SIUE to Participate in Cuban Academic Exchange

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Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Chancellor Julie Furst-Bowe, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Aldemaro Romero and Mass Communications Instructor Cory Byers have returned from a week-long visit to Cuba. They participated last week in the finalization of an academic exchange agreement already signed by SIU President Glenn Poshard between the SIU Board of Trustees and the University of Havana.

Representatives attending the signing ceremony in Cuba: (from left to right): Thomas Cheng, SIU VP/Academic Affairs Paul Sarvela, Ana Romero, SIUE Chancellor Julie Furst-Bowe, UH historian Raúl Rodrig

These programs will not only improve communication and understanding among individuals, but also help to improve the political climate between both countries.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Chancellor Julie Furst-Bowe, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Aldemaro Romero and Mass Communications Instructor Cory Byers have returned from a week-long visit to Cuba. They participated last week in the finalization of an academic exchange agreement already signed by SIU President Glenn Poshard between the SIU Board of Trustees and the University of Havana.

SIU Carbondale Chancellor Rita Cheng and SIU Vice President for Academic Affairs Paul Sarvela also were on the trip to complete documentation.

Romero is the director of SIUE’s Cuban Caribbean Center and has been vigorously working on the project since 2009 to define the cooperative relationship among the universities. They departed Sunday, Sept. 23, and returned Saturday, Sept. 29.

“Although we have been operating as if the agreement was completed, the formal ceremony made it official,” Romero said. “We had meetings with University of Havana administrators and faculty to specifically establish the programs we want to implement with them.”

“These programs will not only improve communication and understanding among individuals, but also help to improve the political climate between both countries,” said Furst-Bowe.

The SIUE Cuban Caribbean Center will be working on establishing more exchange courses across a variety of fields including political sciences, history, mass communications, foreign languages and biological sciences. One of the activities that is planned is an interdisciplinary studies class that will be offered to SIUE students. Additionally, they will be providing more opportunities for Cuban scholars to visit SIUE as guest scholars.

Romero believes the alliance between the universities will give students a broader world perspective in an ever-growing global economy. “The more international opportunities afforded our students, the more knowledgeable they will become,” Romero said. “Understanding Cuban society and history will help students comprehend circumstances that aren’t commonly found elsewhere in the world.”

The University of Havana sent a delegation to SIUE at the end of May 2012 that included three professors - sociologist Jorge Hernandez Martinez, historian Raul Rodriguez and economist Luis René Fernandez Tabío. They gave lectures and toured the campus. The initiative between the Cuban government and SIUE is only the second in the nation - the first being with Harvard University.

“Our goal is to demonstrate that a Midwestern university with no apparent connection to Cuba can create a variety of diverse programs to develop academic diplomacy by establishing connections both academically and culturally,” Romero said.

Financial restrictions by both nations require the entire project to be privately funded. There are strict laws about using federal funds in Cuba.

Romero eagerly awaits the return of the first SIUE student group that visits.

“We anticipate that these students will have positive life-changing experiences,” Romero said. “They will be enriched through an opportunity that most U.S. students can’t imagine.”

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Doug McIlhagga
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
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