Ramón de la Peña: Working to Enrich Mexico July 15, 2013

Ramón de la Peña

Ramón de la Peña

Ramón de la Peña and students

Ramón de la Peña and students (El Porvenir newspaper)

“I want to work to enrich my country.” This was the motivation that drove a teenaged Ramón de la Peña to study chemical engineering. Now 69, De la Peña cuts a distinguished figure behind the neatly organized desk in the Office of the Rector, roughly chancellor, of CEU (Centro de Estudios Universitarios ), a university in downtown Monterrey. The man is something of a local legend for, in the words of one former student, “his technical knowledge, his ability to consider the student as a person, his high expectations and his sense of humor.” Others who know the scholarly engineer, are quick to add de la Peña’s unassuming demeanor. He has earned a special place in the memories and hearts of many of the thousands privileged to learn in his classes during the last 46 years, 34 of those at his alma mater, the elite Monterrey Tec. He took a two-year hiatus early on for a Master’s from the University of Wisconsin. He eventually became rector at the Tec also.

Talking with visitors, he swings between the neat stacks of folders and documents on the left of his desk and, on the right, two laptops, a thumb drive and remote mouse. He talks and clicks keys simultaneously, pulling up websites and statistics that support his points. Directly in front of De la Peña is a sheet of paper on which he has just drawn an intricate graphic titled “Social Map,” his response to a question about challenges facing Mexico in the next decade. After so many years in the classroom, drawing and jotting notes comes as naturally as breathing.   

Enthused by a question about his career, he flips the paper over and draws a series of circled letters separated by dashes. He rests his pen on the first circle around a “P,” and says, “An individual’s work life has a primavera (spring), a summer, fall, and, winter. When I reached this stage,” he taps the set of dashes before winter, “I decided I wanted to make summer and fall last as long as I could.”  He draws several curving lines back to the dash between spring and summer. The result resembles the smile on his face.

At an age when many of his colleagues were retiring, De la Peña sought out a new challenge. He found it in Mexico City working for President Vicente Fox’s administration (2000-2006) as the director of INEA, the National Institute for Adult Education. There, De la Peña was instrumental in starting up CONEVyT, an online adult education portal widely-used today in Mexico and in the United States for Spanish speakers. The site offers courses from basic literacy to the Mexican equivalent of a GED. When he returned to Monterrey, it was in the capacity as rector of CEU, a small university whose students come primarily from the middle and lower classes. In a country where post-secondary programs are generally structured for younger, full-time students, 70% of CEU’s students work. Some are in their fifties. Asked how tuition at CEU compares to the Tec, he responds, “A semester or semester and a half at the Tec costs the same as an entire undergraduate career at CEU.”

Even by the exacting standards De la Peña has preached for nearly half a century, he has succeeded wildly in fulfilling his teenage goal of enriching Mexico—and a lot of people are very happy that he shows no signs of slowing down.

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Learn more about locations of CONEVyT community learning centers in the U.S.

Comments

  1. Carlos Romero says:

    I completely agree with what is said about Ingeniero Ramon de la Peña. he is a greap professional but mainly a great person.

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