Highest-Ranked Colombian University Chooses Its First Woman Rector

Presenting Raquel Bernal, the new rector of the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia.

The Woman Post | Valentina Ibarra

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After 73 years of existence, the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia elected Raquel Bernal as the first female rector in history. It is a significant achievement for women in the Colombian academy, but it shows the long path for equity in high-ranked positions in universities. In 2021, there were only 16 female rectors, a deficient number considering that there are over 100 higher education institutions in the country. Just two years ago, the engineering faculty of Universidad de los Andes was celebrating their first female dean in history. Because of that, it is essential to recognize the importance of the two highest-ranked universities in Colombia -the National University and Universidad de los Andes- having women in their most important position.

According to El Uniandino, the University's student paper, Raquel is often described as a person obsessed with data and evidence. Everything needs a why and a how. Exigency is vital in her work. Because of that, ever since she was a little school girl, she stood out for her organization and discipline. Scheduling and using time correctly is a must for her. She doesn't like to be interrupted when working and believes in efficiency when doing any task.

Her hard work took her to the University of New York, where she did her master's and doctorate. There, she investigated social economy, education, household, and labor, focusing on early childhood. She soon became one of the top 20 most cited economists in Colombia. After graduation, she went to work as a professor at the University of Northwestern in Chicago, one of the top 10 universities in the world.

But her place was in Colombia, and after returning, she soon became the academic vice-chancellor of Uniandes. She had to lead the virtualization of education during the pandemic, creating innovative ideas to support students during these difficult times. She created a grading alternative without numbers with the Academic Council so that people could adapt to quarantine without worries about GPAs or losing scholarships. She worked hand-to-hand with Alejandro Gaviria, the former rector, to ensure that students had the best possible experience in a time that no one could have predicted. He was usually described as an idealist, and Raquel was the person that made sure that the initiatives were viable and implemented.

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Months later, Gaviria left the rectory to become a presidential candidate, which turned out with Raquel assuming the position while the predecessor was chosen. During the next couple of months, her excellent work made her the strongest candidate for the job, and now she is officially the first female rector in history. The barriers she has faced to get there are not small, but for her, it is proof that hard-working women can achieve what they want against all odds. Now her goal is to take the University to the next level and see the potential academy has in these changing times. And with her work planning the next five years of the University with the Institutional Plan, she is ready to take Uniandes further than ever.

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