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Latin American Studies director appointed

Aug. 31, 2004

Fuertes adds Brazilian flair to department


When she came to Baylor in 1997, it was not uncommon to find Dr. Lizbeth Souzaa-Fuertes having coffee during O Cafezinho Brasileiro, a weekly Brazilian coffee hour. During this time, students interested in Brazil or other Portuguese-speaking countries had an opportunity to sit with Fuertes and discuss the things that interested them.

Seven years later, Fuertes accepted the position of director of Latin American Studies in June after successor Dr. Joan Supplee. According to Fuertes, "The main goal of the LAS program at Baylor is to promote and encourage research and teaching of Latin America while educating the university community about the multicultural and multifaceted importance of Latin America."

Fuertes said she strives to do this not only throughout Baylor, but also in the Waco community. Latin American countries are becoming increasingly prominent in trade and foreign investment with the United States, and the Latin American community is the fastest-growing population in Texas. Because of this, Fuertes said it is crucial students understand the Latin American background and are able to communicate and develop relationships with this community.

Fuertes was born in Porto Alegre, the capital city of the southernmost state in Brazil. Although most of the Brazilian population is Roman Catholic, Fuertes was raised in a Methodist household with two sisters and a brother.

After graduating from a Jesuit high school, Fuertes attended the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul Brazil, where she received a bachelor's degree in translation.

Soon after, Fuertes moved to the United States to attend the University of Georgia at Athens. While there, she acquired her master's degree in Spanish and her doctorate in romance languages. She then worked at Ohio State University-Newark as an assistant professor.

After three years, Fuertes said she and her husband decided to move to Texas "to get away from the harsh northern winters." Fuertes said as soon as she heard about an opening at Baylor, she knew she had to apply. The Christian setting and the good reputation of Baylor are the two factors that prompted her decision. Fuertes is fluent in three languages -- Portuguese, English and Spanish, so she began teaching all levels of Spanish and Portuguese, Latin American civilization, Latin American literature courses and World Cultures V for the BIC program.

Outside of Baylor, Fuertes is a member of several associations, researches the myth of racial democracy in Brazilian literature and has published several articles and book chapters.

After starting O Cafezinho Brasileiro, the Brazilian Student Association evolved. Fuertes is the sponsor. Felicia Horth, a Wichita Falls senior and member of the association, said, "Dr. Fuertes is dedicated to the organization, comes to meetings and helps organize and plan events."

The LAS program offers other student organizations. The Model Organization of American States helps students understand key problems and learn how the Organization of American States operates. Study abroad programs send students to either Latin America or Spain.

This opportunity gives students like Tara Hale, a Waco junior, an in-depth look at the cultural and educational structure of other countries that is not attainable by simply studying a textbook.

"I have learned so much about myself, life, how to interact with others, and I have only been here for one month," Hale said.

Fuertes said she is excited for the opportunity to be director of LAS.

"I look forward to my new role as director of Latin American Studies by working with students, faculty and the community in order to enhance knowledge about Latin America and by promoting a strong research and publication record in this area."