LAWRENCE — In 1978, State Rep. Marcos Devers graduated from Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic with a degree in civil engineering. But after a recession made it tough to find a job in his field in the United States, he said he supplemented his degree with additional courses to become a teacher.
Similar to Devers, D-Lawrence, Northern Essex has worked with students in the greater Lawrence area that have come from the Dominican Republic to continue their educations.
Now, that transition will become more seamless. Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo and Northern Essex signed an agreement Wednesday at the college's Lawrence campus that will allow for faculty, staff and student exchanges, credit transfers, and program development, all aimed at expanding educational opportunities.
“I think this will have the potential to change and improve a lot of lives, so we're very happy for this opportunity,” Northern Essex President Lane Glenn said.
Clara Benedicto, director of cooperation and international relations at Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, said her university was eager to pursue the agreement to help serve Dominicans in the area.
“The Lawrence area is a big Dominican population and they're not necessarily in touch with higher education, and we came here to help Northern Essex get in touch with that population,” she said.
Established in 1538, the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo public university system is the oldest university in the Americas and the largest in the Dominican Republic, with 170,000 students across 17 campuses.
Northern Essex has about 7,000 students across two campuses, with a large Dominican population and an overall Latino population of nearly 40 percent. Lawrence itself has the highest proportion of Latino residents of any Massachusetts city, but one of the lowest college education attainment rates, Glenn said.
“What we're trying to do is put all these pieces together for as many residents as possible to help them get a good job,” through continuing their educations, he said.
The agreement, facilitated through the efforts of Noemi Custodia-Lora, executive director of Northern Essex's Lawrence campus and community relations, is the Dominican university's first with a Massachusetts school and first in the U.S. to include credit transfers. It will last for five years, and can be renewed.
It outlines five goals, including facilitating interactions that lead to student and faculty exchanges, curriculum development and co-curriculum activities; enabling Dominican university students to obtain associate degrees through Northern Essex; sharing academic knowledge and experiences to solve educational challenges; and facilitating joint projects and student services.
State Sen. Barbara L'Italien, D-Andover, praised the agreement and Devers expressed "dual gratitude" for the two schools coming together to facilitate the easier transfer of credits.
“This will be mentioned or promoted in the Dominican Republic. Students will see this kind of interchange as an inspiring experience,” Devers said. “Many are eager to visit the U.S., and have the resources to come. This will be a good bridge.”
Follow reporter Lisa Kashinsky on Twitter @lkashinskyET.