Thirty-five women are in the inaugural class of the McGuire Mexican Scholars program, which meets on Saturdays for eight weeks in Nogales, Sonora.

With the goal of empowering women entrepreneurs and easing the need for economic migration, a University of Arizona and U.S. Consulate program has chosen its first pioneers.

McGuire Mexico Scholars is a joint program of the U.S. Consulate in Nogales, Sonora, and the University of Arizona Eller College of Management’s McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship.

Out of 450 applicants, 35 women were chosen as the inaugural class. They are participating in an eight-week workshop series led by Carlos Alsua, senior lecturer of international management and global entrepreneurship at the McGuire Center. The classes are held in Nogales, Sonora.

“We thought it was worthwhile, as a public university, to be engaged,” he said. “It’s been a labor of love.”

The women are all from Northern Mexico and intend to start or expand their businesses south of the border.

Some of the participants are young women who dropped out of school to get a job to help their families; others are established business owners who want to expand.

“The women come from Yuma to Agua Prieta,” Alsua said. “Some take a bus the night before so they can be in Nogales for Saturday classes.”

Dayana Martinez heard about the program through a friend and applied once she learned it was backed by the university.

“I’ve always had the dream of being a business owner,” she said. “I think the enthusiasm I showed for my dream made me stand out among all the applicants.”

Martinez, who lives in Nogales, Sonora, said the other women in the program have inspired her to pursue an event-planning business.

“To start, I plan to focus on children’s parties, but as I get more experience I’d love to expand into planning weddings and quinceañeras.”

Martinez also has her sights set on connecting with the large maquiladora operators that employ thousands of people in Mexico.

“When they have parties for their employees, I want them to think of me,” she said.

Aside from basic business-building lessons, the women are developing a sorority of sorts and are expected to mentor future participants.

“It all fits within the United Nations initiative to economically empower women,” Alsua said.

The U.N. Women Economic Empowerment program aims to help women reach higher levels of employment in their home countries, which is both an economic boon to that country and a deterrent to the risks of migrating.

The U.N. supports grass-roots programs that provide everything from micro loans to business classes for women.

“There’s huge pressure on the men,” Alsua said. “They hear, ‘Hey your brother is in Washington or Chicago and sending money home, now it’s your turn.’

“If you enable women to be successful business owners, you can lessen that pressure.”

Economists predict Mexico will have the sixth-largest global economy by 2050.

“It’s imperative that women in Mexico achieve greater economic parity,” according to the McGuire Center.

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Gabriela's newspaper career began at the Tucson Citizen in '86 as the "movie-times girl" where she'd call local theaters for showtimes. Since then, she's written about crime, education, immigration, trade and business. She's been with the Star since 2007.