PUTTING THE HUMANE IN HUMANITIES

Costa Rica 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Silvia Castro, Rector of ULACIT, on building the country's best student body, the perks of internationalization, and the importance of a liberal arts education.

Silvia Castro
BIOGRAPHY
Silvia Castro holds a PhD in university administration from the University of Pennsylvania, an MS in education from Harvard University, and a degree in international relations, law and organization from Georgetown University. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce and the Diversity Forum in AMCHAM, the Education Commission of the Union of Chambers and Associations of the Private Business Sector (UCCAEP), the Council for the Promotion of Competitiveness, the Business Association for Development, and the National Advisory Council for Social Responsibility. A university professor with 22 years of experience, she also serves as a consultant to international organizations like LASPAU-Harvard and the Educational Testing Service.

What is the history of ULACIT?

ULACIT began to operate in 1987 when it grew out of a technical school first established in 1936, four years before the first public university was founded in Costa Rica. It is a proprietary institution founded with the objective of offering science, technology, and other related programs. ULACIT was the third private university founded in the country. Our mission is to educate and prepare leaders to serve the world. We are not a university for everyone, but seek to attract the best performing students in the country and prepare them to be leaders in business and public life. We have a high focus on activism and serving the community, and our teaching model encompasses that concept of service. That is why we have been ranked the best private university in Central America for six years in a row.

How do you prepare leaders for the challenges they have to face in the world?

The first step is to recruit and select leaders. We visit every town in the country and ask community leaders if they know people with the skillsets we seek. We search every corner to scout for talent. People come up to us and we analyze their credentials, leadership abilities, and interview them to assess their talents. We give full scholarships, a free ride for the entire program, to 100 students a year. This allows us to select the best of the best in the country. These are not just students with high academic standing but also students with musical, sports, art, or other talents, and also a strong leadership orientation, a history of activism, and a spirit of service in their respective communities. Those are the key qualities we look for. We are also seeking to engage a diverse range of students: people of different ages, ethnicities, political and religious affiliation, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, and abilities. We build a special community where people can come and learn from those who excel in many different fields. They learn not only about leadership, but are exposed to a rich, diverse, and multicultural environment.

What programs do you offer?

We have programs in three basic areas: engineering and design, social sciences, and business and economics. We are expanding in engineering and design, which is what the world is moving toward. We are not known just for the variety of programs we offer; we are known for the way we teach. We do not use exams like traditional universities, but use project-based learning methodologies founded on inquiry, research, problem-solcing, and service, which is based on the Teaching for Understanding (TfU) framework developed by Harvard's Project Zero. We localized that teaching model to ULACIT. We have an Americanized curriculum, with aspects like Freshman Seminar, First-Year Experience, and Gen-Ed (general studies, or liberal arts). We are the only university in Costa Rica that incorporates a liberal arts curriculum as it is understood in the US. That means we include 14 courses, 28% of the curriculum, that are general studies, and students have to learn how to reason verbally, quantitatively, morally, and aesthetically.

What is the importance of internationalization for ULACIT?

Internationalization is important to us. Our students can decide to take 50% of their learning requirements abroad. They can decide to do that by paying local tuition at ULACIT and taking courses at partner institutions outside of the country. That is a huge advantage for students who cannot pay USD3,000 per credit; they can study in 30 different countries. We facilitate those exchanges through our Global Education Office (GEO). Furthermore, we are the only Costa Rican institution that is a member of the National Student Affairs Association in the US. Beyond academic studies, we also have other support services to help students get the best results they can in terms of finding jobs and getting started on their careers as well, just as other American universities do.