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SPJC and Galen University host COBEC annual conference in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye

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The annual winter conference of the Consortium for Belize Educational Cooperation (COBEC) included a day-long session in San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, on Thursday, February 2nd, at the Angel Nuñez Auditorium. The conference highlights COBEC’s mission to continue the guiding principles of cross-border collaboration among member institutions in research, the development of education in Belize, faculty, and student exchange. The partnership involving the United States (US) and Belize education tertiary institutions also aims to internationalize their campuses.
The conference, held under the theme ‘Economic Development and Nation Building: Investing in our People,’ was hosted by the San Pedro Junior College (SPJC) and Galen University. The event, which included participants from the US and Belize, marked the 35th anniversary of the Association of American and Belizean Tertiary-level Institutions. The conference provides the Government of Belize (GOB) with a critical platform to share its plans and development strategies in areas such as education.
The opening ceremony started shortly after 9AM with the Belizean and American anthems. Following an invocation by Father Eduardo Montemayor, SPJC’s MBA Assistant Dean Froylan Gilharry greeted everyone in attendance before leaving the podium available for the Honourable Andre Perez, Minister of the Blue Economy and Civil Aviation, to deliver his welcome address. The minister appreciates the collaboration between the two countries. “This partnership can benefit Belizeans, Belizean students, expand research and cultural experiences,” said Perez. He hopes that more Belizeans can study abroad through programs by this consortium.
The COBEC Co-Chairs, Hugo Gonzalez from Belize and Dr. Wes Hickey from the US, also shared encouraging remarks about the strong partnership over the past three decades. Gonzalez emphasized the importance of working together with the GOB. According to him, this is the opportunity to reach out to each other and discuss how Belizean institutions can manage to do meaningful research with the assistance of their US counterparts. Hickey added that their emphasis has been in all areas, the ecological system, the environment, teacher education, and research. However, he challenged everyone to ask themselves where they would go next. This was a call to start planning and expanding their goals and services.
The Prime Minister of Belize, the Honourable Dr. John Briceño, was invited to the conference; however, he could not attend. On his behalf, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence, the Honourable Oscar Mira, represented the prime minister. Mira told the audience that his government had recently introduced in their Plan Belize agenda the importance that all Belizeans’ have access to relevant education. “Our plan will transform Belize into a sustainable and resilient society,” Mira said. “This will be possible by implementing the following strategies: poverty reduction, economic transformation and growth, trade, citizen security, protection to the environment and natural resources and good governance.” Mira said Prime Minister Briceño had other commitments, which includes economic recovery through hard work, diligence, and dedication.
The meeting included a coffee break following the vote of thanks delivered by SPJC’s Dean Gustavo Ellis. Afterward, the conference included panel presentations from different Chief Executive Officers (CEO) from different ministries, including representatives from Galen University. CEO in the Ministry of Economic Development, Dr. Osmond Martinez spoke about Belize’s Medium Term Development Strategy. CEO Kennedy Carrillo in the Ministry of the Blue Economy and Civil Aviation spoke about the Blue Economy and Blue Bond, emphasizing the benefits of the debt swap deal with The Nature Conservancy which saw the country saving US$350 million. Next, was CEO Dian Maheia from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology. Maheia presented her ministry’s strategy and focus on higher education. She also touched on opportunities for Meaningful Partnerships.

Following a question-and-answer session, the discussion after lunch explored the potential of COBEC and ideas were shared in small committee groups. The day ended with a banquet courtesy Mayor Gualberto ‘Wally’ Nuñez.
The conference continued on Friday, February 3rd with business meetings involving COBEC and representatives of the tertiary institutions attending the event. The next COBEC meeting, the summer conference, is set for July 19-21, 2023 in Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA.

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