Syracuse University Magazine

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Rafael Fernandez de Castro

Opening Doors to Latin America

Rafael Fernández de Castro somewhat poetically refers to the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs as “a jewel of the U.S. university system.” A noted Latin American scholar, policy maker, academic, diplomat, and writer who joined Maxwell in July 2014 as the Jay and Debe Moskowitz Chair in Mexico-U.S. Relations, he feels privileged to be charged with “making this jewel better known” in Latin America and creating more opportunities for Maxwell students there. “Latin America is a key region for the U.S.,” says Fernández de Castro, founder of the School of International Studies at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and former foreign policy advisor to Mexican President Felipe Calderon. “We are in the same hemisphere. We have a shared past, a common present, and will have a shared future. So it is very important that top American decision makers—and some of our students who will become leaders in the U.S.—understand how to view and deal with the complexities and challenges of Latin America.”

At Syracuse, his research and teaching focus on decision making in Mexican foreign policy, Mexico-U.S. relations—particularly immigration and security issues, and social outcomes for Mexican immigrants in the United States. He also organizes conferences and symposia on topics related to Mexico-U.S. relations and advises students interested in studying or working in Latin America. “I find it fascinating to work with and to teach students who are very good and competitive, who try hard, aim well, and know why they are here,” says Fernández de Castro, who holds a Ph.D. degree in political science from Georgetown University. “They are like I was 30 years ago—very eager to work for my country. They know they are fortunate to be here, and they are ready to give something back to society.”

Situated in the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs, Fernández de Castro feels at home within the interdisciplinary nature of the Maxwell School. “I never have experienced in my professional life such a welcoming community,” he says. “We not only have a superb academic team, but also people are willing to help each other. There is a nice spirit of contributing to others that I find very special.”

Above all, he values having opportunities to contribute on a large scale to the education of future world leaders and policy makers. He points to the school’s Carnegie International Policy Scholars Consortium and Network, which, thanks to a $1 million grant from the Carnegie Corp. of New York, will bring together faculty and doctoral students from the nation’s top international relations graduate programs. “I really feel I participate in a dialogue that is looking into the future of how to best prepare students to have a lot of knowledge, and to apply that knowledge not only to academia, but also to governmental jobs,” Fernández de Castro says. “That’s been very interesting here, and very meaningful and appealing to me.” —Amy Speach