On October 27, 2015, over 100 university officials and international educational leaders from 7 countries convened on the Conrado Benitez campus of La Universidad de Cienfuegos Cuba for the 1st Annual Workshop of Strategic Alliances for the Internationalization of Higher Education (Cuba TIES 2015). Over the course of three days, participants discussed how to remove barriers to internationalization in Cuba and presented over 50 papers on a diverse array of topics such as distance learning, program management, campus internationalization and approaches to sustainable university cooperation. Others presented their history of best practices and current partnership programs in Cuba.
Cuba TIES 2015 broke historic ground on many levels:
- Organized by Civitas Global Educational Services and La Universidad de Cienfuegos, it was the first US-Cuba collaboration dedicated to issues of internationalization, global learning and the development of sustainable partnerships.
- 38 colleges and universities from Cuba, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, Portugal and the United States were represented at Cuba TIES 2015 making it the largest international educational event ever held at a Cuban university.
- 41 educational leaders representing 28 U.S. colleges, universities and NGO’s, it was the single largest U.S. educational mission to Cuba.
The U.S. delegation consisted of directors of global learning, deans and provosts from both public and private institutions with a diverse range of interests including science, engineering, business, economics, biological sciences, social sciences, pedagogy and the humanities.
Cuba TIES 2015 kicked off in the theater of the Conrado Benitez Campus of la Universidad de Cienfuegos with a welcome by the Rector (President) of the University, Dr. Juan B. Cogollos Martinez. In his remarks he provided a picture as to how international study has been and continues to be an integral part of higher education in Cuba. Some notable facts include:
- There are more than 2,000 exchanges between universities in Cuba and the rest of the world
- There are currently over 4,500 professors and researchers engaged abroad and 5,000 international professors and researchers engaged in projects in Cuba
- More than 51,000 international students from over 120 nationalities have studied in programs throughout Cuba
Marlene Johnson, CEO and Executive Director of NAFSA: Association of International Educators gave the keynote address, making her the first educational leader from the United States to deliver such an address from the campus of a Cuban university since the re-establishment of normal relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
“A closer relationship between the United States and Cuba is key to the United States having healthier relationships in the hemisphere,” explained Johnson. No relationship exists in isolation from another, and the severe restrictions on engagement in education, trade and travel has set a negative tone for the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere.”
Johnson went on to further explain, “Those of us in international education recognize how extremely important it is for our foreign policy to be informed by knowledge of the perspectives and interests of our neighbors. So, this period of non-engagement has had consequences that will take years to overcome. Fortunately, we are on the path toward active engagement. With the decision by President Obama and President Castro to normalize diplomatic relations, and open our two Embassies and the U.S. Administration’s steps to begin to ease restriction for economic engagement, there is a framework for the efforts of public leaders, education leaders and NGO’s to establish relationships and strategies for achieving meaningful actions in the years ahead.”
Many delegates wrote and presented papers on suggested topics that included: distance learning; management of programs, projects and international networks; forming an international student body; cooperation of universities for sustainable development; the professionalization of international officers and; the internationalization of the academic curriculum.
The papers presented by U.S. educators reflected the diversity of the delegation. Mitsue Shiokawa-Baklan, Director of Old Dominion University Online in Norfolk, Virginia presented on the interaction between internationalization and online education. Dr. Linda Hagedorn, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs, and professor at Iowa State University School of Education provided a conceptual framework for higher education institutions to enhance global awareness and guidance on how to create a “global citizen” and how this is implemented through their programs.
Papers presented by other international participants showcased some of the more successful programs between their universities and institutions in Cuba. Dr. Emigdio Archundia Fernández of the University of Guantajuato, Mexico presented on long standing collaborations with universities and organizations in Cuba. Dr. Darko Matovic Professor of Engineering at Queen’s University at Kingston in Canada presented on his institution’s international collaborations with Cuba through undergraduate programs in engineering.
Cuban educators also presented their work in partnership building and showcased best practices. Professor Maria Elena Cuellar of the UCf School of Pedagogical Sciences shared best practices from a joint teaching program with the public university of Oaxaca in Mexico.
Officials from other universities in Cuba presented, including Dr. Anna Lidia Beltran Marin of La Universidad of Sancti Spíritus who shared results of a joint collaboration with la Universidad de Huelva, Spain on the management and protection of the ecosystem in El Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) in Trinidad, Cuba.
Professors Cynthia Duncan of the University of Washington Tacoma and Dictino Diaz of UCf asked the audience to think about creating a program today that is still viable five years from now by moving beyond the idea of Cuba as “an exotic destination.”
