[Image: Esbeih and Richardson]
News Release Distributed 05/27/14
BATON ROUGE, La. – The Universidad de Ciencias Forestales, a forestry university in Honduras, is looking to the LSU AgCenter for guidance as it revamps its academic and research programs.
The university’s rector, Emilio Esbeih, and professor Oscar Leverón visited Baton Rouge recently to meet with AgCenter and LSU School of the Coast and Environment professors. They also signed a letter of intent with the AgCenter and hope that collaboration with universities and businesses worldwide will help them grow into a high-quality school that promotes the value of forestry and advances the industry.
Founded in 1969, the Universidad de Ciencias Forestales was originally a training institute for foresters. The school struggled during the past two decades as programs and a once-diverse faculty declined, Leverón said. Last year, the Honduran government officially labeled it as a university, which "changed the minds of everyone and gave them a new vision," he said.
Becoming a university requires significant upgrades to administration, curricula and research. Though challenging, Esbeih believes making those changes will be worth it.
"We are a small school, but strategic in that we can help reduce poverty in Honduras," Esbeih said. "We want to improve agriculture and forestry to improve the lives of rural people."
Leverón said about 90 percent of the university's 160 students are poor and from the countryside. For many of them, the school offers their only chance of a university education. Esbeih hopes to increase enrollment to 300 within a year.
In January, the Universidad de Ciencias Forestales will begin offering new majors — engineering and renewable energy — as well as an environmental management master's program and training for high school forestry teachers. While Esbeih said it is good to give students a variety of options in their studies, that also means there must be a diverse, top-notch faculty to teach those programs as they grow.
To help develop its faculty, the university is working to form business and research partnerships with 13 countries and attract students from those places. Esbeih said being connected internationally is key to professional development because it allows people to learn from one another on exchanges.
International relationships permit research collaboration that is mutually beneficial. It also gives the students practical experience, Leverón said. They must complete a research project during their fourth year of study.
"We're excited to build a relationship with the Universidad de Ciencias Forestales as it establishes itself as a high-quality institution for academics and research," said David Picha, director of AgCenter International Programs. "We've identified several potential areas for collaboration that will benefit them and us. This goes hand-in-hand with International Programs' mission to enhance the agriculture industry and educational efforts globally."
Like in Louisiana, whose No. 1 ag commodity is forestry products, forestry is a major topic of interest in Honduras. In the past several decades, forests throughout Central America were cleared for timber and to provide space for cattle ranching.
Leverón said the Universidad de Ciencias Forestales can play a significant role as groups work to revitalize forests, especially in relation to climate change, which affects the entire world.
"Many people are forgetting about food and the environment — where it comes from and how important it is," Leverón said. "We need to promote a passion for agriculture … and we know LSU can help."