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Promising Partnerships


By J. Lee Simons

Illustrations by Alexei Vella

From collaborating with the next county over to building relationships below the equator, BYU enjoys many partnerships that have greatly benefited the Latin American studies program. These relations have allowed for more conviviality through conferences and workshops, more funding through grants and scholarships, and more hands-on interaction through internships and study abroad experiences. Following are four examples of how BYU stands out in Latin American studies.

Working with the U

Thanks to the success of the Intermountain Consortium for Asian and Pacific Studies (IMCAPS), which is funded by a Title VI grant as a National Resource Center (NRC) run by BYU and the University of Utah, these two institutions of higher learning once again joined forces to apply for an NRC grant to be used for Latin American studies. The Intermountain Consortium for Latin American Studies became a reality in 2014 after receiving the coveted $6.6 million NRC grant.

Working together, Jeffrey M. Shumway, current Latin American studies coordinator at BYU, and his counterpart, Claudio A. Holzner, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the U of U, have created a synergy of opportunities based primarily on less-commonly taught languages (LCTLs). These opportunities are enhanced by the faculty, who use their strengths and research across many disciplines to broaden students’ experiences with LCTLs.


In addition to providing scholarships, the grant allows BYU to fortify the Latin American studies program, add to the Harold B. Lee Library’s resources, and provide outreach to primary- and secondary-education students. “One of the big pushes is to get Latin American studies material into classrooms from kindergarten through twelfth grade and also into community colleges,” Shumway noted. “Last April we hosted a conference in Salt Lake City, inviting high school world history teachers to a session on game-based learning. About twenty teachers from across the state came to hear from experts, and they received materials to begin implementing this into their curriculum.” BYU has also helped develop the Latin American curriculum at Salt Lake Community College.

Conferences and faculty research support are other ways the NRC grant is adding value to the BYU experience. The NRC partners also share speakers. For example, “two Argentine scholars are scheduled for January,” said Shumway, “and they will give lectures at BYU and at the University of Utah. They will do outreach to community colleges and work with students.”

The Language Connection

Universities across the nation look with longing at BYU’s language resources. About 65 percent of BYU students speak a second language, classes are consistently offered for fifty-eight languages—thirty-two more with sufficient interest—and 126 languages are spoken on campus. It is common to hear several languages spoken in the short walk from one building to another. In that regard, BYU is truly an international campus.

“Some of the language courses taught on campus are fully or partially funded by the NRC grant,” said Shumway. “That is a direct benefit to our students.”

From the NRC monies, about $4.6 million funds Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) scholarships. Awards are given for the academic year and for summer. Academic-year recipients must add one advanced-level language course and one area studies course each semester to their curriculum. In return, undergraduates receive full tuition and a $5,000 stipend, and graduate students receive full tuition and a $15,000 stipend. Summer FLAS grants are for language immersion programs abroad.

Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros

BYU is fortunate to partner with the archive of the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros (IEB)—Brazilian Studies Institute—at the University of São Paulo. “BYU is the only North American institution that has a partnership with the archive, and when friends of ours at other universities find out about it, they are all amazed,” said Rex P. Nielson, a BYU assistant professor of Portuguese and Brazilian studies.

Over the past four years, Nielson and his colleagues Scott M. Alvord, an associate professor of Hispanic linguistics, and James R. Krause, an assistant research professor of Portuguese, have partnered with the IEB to send seventeen BYU students from diverse majors to serve primarily archival and curatorial studies internships. The IEB archive provides a unique opportunity.

“They have personal papers for writers, artists and paintings, musicians and instruments—basically everything related to culture IEB archives,” Nielson explained. “But most of it hasn’t been catalogued. This is a tremendous opportunity to handle rare materials.”

Working alongside Brazilian students under the direction of IEB head archivist Elisabete Marin Ribas, BYU students “craft a project that is mutually beneficial to both the institute and the students’ academic and professional goals,” said Krause. Several of the past students have moved on to graduate school, due in part to their experience at the IEB. Eager to leverage the students’ skills, Ribas asked studio arts student Megan Mitchell Arné (’18) to paint a mural at the IEB.

Romancing Language and Culture

“I was born and raised in Hawaii,” began Jeffrey M. Shumway, assistant professor of history and faculty coordinator for the Latin American studies major at BYU. Although Hawaii and Spanish do not seem compatible, Shumway’s life says otherwise. After taking Spanish in high school, he served in the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission (1987–89), which, according to him, “solidified the attraction to the Spanish language and a deep love for the Puerto Rican people.”

Following his mission experience, Shumway attended BYU–Hawaii as an undergraduate history major that he described as a hybrid of history and political science. He then received an MA in history at BYU, this time a hybrid of U.S. history and Latin American history. For his PhD, Shumway chose the University of Arizona in Tucson, where “they have one of the top Latin American history programs in the country,” he stated. “The highlight of my experience was working with Professor Donna Guy, an Argentine specialist, and thus I became an Argentineanist.”

Shumway’s research focuses on the social and cultural history of Argentina in its independence era. “Argentina became independent from Spain in 1810, and I am interested in the transition from colony to nation,” Shumway explained. “My first book, The Case of the Ugly Suitor and Other Histories of Love, Gender, and Nation in Buenos Aires, 1776–1870, grew out of my master’s thesis and my dissertation.” The working title for his current book project is A Woman, A Man, A Nation: Mari de la Sanchez, Juan Manuel de Rosas, and the Beginnings of Argentina. “It’s the same time period. Rosas is one of the most famous Latin American dictators and Sanchez was a good friend with him growing up,” Shumway pointed out. “Their families were on friendly terms, but when Rosas became governor of the province of Buenos Aires, Sanchez became disillusioned with him and with the society he was promoting, so she went into exile.”

