UArizona's Justin Dutram receives government of Mexico's Ohtli award

Justin Dutram and Rafael Barceló Durazo

Justin Dutram, assistant vice president for Mexico and Latin American affairs at Arizona International, left, accepts his Ohtli award from Rafael Barceló Durazo, Consul of Mexico in Tucson.

The government of Mexico has recognized Justin Dutram, assistant vice president for Mexico and Latin American affairs in Arizona International, with its Ohtli award, the country's highest recognition granted to recipients outside of Mexico.

Justin Dutram

Justin Dutram

The award recognizes those who have distinguished themselves through their work over many years for the benefit of the Mexican nationals living abroad.

Dutram was honored at the Consulate of Mexico in Tucson's Mexican Independence Day concert last month.

Dutram has spent his career – more than 25 years – coordinating bilateral programs and initiatives with Mexico. He has been in his current role with Arizona International since 2017.

Mexico has long been Arizona's largest trading partner, Dutram said, and is now the biggest trading partner to the entire U.S. But beyond the significance of the economic relationship, Dutram noted that the university has longstanding partnerships with Mexico to tackle crucial societal challenges – such as pandemics, droughts and climate change in general – that "don't respect borders," he said.

"Addressing those challenges requires international collaboration, and because we're in a border region, we have to have strong relationships with Mexico," Dutram added. "I feel that I'm lucky enough to be in a position to support the great work that our faculty and students do, and part of my role is telling that story."

Dutram's experience understanding the importance of strong U.S.-Mexico relations began as an undergraduate student at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. At the time, he worked for a nonprofit focused on water-quality issues in the Rio Grande watershed, which extends from southern Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. The work involved a lot of travel across the border.

"I got to travel quite a bit and got a good feel for what crossing the border often can feel like," Dutram said. "It just really sparked my interest in the bilateral relationship, and in some way since then I've been involved in that kind of work."

Robert C. Robbins, Czarina López, Iliana López, Rafael Barceló Durazo and Justin Dutram

From left: University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins, Czarina López, Iliana López, Barceló Durazo and Dutram.

Dutram first joined UArizona in 2008 as an academic outreach coordinator in Santa Cruz County, based in Nogales. There, he helped set up programs to bring university resources to nontraditional students living in the area. The work, he added, involved forging many cross-border partnerships. He moved to Arizona International – then known as the Office of Global Initiatives – to strengthen connections between the university and Mexico under an initiative by University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins.

As assistant vice president for Mexico and Latin American affairs, Dutram fosters connections and initiatives with partners in Mexico and stakeholders within Arizona. His role is multifaceted, whether it's facilitating student exchange programs, promoting research collaborations, or convening thought leaders to discuss critical issues such as arms trafficking and trade relations.

Helping to cultivate partnerships in Mexico and Latin America, including a longstanding relationship with Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Dutram's work has helped forge the creation of programs that have not only impacted academic and research endeavors but also opened doors for transformative experiences for students.

Most recently, Dutram helped facilitate an agreement between UArizona and the Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas to collaborate in research and education in the area of One Health, an interdisciplinary effort that addresses the nexus of human, veterinary and environmental health.

"This award is a testament to Justin Dutram's commitment and dedication to fostering connections between the University of Arizona and Mexico," Robbins said. "His leadership has benefited the university, our state and both nations. It is a truly well-deserved honor."

Dutram said he feels a profound sense of honor and dedication to advancing the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. He recognizes that the future of these two nations is intertwined, and he views his contributions as a means to strengthen this connection.

"If we look geopolitically around the world, it's not just security issues, it's also sustainability, and managing and developing the human potential that we have as a region," Dutram said. "I think that the three countries of North America together, and especially the U.S. and Mexico, have so much to gain by growing together versus having an adversarial relationship. I am honored and privileged that I have the opportunity to be able to contribute in a small way."

Dutram adds to a growing list of university community members who have been recognized with the Ohtli award. Joaquín Ruiz, UArizona vice president for global environmental futures, received the honor in 2009. Professor of history William Beezley was recognized in 2017. And Dr. Cecilia Rosales, associate dean for community engagement and Phoenix programs in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, received the award in 2019.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Arizona International website.