February 16, 2017

A former plantation in central Mexico has been reborn as a premier study abroad facility for Texas A&M University faculty and students.

A former maguey plantation in central Mexico has been reborn as a premier study abroad option for Texas A&M University faculty and students. Formally opened in 2015 in the state of Guanajuato, the Hacienda Santa Clara Education and Research Center offers multi-disciplinary educational and cultural experiences. The center also provides a safe haven where Aggies can forge relationships with students, faculty members, policymakers and businesspeople from Mexico.

The brainchild of Barbara and Pablo Marvin ’66, Hacienda Santa Clara is a leader in encouraging creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. The hacienda’s prime location in the Bajio region offers ready access to Mexico’s high-tech and industrial corridor and the nation’s breadbasket. The center also is located 20 minutes from San Miguel de Allende, the acclaimed international art center and UNESCO World Heritage site.

Interest in study-abroad programs at Hacienda Santa Clara is growing across Texas A&M’s campus, but many students need financial support to experience the center as it was intended.

“By supporting study-abroad programs, donors are really supporting Texas A&M students by creating high-impact learning courses with an international dimension. the Hacienda provides a safe and good environment in which to do that,” said Dr. Ronald A. Kaiser, professor and chair of Texas A&M’s Water Program. 

  • Classroom Learning

    Within the hacienda's historic confines, students learn about topics relevant to their field of study. This group from Texas A&M’s Interdisciplinary Water Management and Hydrologic Science graduate program learned about water challenges affecting the world.

  • The Facilities

    The study abroad site is a 340-acre former maguey producing hacienda located in the municipality of San Miguel de Allende. There are three main buildings, a main house, a chapel and dormitories. The main house holds a large dining facility, class and meeting rooms, a library and more.

  • The Gardens

    The buildings and furnishings were constructed or restored on site using mostly local materials and craftsmen. These buildings are surrounded by patios and gardens aligned with the native flora of the area, and containing about 1.7 million bricks.

  • History of the Facility

    The original hacienda was established in the 1850s, but by the 2010s, it was in ruins. The property was selected by Pablo and Barbara Marvin with the purpose of founding a center. The site was chosen because of San Miguel’s status as a UNESCO Heritage Site (2008), as well as its over 130 arts and handcrafts galleries, along with numerous restaurants, cafes and other tourist infrastructure.

  • Site Architect

    The overall design of the site was created by Hollywood set designer Theresa Walker. It officially opened in October 2015, with the name Hacienda Santa Clara Study and Research Center, but began receiving students in October 2014.


Building Relationships Across Borders

One of Hacienda Santa Clara’s goals is to foster relationships across the U.S.-Mexico border. To achieve this, Marvin, who is a Texas A&M Distinguished Alumnus, taps into his extensive network of contacts to tailor each class’s itinerary.

One such study-abroad trip involves Aggies who are enrolled in Texas A&M’s Interdisciplinary Water Management and Hydrologic Science Graduate program. These graduate students come from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, The Bush School of Government and Public Service, the School of Law and the College of Geosciences. They are joined at the Hacienda by civil engineering and agriculture students from the University of Guanajuato.

During the week-long trip, Aggies share dormitory rooms with their Mexican counterparts. The close proximity helps students learn more about each other. “While this class is focused on education, a good part of it is designed to foster cultural understanding,” Kaiser said.

The Hacienda at night glows from the light of hanging stars on the patio.

A Cornucopia of Learning Opportunities

The week’s itinerary is based on the program’s focus on water, food and energy. The A&M students quickly learn that Guanajuato shares many of the same water concerns as their northern neighbors. “The state of Guanajuato is a major vegetable producer in Mexico and a major exporter of vegetables to the United States. They have issues of scarcity and long-term water availability,” Kaiser said. “It’s a state that is growing rapidly and uses the largest amount of water for agricultural irrigation.”

Students spend much of their time in Mexico involved in activities outside the classroom. They tour farms, food processing plants, food quality testing labs, San Miguel de Allende’s water treatment facility, dams and mining operations near the city of Guanajuato. Students also view ancient maps of canals created by the Aztecs and other groups of Mexico’s native people.

A Prime Location for Learning

Besides serving as a welcome base of operations, Hacienda Santa Clara is developing into an incubator for burgeoning collaboration and real-world lessons. “The seed created by the center’s creation is starting to blossom in multiple directions on Texas A&M’s campus as well as for the Hacienda and for the faculty and students from the state of Guanajuato,” Kaiser said. “Our students will remember this experience for the rest of their lives. They’re involved in high-impact learning that is consequential to our world.”

Click here to request additional information about supporting transformational learning opportunities like this study abroad program.