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Expanded exchange agreement with Ecuadorian university signed


A delegation of Illinois College faculty and administrators traveled to Ecuador in October to finalize expanded agreements between the College and the University of Cuenca.

The new agreements lay the groundwork for greater collaboration and student and faculty exchanges, said Steven Gardner, Francis McReynolds Smith Professor of International Understanding and professor of world languages and cultures (Spanish). Gardner was accompanied by Lawrence Zettler, professor of biology; Laura Corey, associate professor of biology; and Adam Porter, professor of religion and dean of faculty, on the trip to the South American country for the signing.

The new agreements build upon a 2013 document that provided for the two institutions to collaborate on orchid research and conservation, Gardner said. Several IC students have traveled to Ecuador to do research in the university’s orchid lab since. The relationship began organically, like the College’s relationship with Cuba, having been built on a foundation of collaborative research already taking place between faculty from the two institutions. It now is expanding to incorporate new areas of cooperation. By nurturing and expanding such relationships, he said, IC students on campus and studying abroad have more opportunities to engage with new cultures and to enhance their academic experience through learning and research.
"Building bridges by developing relationships and connecting Illinois College students and faculty to people in other countries is the goal of these collaborations, something that is desperately needed in today’s world," he said.

Cuenca is a beautiful Spanish colonial city with a rich history and culture situated in a valley between two ranges of the Andes mountains, Gardner said. It has been called “the land of eternal spring” because its altitude and proximity to the equator mean temperatures are in the 60s and 70s year round. Ecuador’s unique geography also makes it an orchid hotspot: It is possible to travel from the coast to the Amazon basin in five hours.

"Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet," Gardner said.

Conservation efforts are key in the country, which has high rates of deforestation, he added. By deepening and expanding the College’s collaboration with Cuenca, a new research plan was formed between the institutions that will strengthen orchid conservation efforts. As early as the fall of 2020, students from Cuenca will be on IC’s campus to do orchid research for a semester.

The new agreements also detail student and faculty exchanges that are not limited to the orchid program. Gardner said the university has an international office to provide assistance, such as language support, that will help IC students successfully study in Cuenca. Faculty from both institutions will have the opportunity to teach or do research on the campus of their counterparts.

"There are many different fields that I think could benefit from this,” Gardner said. “Everything from healthcare to ecology to different branches of the social sciences, such as sociology and psychology. Cuenca is not a huge university, but they have a very wide variety of programs."

To learn more about international and intercultural learning at Illinois College, visit To learn more about the College’s Orchid Recovery Program, visit

About Illinois College

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. The college is located in Jacksonville, Illinois. With an enrollment of more than 1,000 students, the college offers over 50 undergraduate programs. In 1932 the society of Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Illinois College, and it remains one of only 11 in the state.

Illinois College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

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