A unique educational partnership was formalized last week between SUNY Potsdam and the Universidad de Cienfuegos in Cuba, where SUNY Potsdam signed an official memorandum of understanding with the Cuban university for a long-term international collaboration that involves students, faculty and staff of both institutions. In addition, The State University of New York System signed an agreement with the Cuban Ministry of Education, the first of its kind between Cuban and U.S. institutions.
Last week, SUNY Potsdam President Dr. Kristin Esterberg, the School of Arts and Sciences Dean Dr. Steven Marqusee and Director of International Education Krista LaVack joined SUNY Provost Alexander Cartwright to witness this historic collaboration between the two universities.
“I am delighted to have been present for the signing of the agreement between SUNY Potsdam and the University of Cienfuegos, and to have witnessed the richness and multi-dimensionality of that relationship. These are exactly the sort of relationships we seek to foster system-wide in our system-to-system collaboration with Cuban higher education institutions,” Cartwright said about the visit.
Esterberg also praised the new relationship. “Our partnership with the University of Cienfuegos provides students with a unique experience to learn with and from our Cuban partners. We are thrilled to be able to provide this extraordinary opportunity for cultural exchange for our students.”
This new educational partnership has already fostered opportunities for SUNY Potsdam students. Last month, 15 students joined three faculty members and alumna Dr. Mary Helander ’83, senior research scientist at IBM and Potsdam College Foundation trustee, on a travel course to the Universidad de Cienfuegos. While in Cuba students studied agroecology and public health while Helander acted as a mentor, teacher and research assistant. She also gave a gift to help underwrite the cost of student travel.
The students were in Cienfuegos and outlying areas from Jan. 5-20. Some of the sites they visited included: the beautiful Rancha Luna beach, the historic town of Trinidad, Casa De La Santander (a sugar mill museum), a private Farm (El Mango), the Pedregal biodiversity research farm and the National Aviary Reserve at Laguna Guanaroca. All of the locations they visited helped students connect the history and culture of Cuba to modern day agricultural and public health issues.
Dr. Brent Crow, assistant professor of Community Health at SUNY Potsdam, was one of the faculty members leading the trip. “The Cuba travel course allowed students an individual opportunity to grow and to learn in the fields of public health and agroecology. This course stretched the definition of a classroom, from a single room in building for a predefined time, to the unlimited possibilities of the streets and businesses of Cuba. This new delineation of a classroom meant class started when we met on the streets and ended when students were home for the night.”
Later this month, 25 student members of the Crane Latin Ensemble, led by faculty directors Marsha Baxter and Peter McCoy, will travel to the Universidad de Cienfuegos in Cuba for a music performance and educational tour, accompanied by Professor Oscar Sarmiento, who will perform poetry readings. They will attend intensive workshops on Latin music and Cuban history and have the opportunity to study and perform Afro-Cuban music with master Cuban musicians.
Marqusee discussed the importance of the new partnership. “The relationship that SUNY Potsdam and the Universidad de Cienfuegos, Cuba, have forged together, is a great deal more than just an academic agreement; it is a commitment – a marriage, so to speak – between two friends that will endure for many years to come, benefitting both our students and faculty.”
Next year SUNY Potsdam hopes to host a Cuban scholar and in the long term, the College would like to develop a unique first-year spring semester study abroad program for 15 to 20 select freshmen, hosted at the University of Cienfuegos. In addition, the College plans to offer long-term study abroad programs for upperclassmen, providing an authentic Cuban experience for students intrigued by the country’s culture and history.
In April 2015, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher traveled with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in New York’s first trade mission to Cuba in 56 years, following the lifting of the U.S. economic embargo with the country. The SUNY Office of Global Affairs has been working closely with the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education to establish more partnerships between SUNY campuses and Cuban institutions. Currently, more than 5,500 SUNY students study abroad each year through 1,100 study abroad and exchange programs in 60 countries on seven continents. In 2014, SUNY was the first system of higher education to join the Institute of International Higher Education’s “Generation Study Abroad” initiative, committing to increasing participation in study abroad programs 25 percent by 2020.
Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 50 colleges—and the oldest institution within SUNY. The College recently marked its bicentennial in 2016, celebrating a 200-year legacy of pioneering programs and educational excellence. The College currently enrolls approximately 4,100 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its challenging liberal arts and sciences core, distinction in teacher training and leadership in the arts. Empowered by a culture of creativity, the campus community is nearing the completion of Take the Lead: The Campaign for Potsdam, which has raised $33.5 million for scholarships and programs.