Saturday we traveled by bus about 1.5 hours hours from Santiago to Valparaiso. There we met with faculty and administrators from Universidad Tecnica Federico Santa Maria. Santa Maria is a non-Catholic member of the 25 CRU universities and is located on the coastline overlooking the ocean.
Santa Maria is a competitive technical school with heavy focus on math and the sciences and places a strong focus on student life. We learned that it offers tutoring support services during the first-year when students are taking courses on the integrated sciences, free Thursday night movies, and a gym. The index that allows students privileges, such as registering for certain courses, takes into account not only grades but also extra-curricular activities. Another area of focus we learned about at Santa Maria is faculty development and teaching and learning.
Again, we heard that an undergraduate degree–here often in engineering–takes at least 6 years of study in large part because of the various levels students are at when they arrive at the university. Because students have not had the same quality of preparation for higher education, we have learned that in Chile often the first 1-2 years of a university degree is focused on remediation. Maria administers an internal exam that then alerts the university as to where first-year students need additional support.
One of the unique things we heard from our higher ed colleagues at Santa Maria was summarized when one of them told us, “Faculty feel like the university belongs to us. That feeling is transmitted to the students and people who work here.” They spoke with pride of part of the university community, of it being small enough to know one another, and community members having a strong sense of belonging. Although organizational branding plays a different role at Chilean universities than in the US and university gear is lesson common, Santa Maria sells shirts and clothing with the Santa Maria logo.
After visiting the university, we spent the afternoon exploring Valparaiso.