Students experience spring break in Ecuador


Marissa Huth

In the midst of the Andean mountains surrounded by volcanoes, a group of ASU students visited the second largest supercomputer in South America, which cranks out data analysis for university researchers and government agencies.

With a focus on exploring how information is gathered and research is done, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society sponsored a study abroad program in Ecuador during Spring Break 2018. The course, “Ecuador: Ways of Knowing across the Andes,” led by Clinical Associate Professor Mary Jane Parmentier, and HSD PhD Candidate, Carlo Altamirano, introduced a group of five graduate and undergraduate students to the vast opportunities and challenges facing this diverse Andean nation and its future.

To explore the many complex layers of this society, the group began in the capital of Quito, meeting with the Under Secretary of National Planning and Development, followed by a visit to the Executive Director of the Esquel Foundation, one of the largest and most established non-governmental development organizations in the country. Several days were spent at academic institutions, including Yachay Tech, a new university focusing on science, technology and innovation located in Imbabura Province north of Quito.  

“Ecuador is unique in recognizing the rights of nature in its constitution, but at the same time the government budget is based on oil extraction, creating difficult contradictions and tensions,” said Parmentier. The group learned through discussion with Ecuadorian faculty and students about socioeconomic inequality, how innovation can meet societal needs, and how visions for the country’s future are being constructed and implemented.

The program was completed by a visit to an indigenous Kichwa community where the group stayed in family homes and experienced local culture. Students engaged with farmers and community leaders who discussed how impacts of traditional medicine and organic farming compare to Western medicine and non-organic farming in the region.

Studying abroad in Ecuador was the perfect blend of educational opportunities, adventure, and cultural experiences!” said Nicole Rock, a master’s student in SFIS’ Global Technology and Development program. “These were all different kinds of organizations, and all of them played a role in the communities of Ecuador.”

This study abroad program was part of ASU’s Global Intensive Experience (GIE) program. These trips are typically short — in this case, only a week long — yet they pack in a full menu of rich, educational experiences. For many students, dedicating an entire semester or more for studying abroad may not be feasible, but GIE trips offer an option that is viable for many students who cannot participate in longer travel opportunities. “As a remote student with a fulltime job, I must find whatever fits my schedule,” said Vitaliy Struchkov, one of the participants in the Ecuador experience who found this opportunity to be a great way to accommodate a study abroad experience in his busy schedule.

The next SFIS sponsored GIE trip will be “Antarctica: The Frozen Continent.” Participants will spend two weeks learning about the history, wildlife and environment of a continent that few others experience. To learn more about this upcoming opportunity, visit

Image: Students Brooke Nelson, Sydney Wickman and Nicole Rock wearing traditional dress as they participate in a dance practiced by the Kichwa community to celebrate the summer solstice.