friendship between the University and its Panamanian alumni.
Although this is the first partnership agreement Southeast has entered into with a Panamanian university, Southeast has had ties to Panama for more than 70 years, Stephens said.
“While on the campus of USMA, we participated in the opening of the Education Advising Center, where we were able to attract potential students for Southeast Missouri State University,” said Dr. Adelaide Parsons, director of International Program at Southeast. “Our alumni have also proven to be successful recruiters for us for fall 2005.”
The 70-year connection began around 1935 when Missouri adopted Panama as a “sister state.” The University’s direct connection soon followed in 1936 when the Santiago Normal Schoolᾰthe premier teacher training institution in Panamaᾰwas created. The first associate dean of the Normal School was a friend of the secretary to the president of Southeast (then Southeast Missouri Teachers College). As a result of this friendship and shared mission in educating teachers, Southeast began to welcome Panamanian students to its campus during the 1940s and 1950s.
More than 50 Panamanian students have studied at Southeast during the past seven decades, Stephens said, including Southeast’s first Panamanian alumni, Benilda Cespedes and later Carmen and Celmira Chang Ortiz, in the 1940s. A steady stream of Panamanian students have studied at Southeast since that time and the arrival of Panamanian students continued into the 1990s with the Campus X: USIA Fulbright Undergraduate Award Program, a federally funded program providing English language training.
“The trip brought together the past, present and future as Southeast Missouri State University seeks to build upon the friendships established between our University and the country of Panama,” said Lee, who represented the University’s Foundation and Alumni Association.