Global

225 Years of Tar Heels: Santiago Gangotena

After receiving his doctorate in physics from Carolina in 1977, Santiago Gangotena created the Universidad San Francisco de Quito — the first private liberal arts university in Ecuador.

Santiago Gangotena with Chancellor Carol L. Folt.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt with Universidad San Francisco de Quito Chancellor Santiago Gangotena. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

225 Years.Editor’s note: In honor of the University’s 225th anniversary, we will be sharing profiles throughout the academic year of some of the many Tar Heels who have left their heelprint on the campus, their communities, the state, the nation and the world.

Santiago Gangotena went from attending the oldest public university in the United States to founding the first private liberal arts university in Ecuador. Ten years after receiving his doctorate in physics from Carolina in 1977, he built the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, one of UNC-Chapel Hill’s key international partners in research and education.

The partnership has been going strong since 2006, and in 2011 the two universities dedicated the joint Galápagos Science Center, where hundreds of Carolina students and faculty members have worked alongside peers at USFQ to understand and preserve the ecosystems of the Galápagos Islands.

The GSC is the only university research center in the Galápagos and provides a unique platform for Carolina faculty and students to conduct research and study within a cherished UNESCO World Heritage Site. Students from both universities attend academic programs at the center that encourages movement between the classroom, field, and laboratory.

Gangotena’s colleagues at USFQ describe him as transformative, eccentric, original, passionate about liberal arts  — an “architect of dreams.” But Gangotena describes himself more simply — as a “lover of freedom, good cooking, books and design.”

Gangotena received a Distinguished Alumnus Award at Carolina in 2009.