José A. Zaglul, EARTH University prez, answers questions
What work do you do?
I am the president of EARTH University, a private, not-for-profit, international institution.
What does your organization do?
Our mission is to promote sustainable development in the tropics through the creation of professionals with strong values, solid technical and scientific skills, entrepreneurial spirit, and social and environmental consciousness. When EARTH opened in 1990, we made a commitment to reach out to the poor in rural communities throughout Latin America. We believe that if we offer them the right education, instill values and ethics in a pluralistic environment, provide entrepreneurial training with a strong social and environmental focus, and return them to their countries and communities as agents of change, we can make a difference in the world.
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis?
I travel a lot and meet with people inside and outside EARTH, trying to spread the mission of our institution.
EARTH is dedicated to providing educational opportunities to the most economically disadvantaged in Latin America and provides full or partial scholarships to 80 percent of our students. As a result, we are actively fund-raising year round.
I am currently working on my speech for our 11th graduation, in December. Another 89 professionals will join the 987 graduates who are already creating change and contributing to the sustainable development of their communities in 20 countries in Latin America.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
I was born in Costa Rica to parents of Lebanese descent. In 1965, when I was 17 years old, I decided to spend a year in Lebanon to study and experience Lebanese culture. By the end of that first year, I had decided to enroll in the American University of Beirut where I completed my Bachelor of Science in agricultural economics and a master’s in animal science. At the University of Florida, I completed another master’s in food science and human nutrition and a doctorate in meat and muscle biology.
I returned to Costa Rica and held a faculty post as a food-science professor at Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica and later became the vice president of research and extension. I also served as the head of the Animal Production Department at the Centro Agrícola Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza in Costa Rica, an international center for tropical research and the oldest postgraduate school of agriculture in Latin America.
In 1989, I became the first president of EARTH University, leading the design of the campus and the establishment of the university’s academic programs, values, and mission.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in San Ramon, Costa Rica. I currently live on the EARTH University campus in the rural Caribbean lowlands in northeast Costa Rica.
What’s been the best moment in your professional life to date?
The day we handed the degrees to our first EARTH graduates. We refer to that group of graduates as “pioneers” because truly they had put their trust, hope, and dreams in a model that had not been proven or done before. In that moment, we saw the tangible result of all of our efforts, and we saw a group of individuals before us — most from very humble backgrounds — who were full of unlimited promise. Since that day, I have seen how this group has transformed communities, influenced governments, and become guides and leaders for sustainable development.
What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?
I feel powerless when I see trucks with huge logs that are clearly from virgin forests.
What is your environmental nightmare?
I’m very concerned with the widely held belief that our environment will auto-correct. A lot of the environmental degradation occurring now is irreversible, and there will be consequences for those actions or our inaction in the future. My nightmare is the end result of treating the environment as we are.
What are you reading these days?
What’s your favorite meal?
I love my mom’s traditional Lebanese recipe with green and red beans.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Plant a tree on the campus of EARTH University.