“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The phrase comes from the world of boxing, but it also applies outside of the ring.
On July 1, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, David Garza Salazar took over as executive president of Tec de Monterrey. It was a planned succession, but SARS-CoV-2 changed his plans. It was a blow.
“I felt that the fight was about to start, that the rounds would begin, and I did have a plan but now we would have to reinforce some things and accelerate others,” says Garza Salazar in an interview with Tec Review.
Digital education is one of the things that we sped up: on August 10, more than 90,000 high school, undergraduate and graduate students returned to the university via virtual classes. “We had always seen it as an important issue, but as a result of the context, it became even more important to continue contributing to and advancing in our educational innovation,” he highlights.
In addition to the teaching and learning element, the Tec’s executive president aims to strengthen two key pillars: research and positive impacts on society. “We’re highly recognized for our teaching –he emphasizes– but in terms of our research, even when our projects have a big impact, we still have the opportunity to aspire to much more.”
What new skills should leadership be endowed with as a result of the social, economic, and political reconfigurations that the pandemic has caused?
Leadership is about seeing what others don’t, inspiring people, and setting a course, but awareness, responsibility, and shared responsibility have become more important in the pandemic.
The other issue has been managing uncertainty, especially when the pandemic began; they told us it was going to be a 400-meter race and it became a marathon. We don’t know how many miles it will be, and we don’t know how many miles we’ve run. That handling of uncertainty and emotions within an organization is going to become an important characteristic of a leader.
A third aspect is flexibility and the ability to say: “we tried that, but it didn’t work”. It’s okay to be wrong and, in an environment of uncertainty, it’s important to recognize it quickly so you don’t get held up there.
This health crisis revealed the importance of working on mental health issues: will there be any changes for the students?
We have a defined vision up to 2030 that includes leadership, innovation, and entrepreneurship for human flourishing, which is about intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual development of the whole person. Although we had already started work on these initiatives, we must now guarantee them in the pandemic.
It’s not only about students taking classes at home, but also about bringing the Tec to students’ homes through student leadership and education activities, leisure initiatives, and actions for emotional and mental health. We created the Taking Care of Your Mind initiative, which includes a series of resources and talks. We even defined structured ways for advisors and mentors to meet with students, teachers, and employees so as to support them and see how they were doing.
What will education be like after the Covid-19 pandemic?
Today, we associate university education with face-to-face classes, but I think it will be multi-modal: face-to-face will still be valuable, but with the addition of remote, hybrid, synchronous, and asynchronous forms.
On the other hand, there will be a change in the duration of the programs. We’re used to a degree being a single four-year process; in addition to the traditional degree, we will have shorter courses: students will be able to leave, return, and perhaps take their degrees remotely.
I also foresee new technologies being incorporated. Artificial intelligence, data analytics, and augmented and virtual reality will allow us to enhance many things.
Specialists believe that universities should work to be more relevant in local communities and solve pressing problems. Will the Tec be doing this?
We do believe that we should become more of a high tech and a high touch institution.
We have always been an organization associated with technology; we have been early adopters of many things, such as the internet and computers. But we increasingly want to be recognized as an institution that not only uses new technologies but develops them too. And the high touch aspect is about the closeness we have with our students and our internal community, as well as generating connections with external groups. I want to push for us to move towards the model of the three i’s: investigation, innovation, and internationalization.
What does this model consist of?
Today, internationalization is associated with student mobility: many of our students study abroad. In addition to this, we want to be a more international institution, perhaps through different campuses and high-level collaborations to solve major problems around the world.
Regarding investigation, we believe that we must reinforce both the quantity and quality of research, so that it has a bigger impact on economic, social, and environmental development.
And innovation is what has characterized our educational model: new technologies in education, more value-added ventures, and improved learning.
These are elements which we see as opportunities. Today, the Tec is recognized for education, while we have made significant contributions in research and impact: but it is there that we must continue to work.
That Tec de Monterrey is recognized as one of the best 25 universities in the world in some specialist areas, and also for important and relevant contributions of which Mexicans and Latin Americans can be very proud.
This interview forms part of the September-October 2020 issue of Tec Review.