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UT faculty travels to Cuba to build educational partnerships

BY SARAH CIRELLI

UT is further expanding its relationship with Cuba as one of the 10 schools in the U.S. to participate in the binannual Congreso Universidad Cuban International Conference. UT faculty returned to Cuba from Feb. 11-17 for this conference to enhance the university’s relationship with the country for academic research opportunities.

Tampa and Cuba are historically linked, with Tampa being the place that Jose Marti popularized the cause for Cuban independence among cigar workers. Factories were then started by Cubans, giving Ybor the authentic character it has today.

“Course offerings in credit and non-credit potential exist,” Frank Ghannadian, dean of the Sykes College of Business, said, “Especially because UT has a relationship with the Jose Marti Center in Cuba where we can partner with them for the future.”

UT has had a long history of involvement with education in Cuba. In May of 2011 UT offered the first travel courses to Cuba. UT basketball followed with a cultural exchange in 2014 and many more opportunities were given in the coming years.

Faculty leaders who attended the conference want to strengthen UT’s programs and academic research opportunities in Cuba since U.S. citizens can only enter the country for academic purposes.

In May 2016 UT offered two travel courses: Cuba: Government and World Affairs and Mass Media and Society.

The Mass Media course went to Havana Cuba in May 2016. “The experience was a lot of fun but difficult at the same time.” said Jess Wagner, junior advertising public relations major. “The communist style of government was overwhelming and had such an impact on the country and especially on their media, so seeing the differences between the United States and Cuba helped me understand the content of the course a lot better.”

The biannual international conference allowed UT to represent the U.S. and meet with 20 other countries that were in attendance. Ghannadian said it was engaging to hear their thoughts. He said this conference allowed faculty to communicate UT’s academic interests and seek those who wished to work with UT.

Faculty are not the only ones who might benefit from these scholarly research opportunities for coauthor academic journal articles with their peers in Cuba.

“In the future students may be able to spend a few months or few weeks in Cuba to learn about their needs,” Ghannadian said. “We hope this may become reciprocal in the future.”

After this conference UT academic leaders are hoping students will strive to foster a relationship with Cuban culture and take advantage of faculty engaged in scholarship in Cuba by assisting with research and taking courses already offered. Professors James Lopez and Denis Rey have a long history of working with the Center for Jose Marti Studies.

Additionally, in March of 2016, President Ronald Vaughn, Ghannadian and other members of the senior staff lead a delegation of GAP (Global Access Partnership) group to Cuba to visit the University of Havana. The purpose of the GAP trips are to connect the business community with international connections at the Sykes College of Business. This allows for some entrepreneurs to do limited business with restaurant owners, artists, and small shopkeepers in Cuba. Ghannadian said with the rise in tourism there will be more business connections in the future.

In the future David Gudelunas, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, hopes for additional collaboration between UT and Cuban scholars and artists.

“Cuba has a deep appreciation for music, dance, and the arts that make a lot of sense for students and faculty in the College of Arts and Letters to benefit from,” Gudelunas said.

Gudelunas said that the people of Cuba are welcoming. Even though everything in Cuba is not perfect, he said the U.S. and Cuba can learn a lot from each other as their relationship continues to evolve.

“I think regardless of U.S. policy, Cuba is going to be a natural connection to the U.S.A and particularly Florida. There will be more cultural, and educational exchanges and perhaps economic ones too in the next decade,” said Ghannadian.

you can contact Sarah at sarah.cirelli@theminaretonline.com

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