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Accomplished alumna from Mexico reflects on ASU experience

August 14, 2018

Arizona State University attracts students from all over the world for varied reasons — degree program variety, accessibility, recommendation from others, research and program reputation, athletics and many others. 

But for an aspiring PhD student from Mexico, choosing ASU came down to primarily one thing she discovered while conducting research for her master’s degree: an inspiring professor.

María Rita Plancarte Martínez, now a senior leader serving as a vice rector with the Universidad de Sonora, earned her doctorate in Spanish literature from ASU in 2004. She discussed her path to Tempe and reflected on the benefits of the experience with ASU Now.

Question:  How did you end up at ASU?

Answer:  While completing my master’s degree at Universidad Autónoma de México, I found certain specialized articles and books, which proved very useful for my research. The author was Professor Emil Volek, who happens to be a well-known scholar in the fields of Spanish-American literature and literary theory and, after doing some more research on his work, I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was a professor at ASU. Since his areas of expertise were the same as mine, in terms of academic interests, I decided to contact him and, through our academic exchange, Professor Volek proved to be not just an expert on his field, but also a mentor of sorts. That’s why when the time came to look for a PhD program, I had no doubt that ASU Spanish graduate program was the best option for me. Besides, another advantage of studying at ASU was that Tempe is relatively close to my hometown in Sonora, México, which meant I could see my family as often as possible. Therefore, I enrolled to the graduate program in 2000 and got my PhD in March 2004.  

Q: Looking back at your ASU experience, how would you describe it?

A:  Studying abroad provides some of the best learning experiences that life has to offer. Living abroad taught me a lot about self-reliance when it comes to achieving my goals. Studying at ASU allowed me to broaden my academic and social horizons. By participating in a program with American and international students, I became culturally aware of both our differences but, most importantly, our similarities. Speaking of my student experience, I’d like to mention that I really appreciated the faculty’s work discipline. The professors’ awareness of their roles as mentors, and later as colleagues, allowed for the creation of lasting academic bonds between my fellow students and the faculty. Likewise, I'll forever be thankful to the staff of the Spanish graduate program whose disposition to help grad students was more than anybody would’ve expected. They made me feel welcomed and comfortable throughout my stay.

Q: Where do you work today?

A:  On Sept. 1, 2017, the UNISON Board of Regents elected me as vice rector of our main campus. I have many and great responsibilities, which range from coordinating the different academic divisions and departments’ activities in terms of their academic programs and projects to managing the technical and financial resources UNISON’s main campus needs to work properly, while ensuring the fulfillment of the university's missions and goals. Therefore, this office strives for a close relationship with students and faculty across campus, in order to help them achieve their academic and professional goals. I’m very thankful for having had the opportunity to study at ASU. I made very good friends and, I honed my knowledge and skills, in order to reach the highest position as a full time professor at UNISON.

Q: How do you feel about student or research exchange programs between U.S. and Mexican universities?

A:  The personal learning experience is one of the many benefits of exchange programs. Others include the creation of an academic network, being in contact with or participating in cutting-edge research, as well as an intercultural connection. While there may be some challenges in terms of financial resources, I have no doubt that the benefits of exchange programs work both ways for students and universities alike. Having the opportunity to study, research or teach abroad is a unique experience, not only when it comes to professional growth, but with individual growth, making people more understanding of others. Going through an experience like this helps us realize that we share so much more than we think. Which I believe to be one of the unseen benefits of these type of programs.   

Q:  Any parting thoughts?

A:  Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my stay at ASU, I hope that sharing a little bit of my experience, motivates students and faculty to participate in or promote exchange programs between Mexican and American universities. Last, but not least: Go Sun Devils!

Top photo: María Rita Plancarte Martínez and Arizona State University Professor Emil Volek participate in the International Colloquium of Mexican and Hispanic American Literature 2013, held at the University of Sonora in Hermosillo, Mexico, Nov. 6–8 of that year. Courtesy photo/UNISON

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