CSU Todos Santos Center builds empathy, global perspective


Collegian | olaf m.

Colorado State University students pose with a CSU Abroad flag in Todos Santos, Mexico. The Todos Santos Center in Baja California Sur is a global extension of the Colorado State main campus that provides a study abroad opportunity each semester. Photo Courtesy of Colorado State University.

Allie Seibel, News Director

Colorado State University Todos Santos Center, a study abroad campus and research center in Baja California Sur, Mexico, aims to provide visiting students with interdisciplinary experiences both in and out of the classroom that enhance global perspective.

“(Todos Santos) is similar to other study abroad sessions in the sense that students have an experience in a different country away from their home campus,” said Kim Kita, director of Todos Santos. “It’s different in that it’s only a three-hour trip (from Fort Collins), and yet it’s a completely different language and culture.”


Kita expressed that a main difference between Todos Santos and other experiences is the connection CSU has formed with the town and the region.

“You have that sense of adventure with a safety net, and that can be really nice for a lot of students,” Kita said. “It’s also different because students spend time here, and they’re not tourists. Because of our program coordinators really making those connections with community members, students have a chance to feel the rhythm of each day, feel like they’re really a part of the community and get to know what it’s like living here, which is a completely different experience than if you were to come to this region for a week on vacation.”

Opened in 2015, the Todos Santos Center is staffed almost exclusively by people from the town and the region. The 12-member permanent staff are all bilingual, and all are related, either through genetic ties or emotional bonds formed through their work at the center.

“It really feels like a family,” said Idalia Paz y Puente Fernandez, associate director of business operations. “It gives a lot of local support to the students and the professors because everyone knows us. It’s always fun when people say they saw our students, working in the plaza or out and about. All the town knows our students because they know us.”

Todos Santos offers academic programs ranging from five weeks to a semester long and runs themed programs in the fall, spring and summer semesters.

“We love having students here,” Kita said. “Just the buzz of activity and knowing that by facilitating experiences for students, we’re really making a difference in their self reflection and their outlook on life moving forward, which translates to the ability to see beyond how we’re raised. And to really expand that worldview and develop more cultural awareness is super important wherever you go in life. You look at the changing demographics in the United States, and we live in diverse spaces. We need to really understand who we are in those spaces and how to effectively communicate and relate to people.”

This upcoming fall, the Todos Santos Center will focus on a theme of environment and culture. Classes take an interdisciplinary look at the subject of the course and focus on making connections to Mexican culture and the local region.

Ruth Alexander, professor emerita of history, has taught five sections of classes at Todos Santos since 2019. For the fall 2023 semester, she will return to Todos Santos to teach a class that focuses on oral history of the region called “History, Community and Culture in Mexico,” as well as a class titled “Legendary Women in the United States and Mexico.”

Alexander’s goals for these courses are to immerse her students in the local culture and to let them dig deep into Todos Santos and the region.


“Over the years, I have found that for quite a few students, the study abroad experience is really life changing because they’re in a place that’s unfamiliar,” Alexander said. “It gives them an opportunity to learn about different ways of being and then to think, ‘What am I about? What’s my culture? Who do I want to be? What do I want to pursue?’ … I think it really is transformative because it encourages students to think about their identities, who they are, their values, what they care about most and then make academic decisions and professional decisions based on that.”

“The center is this special place where learning happens in both directions: Students learn from the community and its environment, but the community has also learned so much from the students and faculty who have come throughout these years.” Olaf Ali Morales Barrales, senior languages coordinator and affiliate faculty member

Even though her classes are liberal arts-based, Alexander said that Todos Santos is a good place for students to realize that the liberal arts have a significant place in environmental learning and in greater global perspectives.

You know, one of the things Todos Santos Center really tries to get students to embrace and invest in is global citizenship,” Alexander said. “The notion that we are all connected, that we all bear responsibility for one another around the world. I think that the ethic of global citizenship can be transferred back to a smaller scale and to a diverse campus like ours.” 

Erika Osborne, professor in the department of art and art history, has also led several classes at Todos Santos and will be returning to teach a class titled “Art Meets Environment.”

According to Osborne, the course focuses on how artists can engage with the world around them. Osborne said she focuses on place-based issues and sustainability. Students interact with local artists and methods in Todos Santos and the surrounding area in fields such as pottery making, print making and leather production.

I’m a firm believer in field-based experiential learning,” Osborne said. “I think it is life changing, and going and having that kind of immersive experience, really engaging a community and an environment and doing that collectively with peers and faculty members, too, who you’re with quite constantly, allows for a deeper resonance of content. I like the Todos Santos program particularly because students are taking multiple courses, and those courses kind of weave together and overlap in many ways.” 

The connections between the Todos Santos Center and the town of Todos Santos are particularly important to the learning experience.

Olaf Ali Morales Barrales, senior languages coordinator and affiliate faculty member with the department of languages, literatures and cultures, interacts with that connection as both a Spanish professor at Todos Santos and a community English teacher with the town. 

After working for more than five years at Todos Santos, I can say that the center has become a place where students learn new perspectives and cultures,” Barrales wrote in an email. “It is amazing how students evolve from day one to their last day here. The center is this special place where learning happens in both directions: Students learn from the community and its environment, but the community has also learned so much from the students and faculty who have come throughout these years. My local English students love to interact with CSU students and have even become good friends. Greetings happen everywhere, from restaurants to classrooms, meaning that personal connections are a key element of people’s lives.” 

Outside of the faculty’s connection with the location and courses, student perspective and experiences with Todos Santos shape both their academic work and future plans.

“I learned a lot from many different mentors about the possibilities of careers, the diversity of the career paths I could potentially have,” said Grace Goldenberg, an interdisciplinary liberal arts student who studied at Todos Santos in fall 2022. “It opened my eyes to how many different opportunities there are, and I got to experience working with people who are actually out there in those careers. I think it’s shed a lot of light on how much there is out there.” 

Todos Santos’ goals for future academic programs will continue to focus on global learning and creating interdisciplinary and eye-opening experiences for both students and visiting faculty.

“(Todos Santos) is a nice place to need yourself,” Paz y Puente Fernandez said. “Here you not only learn academically, you learn about yourself, and you will face yourself in those uncomfortable and comfortable situations because you have the support of the center, of CSU, of working directly with the community in another language. Todos Santos is a (magical) place to find yourself, not just for students but for everyone who comes here. This is a place everyone is able to connect with themselves.” 

Reach Allie Seibel at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @allie_seibel .