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Finding Solutions Through Cross-Connections: International Studies Program in the Yucatán Peninsula

Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

Finding Solutions Through Cross-Connections: International Studies Program in the Yucatán Peninsula

Despite being grounded in five core social science disciplines (anthropology, business and economics, political science, psychology, and sociology), the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership's constellation of interdisciplinary programs and institutes represent essential elements of our work. These programs provide majors, minors, and specialized preparatory studies—thus ensuring a dynamic, versatile curriculum that speaks to a diverse and global-minded student body.

Students in the State of Yucatán, Mexico

The International Studies program (I.S.) at the Colin Powell School is one of these key programs. In July, the program, with the support of the Josh and Judy Weston Fellowship and funding from the National Science Foundation, will send five undergraduate students and two students from the CCNY Grove School of Engineering to Mexico to research community response to climate change in the coastal flooding regions of the Yucatán Peninsula. 

International Studies Interim Director James Biles and Professor of Civil Engineering Larry Bank will accompany the students, along with two research assistants, both recent I.S. graduates. The I.S. students and research assistants will lead surveys of 600 households in seven communities along the coast to identify residents’ perception of climate change and assess the impact of natural disasters on local infrastructure and the social environment. To complement these surveys, the engineering students will be performing typology studies of structures—houses, public buildings, and so on. 

The research project hinges on a central problem facing state and local governments and agencies in the areas most vulnerable to natural disaster: Relocation policies aren’t enough and should be used as a last resort option. The objective, then, is to locate affordable and sustainable strategies and resources these communities can begin building and implementing in advance of natural disasters. 

Understanding and Changing the World

Monica Siu, who graduated from the I.S. program in December with plans to apply to medical school in the next year, is one of the research assistants on the trip. Like many other students who become I.S. majors, she came to City College with a strong sense of what she wanted to learn about the world, but wanted a flexible major that allowed her to integrate coursework in a design that fit her developing plans for the future. 

“I started as an undecided-science major,” Sui said. “Yet I felt so ignorant about people and current affairs. I found the International Studies program, and in it found a group of people who were genuinely interested in understanding the world and the people who inhabited it. They all wanted to change the world for the better. The notion was not an exaggeration, nor was it naively made. It was a choice we had all made despite the obstacles we knew would come: political, economic, or otherwise.”

Upon returning from the Yucatán trip, Sui will be traveling to Capetown, South Africa on an internship with the YMCA. She is currently studying for the Medical College Admissions Test and plans to work with CCNY’s Research Center in Minority Institutions in the fall. 

YucatánAn Expanding Partnership, Broadening Mission

Professor Biles, who in addition to being a former I.S. director and current Interim Director, also teaches in the Department of Sociology at the Colin Powell School, has longstanding connections in the Yucatán region. 

“Many of today's most salient global issues—climate change, development, and terrorism, for example—cross both disciplinary boundaries and international borders. This trip will provide students with the opportunity to gain first-hand research experience on one such global issue and to see how social-science research can inform both research in STEM disciplines and public policy.” 

Biles points out that the research trip is just the initial collaboration with state government agencies and research institutions in the Yucatán region in advance of a much more expansive partnership with the Colin Powell School and CCNY. This collaboration will include graduate education, student and faculty exchanges, and research collaboration.

The International Studies Program’s partnerships with organizations and researchers in Mexico, in addition to its cooperation with faculty and student colleagues in the Grove School of Engineering, get at the heart of how the Colin Powell School’s mission travels far beyond our degree programs. The Colin Powell School will continue to grow and succeed as an institution based on what develops in the connections and alliances born from intellectual curiosity, service-minded motivation, and the increasingly porous boundaries between university and community.