Having worked at BYU since 1999, he claims it has “only been good.” Many of his students have assisted with research, and many more stay in contact. “The great thing about BYU is the great students,” he said. “Some of my students now work on Capitol Hill, are business executives, are in the Foreign Service, or went to the best law schools and are now practicing law. We do our part to help them along their way, but we are dealing with a pretty good product from the get-go.”


Arné’s piece depicts the various collections housed at the IEB while evoking the styles of Brazilian modernists Anita Malfatti and Tarsila do Amaral. This year’s batch of interns also included Maeser Allen (political science, ’18), Louis Arné (graphic design, ’18), Marisa Hart (Portuguese, ’18), Sydney Jorgensen (communications, ’17), and Andrew Schwartz (information systems, ’18). Their projects included translation, website building and design, and curation of archives related to Brazilian society and politics.

Although separate from this program, the prestigious FLAS summer fellowship has been awarded to eight of the seventeen IEB interns over the past four years. “FLAS fellows attended advanced language training at the Fast Forward Language Institute in the morning and participated in their IEB internship in the afternoon,” Krause explained. “These fellowships assist meritorious students who study specific underrepresented languages and plan to use the language in their future career.”

Plans are underway to add a full São Paulo study abroad program in 2019. BYU faculty will teach courses on Brazilian culture and history, according to Nielson, and the program will include visits to museums and historical sites. In addition, BYU is setting up an internship agreement with the Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa, which oversees the museu Casa de Rui Barbosa in Rio de Janeiro. The combined archive and museum is in the former house of Rui Barbosa de Oliveira, a Brazilian writer, diplomat, and politician. Nielson said, “BYU faculty and students interested in Brazilian culture and literature will benefit from this new partnership.”

It’s in the Genes

As early as 4,000 BC, ancient American civilizations are known to have grown and harvested quinoa, kaniwa, and amaranth. These crops provide proteins of both quality and quantity, and they are resistant to drought and salinity. Though typically used like grains, they are seeds. “They are called pseudocereals because they’re consumed primarily in the Andean region as a staple food, but they come from broadleaf plants and grasses,” explained Eric “Rick” Jellen, a professor of plant and wildlife sciences and associate dean for research in the BYU College of Life Sciences.

Jellen got involved in plant genetics during graduate school at the University of Minnesota and then worked for the USDA for four years. “At that time I was working on true cereals,” he said. “When I came to BYU in 1996, a student approached me, saying, ‘I would like to work in your lab on plant genetics, but I want to work on quinoa. The Benson Institute said if I can convince you to work on quinoa, they will fund part of my research for my master’s degree.’”

From that query, a faculty team was formed consisting of Jellen, Craig Coleman, Mikel Stevens, and Dan Fairbanks. “We applied for an external competitive grant through the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program; they had over 100 applications, and we were funded,” Jellen said. “We received four-year extensions twice, so for twelve years we were funded by McKnight. It was fantastic.”

The McKnight grant involves a collaboration between a U.S. partner and a developing world partner. For BYU, the partner was Bolivia. “Most of the direct practical impact that was done through this grant was done by our partners in Bolivia,” explained Jellen. “We supported them by providing guidance, direction, and free consultations as they set up a modern plant breeding program. We would go down once or twice a year and walk through the fields, take a look at the selections, and train Bolivian scientists.”

Then quinoa hit the health-food industry. “I remember when it started to be a catchphrase because of the protein and health benefits, maybe five or six years after we started the project,” Jellen recalled. “It exploded on the international market and had nothing to do with what we were doing. It was serendipity.”

One issue these crops have is no tolerance for heat. “The Humboldt Current sweeps up the west coast of Chile and keeps it very cool. Even when it’s 100 degrees in the central valley, along the coast it’s in the 60s,” said Jellen. “Kaniwa was selected for thousands of years by farmers in the high Andes elevations higher than 12,000 feet. (Mount Timpanogos is just a shade under 12,000 feet.) The main quinoa-growing region in Bolivia is 12,500–12,700 feet. At that elevation, quinoa, even on the hottest days, never sees temperatures above 75 degrees. In order to grow quinoa successfully, you have to genetically diversify, because genetic diversity includes resistance to bugs and diseases that attack this crop that has been growing in these very isolated and pristine environments in South America without bugs and disease.”

Most of BYU’s seeds grow in the greenhouse and in the fields behind the greenhouse park. “I have collaborators in Oregon, southern Idaho, and southern Utah, where I’ve had experimental plots,” Jellen said. In addition to Latin America, they have projects in Morocco and Guyana.

National Peers

Consortium partnerships between universities are a trend. There are four other U.S. Department of Education Latin American National Resource Centers across the United States:
• Columbia University with New York University
• Duke University with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
• The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with the University of Chicago
• The University of Wisconsin–Madison with the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee


BYU’s main partner in South America is Luz Gomez, a professor at the Universidad Nacional Agraria–La Molina in Lima, Peru. She is the research director for the cereal and Andean grains program. “For the past ten years we’ve had a tripartite agreement between BYU, the Universidad Nacional Agraria–La Molina, and the Peruvian Agriculture Ministry,” Jellen said. “Luz is working with our seeds directly with small farmers, making selections that hopefully are higher yielding and more disease and insect resistant. As the climate warms, bugs and diseases are moving up the mountainside to attack these higher-altitude crops.”

Jellen said that thirty-five years ago, people in Peruvian cities did not know what quinoa was. “There was a stigma that mountain food was poor food,” he explained. “Now you go to the rich part of Lima and there’s quinoa all over the place, and they’re proud of that. Quinoa is among a number of indigenous foods they now embrace.”