In addition to the universities, there were presentations from field leading NGO’s showcasing their activities to encourage partnership between the United States, Cuba and the rest of the Americas. For the United States, Matt Clausen and Jill Welch on behalf of Partners of the Americas and NAFSA challenged institutions by asking them to consider a “wholesale” approach to increasing student mobility within the hemisphere by identifying and addressing systemic barriers within their home institutions.
“If we think of this like a clogged artery, we want to remove those things at the campus level that are getting in the way of easing student flows in increased international study between the U.S. and Cuba and across the region”, said Matt Clausen.
“These seed grants are for institutions like yours,” said Jill Welch, “our goal is to provide incentive grants that help you leverage the kind of changes your campuses need to make in order to make study abroad to and from countries like Cuba sustainable.”
Jose Santiago of Educational Testing Service and Professor Adrián Abreus González of Universidad de Cienfuegos presented on current efforts to establish a TOEFL and GRE testing center at La Universidad de Cienfuegos and la Universidad de Oriente. ETS currently offers the TOEFL and GRE in Havana and has offered TOEFL Propell workshops for English teachers in Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos and Havana. The workshop is a one-day professional development program designed to help English-language teachers meet the challenges of teaching English to students. “Given the motivation and enthusiasm I have seen from the educators here at TIES and throughout the island, I am hopeful that our efforts will provide more opportunity for mobility in both directions”, said Jose Santiago
Dr. Guillermo Hernandez Duque Delgadillo, General Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Association of Universities and Institutions of Higher Education (ANUIES) of Mexico showcased their longstanding support for exchange programs with institutions in Cuba.
Also present were representatives from the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education and the recently appointed Public Affairs Officer for the US Embassy in Havana, Bruce Kleiner. Mr. Kleiner noted that the Embassy is enthusiastic about U.S. universities’ exchange activities with Cuban institutions, and that the
Embassy itself is beginning its own formal collaboration efforts in Cuba by offering some of the official U.S. State Department programs used in other nations around the world.
Collaboration didn’t end at the university level. Other local groups and community stakeholders worked together to bring Cuba TIES to life.
“Collaboration didn’t end at the gates to the ivory towers. Cuba TIES represented a true community effort,” added Dairo Moreno, President of Civitas Global Educational Services and co-organizer of Cuba TIES for the United States. “Cuban private enterprise, musicians, artists, the local historical society and many others all contributed to make this event a reality.” The Cuban National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) contributed artists and hosted evening performances. ICAP (Institute for Friendship with the Cuban People) provided the space for the poster sessions and exhibitors. The City’s historical society provided specialized tours of the historical city center and the Tomas Acea Cemetery. Community mobilization for Cuba TIES 2015 was so strong that promos and news stories ran on local television and local disc jockeys would discuss it during their radio shows.
“The organizing committee worked tirelessly to rally the community to be a part of Cuba TIES”, said Dayni Diaz Mederos, academic coordinator for the Office of International Relations for UCf and co-organizer of Cuba TIES for Cuba “We wanted to bring the community into the event. By getting as many parts of the community involved as possible, we were able to showcase the beauty of Cienfuegos which is much deeper than the architecture and natural landscape.”
Opportunities for cultural immersion continued during the off hours as many of the international participants stayed in “casa particulares” or homestays. “My experience at two casa particulares was wonderful,” said Dr. Alvin Wang, Dean of the Burnett Honors College of the University of Central Florida who took cultural exchange to new heights by cooking for his host family one evening. “The host families were warm, friendly, and well prepared for my stay. I can’t think of a better way of learning about Cuba and its people.”
“If we sum up all of the things we have learned over the sessions from the past three days, then I believe that we are much more prepared to continue to build bridges over troubled waters,” Dr. Cogollos stated in his closing remarks as he invited everyone to return to Cienfuegos on October 25, 2016 for Cuba TIES 2016 “there is much opportunity for exchange coming soon [as we here are] defining a new paradigm for international collaboration… a paradigm that must be constantly changing as we build new pathways.”
Orlando Félix García Martínez, Professor of History at UCf and President of the Cienfuegos Chapter of UNEAC, traveled to the University of Michigan in the early 1990’s as part of a collaborative program always remained hopeful for the return of normal relations between the U.S. and Cuba. “Today is an important day for Cienfuegeros, your presence here, the presence of my colleagues from different universities demonstrates that the hope and dreams that we had in the early 90’s are beginning to come to fruition…despite the circumstances that may limit us, we will continue to move forward on a path to realize these strategic alliances in a more concrete and rapid way, even if the paths aren’t straight ones, and even though they may take longer to walk, they will still lead us to the finish [line], having normal relationships.”
For more information on Cuba TIES 2015 or to stay informed about Cuba TIES 2016, you can contact CubaPrograms@CivitasGES.com.
Civitas Global Educational Services is an educational services provider focused on creating bridges between cultures and nations through education and partnership building.