A Cal Poly program is bringing the school’s “learn by doing” philosophy to a small village in rural Guatemala.
Associate professor of physics Peter Schwartz, who traveled to the village of San Pablo with a dozen Cal Poly students in December, met Guatemalans there who were eager for an intellectual community and to study abroad. So Schwartz proposed to them, “Why don’t we bring the university to you?”
The result is Guateca — a newly-formed nonprofit administrated by Schwartz to create a mutually beneficial learning experience for the students of both Cal Poly and the 600-person farming village in eastern Guatemala.
“I see Cal Poly and San Pablo on very equal footing” in terms of what they each have to offer one another, Schwartz said.
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Twenty Cal Poly students each year will spend the summer in San Pablo, taking classes for credit in Spanish, physical science and engineering with 20 Guatemalan students.
The bulk of studies will focus on technologies such as applications of solar power, housing improvements and sanitation, which can create steady sources of income in San Pablo.
Meanwhile, Schwartz is working to develop an exchange program, through which some Guatemalan students will be able to study at Cal Poly.
And when Schwartz told them that Guateca would send Cal Poly students expressly to teach them English — a roomful of San Pablo students burst into applause.
During the two-week December trip, the Guat-emalans and Americans navigated a significant language gap with the help of Google Translator an online language tool. “We are tripping, falling and getting up again.” Schwartz said about the collaborative learning process.
Guateca also invested the hundreds of dollars necessary to enable wireless Internet throughout the entire village, which its citizens can pay to maintain. Though San Pablo has only 30 computers, Schwartz estimates, it is a “coherent community that has made a commitment” to learning and education, he said, and its students are enthusiastic.
Though it is affiliated with Cal Poly, Guateca is independently funded. The summer school is paid for through Cal Poly tuition fees. Swartz has a goal of raising $20,000 to $50,000 per year to provide stipends for students who can’t afford summer tuition.
Cal Poly student Ryan McDonald, who will travel to San Pablo this summer, is creating a documentary about the development and progress of Guateca, which will hopefully attract investors and participation, he said.
At this stage, Schwartz said Guateca is a program with more optimism and eagerness to learn from the Guatemalans than preconceived notions of what the collaboration will yield.
Schwartz has only one rigid expectation for Guateca: “I am committed to a two-month learning experience that will repeat every summer,” he said.