The University of Iowa

UI graduates are helping produce real-world change

November 8th, 2013

Commentary by Downing Thomas for the Iowa City Press-Citizen

Downing Thomas

Downing Thomas

During International Education Week (November 11-15), it is particularly important to emphasize the importance and wide range of the connections between Iowa and the world.

Each year, hundreds of UI students go abroad to study for a few weeks, a semester, or a year. Faculty and staff interact daily with colleagues around the world to collaborate on critical research. And international students come to our campus for a world-class education, some staying in the U.S. after receiving their degrees to start businesses and create jobs, and some returning to their home countries to become leaders in science, business, industry, education and government.

UI will be honoring the achievements of one such leader at 5 p.m. today when UI President Sally Mason presents the annual International Impact Award to Marcelo Mena-Carrasco in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum.

Mena-Carrasco is a Chilean alumnus of the UI College of Engineering, earning both his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in civil and environmental engineering at UI, and is a powerful advocate of socially responsible and sustainable environmental practices. He directs the Center for Sustainability Research at the Universidad Andres Bello Santiago, and serves as Energy and Climate Specialist for Fundación Chile, a private nonprofit corporation whose mission is to introduce high-impact innovation and empower human capital.

Mena-Carrasco is deeply involved in air quality research, which he began at Iowa and continues in his native Chile, and strives to unfold the layers of complexity surrounding our understanding of global warming and climate change.

Recognizing the social impact of the technological choices we make, Mena-Carrasco is not content to simply conduct research in his lab and leave policy questions to politicians. He takes his research into the world in the hope of finding solutions to the environmental problems that are daily causing harm to individuals and society, creating great demands in the political and public policy spheres of countries all over the world. Through continued collaboration with colleagues at the UI and elsewhere, Mena-Carrasco believes the path can be found to a more sustainable and healthier future.

I encourage you to attend the award presentation today and stay for the conversation on WorldCanvass. Please also consider attending some of the many presentations and activities that will be occurring across campus during International Education Week to highlight global connections. A full schedule of these activities can be found at

International Education Week gives us a chance to reflect on the extraordinary times we live in, when students, faculty and others from all parts of the world can convene in a small, Midwestern town like Iowa City to live together and learn from one another.

When we can connect with others, sharing the richness of our diverse backgrounds and experiences, Iowa as a whole prospers. The investment made in our state by the thousands of international students who come to study in Iowa is an investment in their future, and in ours.

The citizens of Iowa whose long-term investments in education have produced first-rate institutions like UI should take pride in the achievements of graduates like Marcelo Mena-Carrasco, whose creativity and innovative thinking are producing real-world change.

Downing Thomas is associate provost and dean of International Programs at the University of Iowa.