Bethel College and Mexican university renew collaboration agreement


Originally published by Bethel College

Bethel College and the Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas, or University of Sciences and Arts, Chiapas, Mexico, have renewed their collaboration agreement and, just as important, refreshed their cross-border exchange.

UNICACH and Bethel have been collaborating formally since 2018.

Robert Milliman, Bethel vice president for academic affairs, visited the main campus of UNICACH in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, in early 2018.

Three months later, in April, then-UNICACH rector (president) José Rodolfo Calvo Fonseca made a return visit to Bethel, during which he and Bethel President Jon C. Gering signed the five-year collaboration agreement.

Bethel’s connection to UNICACH started earlier, however, originating with Francisca Méndez-Harclerode, professor of biology.

She had begun talking with UNICACH colleagues about a possible exchange already in 2015, and spent her sabbatical in 2016 developing a biology field and travel course in Chiapas and the surrounding region.

That course ran for the first time during the January 2018 interterm. Méndez-Harclerode, her husband Jerry Harclerode and six Bethel students joined Milliman in the inaugural official Bethel group visit.

This May, history repeated itself in part, with a renewal of the agreement in a signing ceremony on the UNICACH campus, and Méndez-Harclerode, Harclerode and six Bethel students there for the event.

It was especially auspicious since Covid-19 had sent the last visiting professor from UNICACH, Sergio Lopez, and his family home early in March 2020, and there has been minimal exchange since then (one Bethel student to UNICACH during summer 2021; Méndez-Harclerode collaborating with UNICACH faculty on a population genetics study).

Méndez-Harclerode led the May Term course “Biological and Cultural Richness of Mexico” for the first time since January 2020 (Bethel has discontinued the January interterm and moved to a May Term for short courses).

Juan José Solórzano Marcial, the current UNICACH rector, “expressed his joy at resuming face-to-face inter-institutional relations,” according to the UNICACH press release about the signing of the renewed agreement.

“He also talked about the benefit [of an exchange] to students because of the globalization of the world nowadays, and this enables exposure for them beyond Chiapas,” Méndez-Harclerode said.

The May Term class took the Bethel students to various sites in Mexico City as well as to Ría Lagartos and Puerto Morelos in the Yucatan, Frontera Corozal (on the Chiapas border with Guatemala), and archaeological sites at Palenque, Yaxchilán and Bonampak, among other locations.

UNICACH students and faculty joined the Bethel group for a significant part of the time in Mexico.

The trip included some places that were new from previous visits, as well as a difference in the Bethel students.

The Bethel students didn’t know each other well previously, Méndez-Harclerode said, which meant they were “not already gelled [as a group]” and therefore “melded with the UNICACH students much more quickly and closely than before. They got along really well. It was a really significant experience for all of them.”

Another difference: what appeared to be a much greater number of migrants “once we left Tuxtla and went south. We heard many stories. On the frontier with Guatemala, the cabins where we usually stay were full, booked by coyotes [human smugglers].The [Usumacinta River] is at the core of the human migration corridor.”

Méndez-Harclerode says she is looking forward to increased student exchange between Bethel and UNICACH, as well as expanded research opportunities, going forward.

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel ranks at #14 in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges,” and #24 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of “Best Regional Colleges Midwest,” both for 2022-23. Bethel was the first Kansas college or university to be named a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center. For more information, see

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