VCU representatives visit Cuba as part of historic higher education delegation

IIE delegation on the steps of the Universidad de La Habana.
IIE delegation on the steps of the Universidad de La Habana.

Virginia Commonwealth University recently participated in a historic delegation visit to Cuba from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1. R. McKenna Brown, Ph.D., Global Education Office senior international officer; Joseph H. Seipel, dean of the School of the Arts; and Joann Richardson, Ph.D., associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences, represented VCU in the delegation.  The purpose of this visit, led by the Institute of International Education, was for U.S. universities to learn more about the current state of higher education in Cuba and to explore potential partnership opportunities. The visit was part of a broader initiative that seeks to reinvigorate higher education engagement between the U.S. and Cuba in light of the opening of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

We were thrilled to participate in this historic event that promises new research and teaching collaborations with our Cuban neighbors and the potential to expand VCU’s global footprint in this region.

“For years, VCU has partnered with universities around the world that provide our students with global opportunities that enrich their educational experience,” Brown said. “We were thrilled to participate in this historic event that promises new research and teaching collaborations with our Cuban neighbors and the potential to expand VCU’s global footprint in this region.”

“I really approached this opportunity with an open mind,” Richardson said. “It was incumbent upon us as academics to not allow the politics between the U.S. and Cuba over the last 50 years to cloud our ability to see the possibilities that the future holds. And they didn’t.”

In particular, Richardson sought to explore opportunities related to the medical and health care fields.  “Cuba has a universal health care system and much of their medical practice focuses on prevention,” she said. “With the emergence of a more preventative health care model here in the U.S., I was interested in exploring how their systems operate and determining how studying them might shape sustainable student and faculty exchanges.”

Now back at VCU, Richardson plans to cultivate these newfound linkages with her Cuban counterparts, and, in conjunction with the Global Education Office, develop them into study abroad programs for students, and research and teaching opportunities for faculty.  While in Cuba, the delegation’s itinerary included visits with administrators at a half dozen universities, meetings with governmental officials and events at ambassador residences for the U.S. and the European Union. According to Richardson, the delegation was met with a collegial reception in each instance. “All of the rectors with whom we met were extremely welcoming to us and to our ideas for potential collaborations with universities in the U.S.,” she said.

This most recent visit builds upon VCU’s longstanding history of activities in Cuba. Most recently, the university offered students the opportunity to directly explore Cuban society through its summer 2015 study abroad program. The 13 students enrolled in this program participated in adult learning at the Center for the Study of Jose Marti, in Havana. These students are joined by more than 1,500 American students who have studied in Cuba in recent years, despite travel restrictions that have been in place. 

The Universidad de Ciego de Avila was one of the institutions on the delegation's itinerary.
<br>Photo by Joann Richardson, VCU
The Universidad de Ciego de Avila was one of the institutions on the delegation's itinerary.
Photo by Joann Richardson, VCU

On campus, VCU contributed to the discourse surrounding U.S.-Cuba relations through its April 2015 Alexandrian Society of VCU’s Spring Symposium titled “Cuba in Transitions: Perspectives on a Hispanic Caribbean Society.” The event was co-sponsored by the Office of the ProvostCollege of Humanities and Sciences, Global Education Office and L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

Allan E. Goodman, IIE’s president and CEO, led the delegation, which included members of the organization’s International Academic Partnership Program Advisory Board as well as approximately 30 university representatives. Other universities that took part in the delegation included Rutgers University, the State University of New York-New Paltz, the University of Arizona, Indiana University, the University of Tampa and Oberlin College.

Since the inception of the International Academic Partnership Program in 2009, IIE’s Center for International Partnerships has worked with more than 100 U.S. colleges and universities to foster sustainable linkages with Brazil, China, India and Myanmar. As a result, previous participating institutions have developed partnerships with counterparts in their particular focus country, engaging in collaborative activities such as faculty exchange, student exchange, study abroad programs, joint research and joint conferences.

 

Subscribe to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at http://newsletter.news.vcu.edu/ and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday.