RESEARCH CONNECTS IDEAS, INNOVATION ACROSS BORDERS
In a lab in East Central Illinois, Mexico’s Andrea Aguirre Camorlinga found her people. They understand her gut microbiota jokes.
“When I said ‘Oh my gut’ instead of ‘Oh my God,’ and everyone got it, I knew I was living the dream,” Camorlinga said.
The Tec de Monterrey University senior spent spring semester at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She enjoyed nutritional sciences classes and research as part of the new Mexican & Mexican-American Students initiative (I-MMÁS). A University of Illinois System program, I-MMÁS develops win-win academic and research partnerships that pave the way for economic opportunity in Illinois and Mexico.
The first cohort of 15 I-MMÁS students from Mexico did internships at UIUC. Students from Mexico studying here, as well as Mexican-American students doing internships in Mexico, receive educational support and mentoring.
After exploring options, a Division of Nutritional Sciences internship at UIUC was an easy choice for Camorlinga.
“I was super interested. I didn’t think about it twice,” she said.
Andrea Aguirre Camorlinga at UIUC's Edward R. Madigan Laboratory.
The U of I System leads essential collaborations such as these across the globe.
The U of I System launched the Great Lakes Higher Education Consortium with the University of Toronto and the Council of the Great Lakes Region to develop solutions for regionally significant socioeconomic and environmental issues.
This growing partnership supports advanced research in manufacturing, communications, transportation, human health and more, representing the kind of collaboration required for tackling societal grand challenges.
Several higher education collaborations connect the U.K. and the system, which recently partnered with Cardiff University in Wales for a grants program to support advanced research between Cardiff and U of I System universities faculty.
The system is establishing a liaison office in New Delhi, with branch offices in Bengaluru and Mumbai, to further develop relationships with companies and higher education institutions, as well as support student recruitment.
Executive Director Elvira de Mejia said I-MMÁS internships allow students to apply the knowledge they gain in their classes in practical ways.
“I-MMÁS provides an enhanced support program for our current and future students across the system’s three universities,” she said. “The program helps students with the successful completion of their higher education experience while facilitating their future career opportunities.”
Student researchers from Mexico have been involved in the USDA-funded trial “Microbial and metabolomic impact of walnut consumption in adults with obesity.”
“Andrea has been involved in the participant research visits when participants come in for blood draws and to assess their body weight,” said food science and human nutrition associate professor Hanna Holscher. “She also played an important role in the laboratory.”
A competitive swimmer as a tween and teen, Camorlinga is no stranger to intense commitments.
“I had swim practice before and after school every day,” she said, adding she’d like to be a dietician who works with athletes. “I’ve been there, so I know how important quality nutrition is for a good performance.”
Partnership in action
I-MMÁS is building a greater presence of Mexican and Mexican-American students in Illinois as it enhances interactions between the U of I System and Mexican schools and businesses.
Collaboration that supports scientific, technological and innovation research reached an important boots-on-the-ground milestone in 2022. The U of I System opened a Mexico City office at Autonomous National University of Mexico, the largest university in Latin America.
De Mejia says the unity I-MMÁS promotes is essential.
“Together we can develop sustainable collaborations with Mexican universities, companies and the Mexican-American community in Illinois to address societal challenges and build a more equitable future,” the head of UIUC’s Division of Nutritional Sciences said.
“I-MMÁS contributes to the system’s objective of building human capital for stronger economies.”
As the end of the semester grew near, reality set in for Camorlinga. “I’m sad this is getting over. I will miss the amenities in the lab and the lab staff,” she said. “They are good people. They are overachievers, and that is inspiring.”
The good vibes flow both ways.
Graduate researcher Mara Perez Tamayo said, “One of Andrea’s many good qualities is that she works well independently and as a member of our research team, which is essential in clinical research.”
Camorlinga takes back to Mexico more than new lab skills.
“My time here has had a huge impact on my future professional life,” she said. “As I determine what to do after school, this enriching experience opened doors for me.”
I-MMÁS student presents research findings as part of the UIUC experience.