World-renowned scholar now head of LACS

When Jorge Nef became the director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies department last month it was certainly not his first time taking a leadership position in a cultural organization.

Already the former head of several Canadian foundations dedicated to the advancement of Latin American studies, Nef has a reputation as a world-class scholar.

Nef, who has traveled to more than a dozen nations in Europe and Latin America, will now be responsible for bringing LACS to a state of prominence.

“All of the ingredients we need are here to turn this program into one known for its excellent research and educational values,” Nef said. “I really haven’t had the opportunity to interact with the student body yet, but it is going to be very important to incorporate students more with decision-making (in LACS). I need to find out what our students want from this program and what they expect from this program. I need to find out what the faculty wants and needs from the program.

I have already invited student representatives to be present in all academic meetings.”

Nef said he wants the department to be an interactive place under his leadership.

“A constant effort at research should be the motivating factor for students,” Nef said. “Research and learning are never-ending processes. One of the things I liked coming here was the university’s strategic plan. The school is going to become a prime research center, and LACS is going to head in that direction as well. I want to make it a place where people feel comfortable working together toward education.”

Nef, a native Chilean, said he came to USF because he wanted the opportunity to reshape the department. Nef said he was also intrigued by the curriculum the school presented.

“USF offers the opportunity to realize academic excellence for everyone involved,” Nef said. “Here we have an interesting faculty, a distinguished curriculum and a beautiful community. The cultural opportunities alone are excellent, coming to what is now a major city. One benefit that has come from my travels has been the opportunity to reflect on different cultures.”

Nef earned an undergraduate’s degree at Vanderbilt University before receiving a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Before moving to USF, Nef was a professor of political studies and international development at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

“It’s hard to say exactly how much my background will help me here,” said Nef, who was once a consultant to the Chilean prime minister. “But it’s basically like having a giant toolbox. Sometimes, you have tools you never think you’ll need, but then, when something comes up and you do need them, you are happy you kept them. The mixture of odds and ends I have picked up over the years gives me a unique perspective on the world around me.”