Santiago Salinas did not know what he was getting into when he arrived in the community of El Ceibal in the canton of Sozoranga, only kilometers from the border with Peru. He was at the head of a group of twenty-something students who had followed him there unsuspectingly, and unassumingly, ready to complete field work requirements for their university curriculum. But their presence took on an unsuspected twist.
Santiago is a professor at the Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (UTPL) who coordinates “Linking Projects” (Proyectos de Vinculación), an academic program that seeks to bring students closer to real challenges within the tourism industry. El Ceibal, a fabulous Kapok forest, represented the great opportunity to join forces with international organizations such as Germany’s GIZ to protect the fragile ecosystem through a community tourism program.
Santiago had prepared his students to offer talks and training to the locals, but these locals did not want to know anything about it. They were aware of a proposal to create fencing around the forest to protect it from cattle and other domesticated animals that degraded the vegetation. “Who gave you the right? How dare you forbid our animals to roam free?” they shouted.
The confrontation soon became heated. But for Santiago, it only demonstrated the relevance of programs like these when seeking development for both the community and the tourism student in a country like Ecuador.
“We witnessed real social plight. Where else are you going to see something like this? And, best of all, in the end we ended up making a positive impact.” After putting into practice dialogue techniques learned in the course, the students managed to convince the community to take care of the forest and continue with the tourism project.
This experience has not only served as an anecdote in faculty life. It is employed as a precedent for future projects and represents the basis of a unique case study. For Marisol Chango, a teacher of Linking Projects specializing in gastronomy, it is about “getting the kids out of their bubble”. For many academic institutions, this is difficult. But placing and involving students in the socio-economic realities of their own territories is a fundamental part of the UTPL educational model.
It has generated significant achievements, initiating projects such as Prendho, which encourage artisan entrepreneurs (in the university cafeteria shelves are filled with these delicious products); or Misión Idente Ecuador, which strengthens social commitment in students through field work in poor areas.
“It’s all part of a complete readjustment of the tourism degree,” explains Tania Ochoa, Professor at UTPL.
The degree students received up to a year ago was in Hotel and Tourism Management. But it’s been transformed to better fit with Ecuador’s reality, a feat that reveals the dedication, integrity and sense of responsibility that characterizes this academic institution.
The new program is visionary. It is adapted to the country’s social and economic reality and its current challenges. It’s not a mashup of other programs. Dynamic and down to earth, it covers guiding, hotel management, curation, event organization, community tourism, ecotourism; it is focused on transferring theory into practical solutions, and envisioning innovation through critical thinking and problem-solving.
“If we are going to train future professionals, they should know the problems. In the case of tourism in Ecuador,” explains Ochoa,” there is a lot to do and the students have to see, with their own eyes, what is missing and in what and where they will later contribute as professionals.”
All believe in tourism’s potential but also realize the challenges that lie ahead. That is why programs like those offered at UTPL fill us at Ñan with hope and pride.
Gastronomy with experience
The UTPL degree in culinary studies has been up and running for only four years. But since its inception, it has offered students unique experiences through its “school-hotel”, which is linked to Loja’s Howard Johnson hotel. In fact, this world-renowned brand came to the province thanks to the UTPL culinary studies program and is today an inseparable part of it.
Through different “laboratories”, which include baking, winemaking, mixology and culinary research and development (among other areas), a focus on creativity and innovation with a practical approach was made a central part of the specialization.
“Learning by doing,” is how Franklin Rosero explains it. He, like many of the institution’s teachers, was trained abroad and has extensive work experience in restaurants and hotels around the world.
He tells us that being able to feel the heat of a true kitchen, which Howard Johnson provides students, is a true luxury. “Here you are immediately in the spotlight. You must respond to real demands. The kids learn, for example, how to cook for a few diners or for massive events… it’s something that I would have loved to have experienced before entering the professional culinary world,” admits Franklin.
From ancestral to culinary avant-garde techniques and from industrial to signature cuisine, the UTPL Culinary Studies degree offers a comprehensive culinary education. It is quickly becoming a benchmark in Ecuador for others to follow.
The UTPL was a pioneer as one of the first institutions in the country to offer distance learning. Its program of statistical “observatories” focuses on Tourism within Southern Ecuador and marks a milestone in terms of data interpretation of the true tourism potential of Loja and the country.
UNIVERSIDAD TÉCNICA PARTICULAR DE LOJA
San Cayetano Alto – Loja
+ (593 7) 370 1444
1800 88 75 88