SIUE, SIUC officials sign agreement, plan travel study in Cuba
An envoy of university officials will soon be traveling to Cuba to sign an educational agreement between SIU and the University of Havana.
The representatives will consist of SIUE Chancellor Julie Furst-Bowe, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Aldemaro Romero, mass communications professor Cory Byers, SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng and SIU Vice President for Academic Affairs Paul Sarvela. Their goal will be to establish a defined co-op relationship between the universities.
Romero has been working on the project since 2009 and said the signing on Sept. 22 will make it proper.
“We have already been operating as if the agreement has been signed, but, while we are there, we are going to have the formal ceremony for signing the agreement,” Romero said. “We will also have a lot of meetings with the administrators and faculty at the University of Havana in order to establish a specific cooperation in the programs we want to do with them.”
One of the benefits that could come out of the signing is an interdisciplinary studies class that would be offered to SIUE students next summer. The class would allow students to go to Cuba for 10 days in the middle of the course and then return home for their final.
The course has been prepared by Larry LaFond, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and would be offered for three or six credit hours, depending on the workload students want to take. LaFond said the class could offer students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“For the students, it is a great opportunity. Of course travel has been restricted to Cuba, but we do have some faculty that has gone there, but very few students,” LaFond said. “This is a unique opportunity for them.”
Romero believes the alliance between the universities will give students a broader world prospective.
“We are living in a globalized world, and the more international opportunities we offer for our students, the better,” Romero said. “To understand their society and history will help our students to open their minds to circumstances that aren’t commonly found elsewhere in the world.”
Sophomore Spanish major Alicia Jones, of Chicago, said she would like to take advantage of such an opportunity.
“It would be a great experience. I am a traveling person and Cuba is one of the places that I have always wanted to go to,” Jones said. “Through programs like this, I believe we could help Cuba with a lot of their issues, like poverty.”
The University of Havana sent a delegation to SIUE in summer 2012, and the school decided to start a documentary of the process for the greater good of the two nations.
“The idea is to show how a university in the Midwest with no apparent connections with Cuba is doing a diverse number of things in order to develop academic diplomacy by establishing connections in the academic and cultural fields,” Romero said.
Due to U.S. and Cuba relations, travel between the two countries can be a little more difficult than usual, and financial restrictions by both nations require the entire project to be privately funded. There are strict laws about using federal funds in Cuba.
Despite these hurdles, Romero said it will be worth the effort when the first SIUE student returns.
“[It will pay off] when I see our students go down to Cuba and then when they come back and will be able to say, ‘This was an experience that changed my life’ and has made them a more complete person all through an opportunity that most U.S. students don’t have,” Romero said.
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