The Greater Philadelphia Latin American Studies Consortium student conference took place on campus Friday, with four Villanova students among the 14 presenters, the most students ever presenting at a GPLASC conference.
GPLASC includes 15 other area schools such as Temple, West Chester, University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, Bryn Mawr, Ursinus, University of Delaware and St. Joseph’s. The schools’ membership dues help fund grants for research in Latin America.
Successful applicants can receive up to $1,000 to help cover travel, housing and research costs. Grant recipients are then required to present their findings at the GPLASC conference. The conference is also open to any students who have studied abroad, even without GPLASC funding.
Satya Pattnayak, director of the University’s Latin American Studies program, is the current chair of GPLASC. Each school’s representative to GPLASC serves two years as the chair, during which the representative’s school hosts the conference.
This is the first year the University has hosted the conference. It coincided with the 25th anniversary of the University’s Latin American Studies program.
The University presenters included seniors Monica Callahan and Kyle Stephan, junior Cristina Rocca and sophomore Adam Vincent.
Callahan, a communication, Spanish and Latin American Studies major, studied abroad in Buenos Aires and presented on the contentious sovereignty of the Malvinas Islands.
Stephan, a communication and Latin American Studies major, studied abroad in Costa Rica and presented on the effect of the Diquís Dam on the rights of indigenous people.
Rocca, an economics, Global Interdisciplinary Studies, Latin American Studies and Honors major also studied abroad in Costa Rica. She presented on the country’s current status and methods of recycling.
Vincent, a humanities, communication and Honors major, studied abroad in Chile and presented on the role blogging can play in developing intercultural competence.
Pattnayak attributes the range of presentations to the opportunity to study abroad.
“Our students are excited about a lot of things that generally they wouldn’t be excited about had they stayed back at Villanova,” he said. “It’s a very eclectic mix of interest areas and we want to put them together.”
Studying abroad also helped the presenters better understand their material.
“I actually loved visiting the different recycling centers and interviewing the people who worked there,” Rocca said. “I felt that was the best way to understand what challenges they face and what could be improved, rather than just reading about it.”
Stephan agreed, calling his time abroad “a tremendous experience.” Callahan adds that she “achieved a greater understanding of the opposing rationales [of Maldivian sovereignty]” as a result of studying abroad, although she noted that her destination did bias her thoughts.
Pattnayak said he hopes that the conference inspires other students to study abroad and present at conferences.
“I think it kind of rubs off on other students so they’ll be more excited about participating in conferences,” he said. “We hope that it will create a groundswell of student interest about research, about Latin America and about presenting,”
Pattnayak also has plans for future growth. Next year, he hopes to attract enough to presentations to host the conference for an entire day. This year alone represents an increase from the usual eight to 10 students presenting at each conference.
GPLASC also hosts a lecture series each spring, when a visiting speaker is invited to spend two weeks in the area visiting schools in the consortium. This spring, Pattnayak hopes to land a scholar on Pope Francis’s social philosophy.
“I think that will attract greater Villanova interest because we’re a Catholic university with a lot of emphasis on social service and justice,” Pattnayak explains.