CSU Todos Santos Center: Student, faculty reflections

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“I can say definitively that if it weren’t for the CSU Todos Santos Center’s presence, I would not host a learning abroad field school in Mexico,” said Shane Macfarlan, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Utah. “It was something I always wanted to do.”

For Macfarlan, the CSU Todos Santos Center eliminated the guesswork of where and how to house students, and provided necessary infrastructure and community connections to support his goal of creating the Culture, Ecology, and Sustainability Field School — a two-week course designed for students to examine the intersection of culture, history, and ecology within the Baja California Sur region, with the town of Todos Santos as a case site.

“Every student that was on that program absolutely loved it,” he said, noting how the course enabled first-time international travel experiences for several of the 14 participating students. “For them to assuage their fears by going to something like the Todos Santos Center is really remarkable.”

Six years after its founding, the Colorado State University Todos Santos Center provides an ever-increasing number of unique and immersive opportunities for university students, faculty, and partners from the U.S. and Mexico, serving as the CSU System’s international hub for multidisciplinary research and community engagement, interuniversity collaboration, intercultural knowledge exchange, and experiential learning opportunities.

A world of possibilities

“The CSU Todos Santos Center provides an extremely convenient location in which to do research on the peninsula,” Macfarlan said, also highlighting some of the distinct characteristics of the town of Todos Santos that have led many to call it a pueblo mágico (‘magical town’). “Baja California overall is beautiful; Todos Santos is particularly wonderful.”

Macfarlan’s field school, hosted at the Center in Summer 2019, allowed students to apply ethnographic methods to conduct research related to local population growth, sustainable development, and social relationships in the BCS region. He hopes to host the course again in Summer 2021.

To date, the Center has hosted thousands of visitors — the majority being university students and faculty participating in courses and programs with varying durations, covering a broad range of curricula.

Ruth Alexander, a professor of history at CSU, taught one of five courses comprising the College of Liberal Arts’ first semester abroad program at the Center in Fall 2019.

Alexander designed her course — History, Community, and Environment in Mexico — with the goal of immersing students in the local community and teaching the history, culture, and perceptions within Todos Santos and surrounding areas through in-depth oral history interviews with diverse groups of residents, including fisherman, wildlife conservationists, ranchers, farmers, doctors, teachers, business owners, and artists.

Ruth Alexander

In an effort to better align her course with the priorities and interests of residents from Todos Santos and neighboring communities, Alexander first reviewed the Center’s community needs assessment — a report CSU compiled in Summer 2015 with input from more than 150 BCS residents.

“Todos Santos is a really interesting town,” she said, noting the town’s proximity to the Sierra de la Laguna Mountain Range, a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve, and its long history of sustainable ranching, ocean fishing, agriculture, ecotourism, and the arts.

Following its inaugural success, Alexander plans to host her course at the Center as a three-week, standalone offering every summer moving forward, allowing more students to contribute to a larger collection of oral histories from interviews with BCS residents — an archive that will live at the Center, which she envisions benefitting not only university faculty and students but also the local community.

“When the community wants to learn about its own history, it will have these oral histories — both in audio form and in written transcript — to look back on and to learn from,” said Alexander, while emphasizing the value of students’ engagement with the community through the Center. “The dynamic my students established with the people they interviewed was really great.”

Macfarlan and Alexander, having connected through their respective courses at the Center, hope to collaborate and engage more students in and around Todos Santos through future programs focused on ecology, anthropology, and the humanities.

Community connections

While reasons for visiting the CSU Todos Santos Center often vary among university students and faculty, certain aspects of the Center seem to consistently rise to the top as unforgettable: the staff, the food, and the community.

Kevin Segade, a CSU alumnus, participated in the Center’s semester-long Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology program in early 2019, and has fond memories of his studies at the Center and connecting with residents.

Segade’s favorite part of his Todos Santos experience, though, were the chilaquiles — a traditional Mexican dish prepared at the Center by Chef Ana Maria, which has become famous among the Center’s many visitors. “They were amazing and delicious,” he said.

Jennifer Sturman, a CSU alumna who supported the Center’s language and cultural immersion programs as an intern in Fall 2019, agreed: “Ana Maria makes the best chilaquiles I’ve ever had in my life.”

Engaging with the Todos Santos community remains a highlight for students who’ve visited and studied at the Center.

CSU biology student Jocelyn Lapham spent the fall semester of her sophomore year at the Center, as a participant in the University’s first Liberal Arts and Community Engagement program in 2019.

“I highly recommend [studying at the CSU Todos Santos Center] for first-time study abroad,” said Lapham. “It’s a great community … it doesn’t get better than Todos Santos.”

About the CSU Todos Santos Center

Located in Baja California Sur, Mexico, CSU Todos Santos Center serves as the University’s international hub, providing research and educational opportunities in alignment with existing University curricula. Advancing CSU’s mission of teaching, research, service, and outreach, the Center collaborates with Mexican universities and organizations, and provides workshops and programs for visitors and local residents.

CSU’s vision in Todos Santos is to cultivate generations of global citizens and to partner in the creation of thriving communities through experiential learning and the exchange of knowledge. For additional information, visit todossantos.colostate.edu.