Bringing Latin America to Baylor
Two history professors are using their heritage to engage students
A key part of the Baylor in Latin America strategy is to assess what the University already is doing in the region and then fill the gaps. That includes bringing more faculty to Baylor with strong track records for teaching and research in the region, such as Dr. Marilia Corrêa and Dr. Ricardo Álvarez-Pimentel, assistant professors in history. They are somewhat new to Baylor, but have a deep, personal understanding and appreciation for Latin America.
Corrêa was born and raised in rural Brazil some 300 miles west of São Paulo. She received her bachelor of arts in international relations at Faculdades de Campinas and came to the United States for her master’s in Latin American studies and doctorate in history, both earned from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her three areas of specialization are Modern Latin America, dictatorship and democratization in Brazil, and global, class, race and gender history.
“I was excited about Baylor in Latin America because I saw a lot of opportunity to build something from the ground up and become an integral part of something new.” – Dr. Ricardo Álvarez-Pimentel
Álvarez came to the United States from Mexico with his family 25 years ago and was raised in the suburbs of Miami. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Chicago and a master’s and doctorate in history from Yale University. His major subjects of interest are: Mexico and Colonial and Modern Latin America; race and gender; Catholicism; revolutions, fascism and authoritarian politics; the Cold War; and U.S.-Latin American relations.
MAKING AN IMPACT
Both Corrêa and Álvarez began teaching at Baylor in the fall of 2022, and with a full academic year now behind them, they’re eager to expand Baylor’s reach within Latin America. That means bringing more students into their classrooms and continuing their research on Latin American topics. Both first learned of the Latin American initiative during their job interviews at Baylor.
“When I applied, I had been reading about it through Baylor’s website. I read about the strategic plan, Illuminate, and the Pillars of Illuminate, among which was Baylor in Latin America,” Corrêa said. “When I did my first round of interviews with my colleagues, we talked about the initiative, and I really learned more about it when I came for the on-campus interview.”
“I was excited about Baylor in Latin America because I saw a lot of opportunity to build something from the ground up and become an integral part of something new,” Álvarez said. “In a lot of other schools, the conversation is about who you are going to replace, whose shoes you are going to fill, who you are going to be measured against. And here that was never the conversation.”
That said, both professors acknowledge the groundwork of people like Dr. Joan Supplee, professor emeritus in history and a former director of Baylor’s Latin American Studies program, but they’re ready to expand the reach.
“The part that really resonates for me with Baylor in Latin America is the opportunity to partner with Latin American universities,” Álvarez said. “This is something I’ve been doing since graduate school — working really closely with colleagues not only in the United States, but also in Mexico and other parts of the region, including both graduate students and faculty in all ranks.”
During the current 2023-2024 academic year, the two professors are teaching sections of Baylor’s foundational American history course, but both are tackling additional courses that center on Latin America. While Álvarez is offering students courses on the Mexican Revolution and Pre-Columbian and Columbian Latin America, Corrêa is teaching a course about the history of Brazil and another on modern Latin America.
In the classroom, the two professors want to expand students’ knowledge of and engagement in the Latin American region. Álvarez said his classes tend to attract students interested either in minors in Latin American studies or Spanish, or students interested in international relations or international politics.
“When I teach classes specifically about Mexico, I get a lot of students who are heritage students and maybe are first generation Americans — or maybe they’re immigrants themselves and identify a lot with the history through family connections,” he said.
Corrêa said she is seeing a lot of Latin American students in her courses which focus on Latin American and U.S. foreign relations, and both courses are getting good word of mouth interest from students.
“No one knew us,” Corrêa said of their first semester at Baylor, “and I noticed a difference coming into our second semester. Students looked at me and were like, ‘Oh, I heard from a friend that your class was something I should take.’”
Corrêa and Álvarez also will begin teaching seminars for graduate students in the spring, and together they already have co-taught an independent study course with a graduate student researching women in medicine in Latin America during the 19th century.
“I’m co-teaching another class with another couple of professors — Independent Studies on the Cold War in the World — which is in my area,” Corrêa said.
Corrêa and Álvarez used their first summer at Baylor to catch up on their research and writing, which had been curtailed due to the global pandemic. Corrêa is writing a book about the Brazilian military dictatorship in the second half of the 20th century and its efforts to eliminate opposition from the armed services. Álvarez’s research centers on Catholicism in 20th century Mexico and the Mexican Revolution.
Both professors said the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed a lot of research being done in Latin America.
“Every country had very different experiences with the pandemic, and Brazil was one of the worst affected. The borders were closed for quite a while,” Corrêa said. “I haven’t gone back in five years because of the pandemic.”
Álvarez was able to take his his first research trip to Mexico in six years during Spring Break 2023.
“I have the good fortune of having research right next door. It’s very easy to hop on a flight from Dallas to Mexico City, which is where I usually go,” he said.
Looking ahead, both professors are interested in developing study abroad programs for Baylor students in Latin America.
“We’ve been hearing our colleagues here talk about how they’re taking students to Ireland and England and the Netherlands, and we want to develop these kind of study abroad programs in Latin America,” Corrêa said.
The two also are interested in elevating the Latin American culture at Baylor and enhancing the potential of the University to become a “Hispanic Serving Institution.” Álvarez said that particular designation is applied to universities with a 25% Hispanic enrollment. With Baylor’s current Hispanic enrollment at 17%, he said the University is already seen as “an emerging HSI.”