Penn State co-hosts 'Becoming a Colombian Science Ambassador' Fulbright event

October 13, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On Wednesday, Sept. 29, Penn State co-sponsored an event titled “Becoming a Colombian Science Ambassador.” The event, which took place via Zoom as part of the Fulbrighter Week, had about 40 attendees, mostly current or former Colombian Fulbright recipients in the U.S., many who have studied or worked at Penn State.

The event, organized with the support of Siela Maximova, research professor of plant biotechnology and director of Latin America and the Caribbean strategic initiatives at Penn State Global, focused on the important role of the scientific diaspora in contributing to the development of the science agenda in Colombia. The overarching theme: Colombian Fulbrighters are agents of change who have the opportunity and responsibility to contribute to the world. Specifically, the presenters referred to the concept of "science diplomacy."

“Science diplomacy takes many forms,” said Julian Prieto, who moderated the event and is himself a current Colombian Fulbright doctoral fellow at Penn State. “It can be formal or informal exchange, policies, or outreach efforts. As Fulbrighters, we can and should play an important role in fostering these relationships.”

Speakers included:

  • Diana Basto, executive director of Fulbright Colombia
  • Roger Brindley, vice provost for Global at Penn State
  • Sergio Cristancho, vice minister for science, technology and innovation in Colombia
  • Susan Benavides Trujillo, leader of internationalization in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation in Colombia
  • Jean Paul Allain, head of the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering at Penn State

“Fulbright grantees … mold knowledge that helps to build a more just and equitable society,” said Basto. “They are leaders with a high degree of social commitment to implement projects that impact the future.”

Brindley spoke to the deep connections between Penn State and Colombia, citing Penn State’s strong research productivity in the region (Penn Staters have co-authored 1,455 academic papers with 320 institutions in Latin America) and the University’s renewed focus through the Water, Energy, and Food Nexus.

The two government officials from Colombia, who could not join live, prerecorded content for the attendees. Cristancho spoke of MinCiencias’ five emblematic missions, including areas such as bioeconomy and biotechnology, and how pursuing these give missions will help to catapult Colombia onto the global stage. He called for Fulbrighters to articulate their research and lead the charge in promoting these missions, and through that work, promoting Colombia as an international scientific leader.

The recently created Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation has acknowledged the importance of developing a science diplomacy policy, explained Benavides Trujillo, who stressed that “we must work to transform Colombia into a knowledge society.”

Allain finished the event by speaking to his own experience as a Colombian Fulbrighter while pulling in his perspective as a department head.

“I always felt a responsibility to the nation of my upbringing,” he said. “What is really important is that we have — and become — champions to work every day to create and nurture these important scientific relationships.”

“Even though they are great, it’s not sufficient to have peer-reviewed publications,” Allain added. “We need to see our work make societal impact.”

The session ended with a call to action from Prieto for Colombian Fulbrighters to share their interest in pursuing research activities around the MinCiencias' five emblematic missions. The plan, Prieto said, is to begin putting together working groups to see how Penn State Fulbrighters can support them.

“Fulbrighters are agents of change,” he reiterated. “And that can start right now!”

For more information or to share your interest, contact Prieto at

Last Updated October 13, 2021