Colorado State University In Todos Santos

Brought to you on a wing and a prayer by the Tres Santos developers
BY: MARLA KING

The numbers are impressive. In the past year, one Baja organization has:

Had 2500 attendees at workshops and events

Helped spay/neuter and vaccinate over 1600 animals

Formed partnerships with 10 Mexican and American universities and schools

Taught over 700 hours of English classes

Then why do so few people seem to know what happens at the Colorado State University (CSU) Todos Santos Center? Part of the confusion probably stems with the sheer breadth of their numerous programs and partnerships, and some can be attributed to the genesis of the Center.

“The concept for the Todos Santos Center started about six years ago, and the facility opened in April 2015,” says Dr. Aines Castro, the Center’s Director for the past four years. Located behind the Tres Santos Los Huertos complex, near Jazzmango, the Center acknowledges the land and facility were donated by the developers MIRA in Mexico City through the Black Creek group out of, surprise! Denver Colorado. Black Creek is the money behind the Tres Santos real estate project that has been mired in controversy and has pretty much come to a halt. The Todos Santos Colorado University Center is brought here, opponents of the Tres Santos project say, as an ecological cover for their destructive plans.

Castro explains,” Colorado State University independently operates the Center, with full academic freedom to develop programs, research, and partnerships. The CSU and MIRA Trust Agreement allows CSU to function in these ways and within the footprint of Tres Santos while acknowledging the donation that makes it possible.”

The Center itself is an impressive structure. Crafted in brick and stucco in a traditional Mexican style with beautiful landscaping, the complex includes dorm rooms for up to 50 students, faculty apartments, and indoor and outdoor classroom space.

When it was completed, the first priority for the Center’s leadership was to conduct a community needs assessment to learn the top priorities in the area.

“We visited schools, women’s groups, local businesses, government authorities, environmental groups, and more,” said Castro. “We listened on how CSU can fill gaps in Todos Santos and El Pescadero.”

This study, which can be viewed on the Center’s website at todossantos.colostate.edu, confirmed there were misunderstandings about the Center’s mandate in the community, whether it was actually a university for local students, or if it was commercially-driven by the developers. Neither of these are completely accurate.

“Personally, I see the Center as a hub between cultural and knowledge exchange,” Castro asserts.

The assessment did find that education, including youth engagement and English classes, environment protection around water and waste management, and sustainable development were the biggest priorities. This then helped set the direction for future Center programming. As an international extension of CSU, students and faculty at the university in Fort Collins, Colorado can participate in Center activities ranging from one week to three-month semester credit programs.

For example, each winter the Center welcomes a class in the Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology program. They take part in classroom-based lectures on the marine and desert ecosystem around Todos Santos as well as doing hands-on research out in the landscape. That sounds like way more fun than shoveling snow in Colorado.

Fourth-year students in the Veterinary Medicine program come for a two-week program to provide surgical and medical support to local shelters, participate in spay/neuter campaigns, and work with local ranchers to study their herds.

Castro explains how the Center is open to all CSU faculty, even those who seemingly might not have a connection to Baja. “There was a professor and students in interior design that wanted to visit the Center, but obviously that’s not necessarily a big priority here. However, waste management is a priority so we were able to use their expertise in the creation of a recycling center.”

She also notes how life-changing the experience can be for CSU students, many of whom have never been outside their hometown. “It’s very interesting for them to come to Mexico, and they see that it’s a different environment but we as humans all face similar challenges,” she says. Not entirely: People in Baja don’t face the challenge of shoveling snow. But possibly everyone knew that before they signed up for a visit to Baja.

When it comes to programming for local residents, the Center has started teaching free English classes for adults and children at different levels, and hosting workshops on such topics as composting and global warming. There isn’t funding for such programs, but through grants Castro hopes to expand the Center’s community outreach.

You can learn more about the CSU Todos Santos Center and its events on their website or Facebook page. You can also find the trailhead to the newly-completed recreational path behind the Center. From there you can walk, run or bike through the desert landscape for three miles to Punta Lobos on the Pacific. It’s all downhill, so make a plan for the uphill return.