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USC Rossier doctoral students prep for global study in Costa Rica

by Andrea Bennett
From left, USC Rossier Executive in Residence Michael Escalante, students Sam McVey and Oryla Wiedoeft, CINDE Director Gabriella Llobet and students Sebastian Puccio and Felipe Martinez (Photoo/Courtesy of USC Rossier)
From left, USC Rossier Executive in Residence Michael Escalante, students Sam McVey and Oryla Wiedoeft, CINDE Director Gabriella Llobet and students Sebastian Puccio and Felipe Martinez (Photoo/Courtesy of USC Rossier)

Twelve USC Rossier School of Education EdD students will travel to Costa Rica in June to study the impact of globalization and multinational corporations on education in that country. It will be the first time that doctoral students will use an international study tour to research a group dissertation with assistance from that country’s leadership.

Through a mix of ingenuity and serendipity, the students found some impressive advocates for their study, including a former president of the country and the current minister of education.

A literature review of the Costa Rican economy led the students to Andrés Rodríguez-Clare, a highly cited economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who introduced them to the country’s leaders in education and economic growth, including his father, Miguel Angel Rodríguez, president of Costa Rica from 1998 to 2002. As a result, the students gained access to the country’s most powerful leaders.

Four of the students — Oryla Wiedoeft, Sebastian Puccio, Felipe Martinez and Sam McVey — traveled to meet their contacts this month in preparation for the research trip. They dined with Rodríguez, met with Gabriela Llobet, director of the Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency, which is responsible for bringing in high-tech multinational corporations, and Minister of Education Leonardo Garnier Rímolo, as well as the dean of the University of Costa Rica and a number of business, education and policy leaders.

“It was probably one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at USC so far,” said Michael Escalante, executive in residence at USC Rossier who chairs the dissertation group and attended the exploratory trip with his students. “I got to watch my students interact at the highest levels and question world leaders about economics, schools and the future of Costa Rica. It really is taking international study to a different level.”

Global study tours are part of the curriculum for every doctoral student at USC Rossier, but until now, no tour has been directly linked to dissertation research.

The students are particularly interested in Intel Corp., which established itself in the country in 1996 and is continuing to support the country’s national goals of shifting exports from bananas and coffee to technology-based products.

With the shift, schools in Costa Rica, which already boast one of the highest literacy rates in the world, are now working to prepare students with 21st-century skills for knowledge-based jobs.

Intel has invested in a number of primary, secondary and vocational schools, as well as universities in the San José area, with the aim of developing a highly skilled labor force that will support production and research and development at Intel. USC Rossier dissertation students will look at these schools, as well as examine how globalization impacts the way teachers are prepared at the University of Costa Rica.

“It’s fascinating to look at another country that is taking on the same challenges as we are to compete globally, drive the economy and get the education system where it needs to be. The parallels have been eye-opening,” Wiedoeft said. “We can forget that many other countries are aggressively and strategically moving forward. It’s a wake-up call for U.S. K-12 educators to make sure our kids come out on the cutting edge.”

Costa Rican leaders embraced the USC group’s research project, which will be the first of its kind in the country.

The former president invited the students to his home when they return in June.

Given the impressive reception so far, Escalante said he plans to lead a second dissertation group to Costa Rica next year for a follow-up study.

“How often do students in a doctoral program get the chance to do an international study where the country’s leaders are anxiously waiting to see our results?” Escalante asked. “It is an amazing experience.”

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