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Northwestern Recognized for Pioneering Work in Cuba

Program in Cuba first of its kind to earn ‘100,000 Strong in the Americas’ award

  • Northwestern students, scholars benefit from improved funding to Cuba
  • Study abroad program to expand student, faculty collaborations in Cuba
  • Northwestern to take advantage of historic shift in U.S.-Cuba relations
  • Cuba: ‘remarkable literature, art and music,’ ‘fascinating’ from global health standpoint

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University’s undergraduate study abroad program in Cuba is the first of its kind to be awarded one of President Barack Obama’s signature education initiative grants following a historic shift in U.S.-Cuba relations.

Awarded through the U.S. Department of State’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, the award -- a $25,000 grant that will help subsidize study abroad for more low-income students and faculty collaborations -- is a testament to the University’s leading work in Cuba.

“Havana is a mere 40-minute flight from Florida,” said Devora Grynspan, director of the Office of International Program Development (IPD) at Northwestern. “But working in Cuba has been difficult compared to many of our other study abroad programs, even ones based on the other side of the world. The educational opportunities in Cuba easily justify the extra effort.”

Since 2010, Northwestern has been offering study abroad programs in Cuba, one focusing on public health and another, added to the roster more recently, examines culture and society through art, literature and film.

Northwestern will take advantage of the award and the normalization of relations with Cuba, announced by the president in December, to build on its success.

Through Northwestern’s two study abroad programs in Cuba, undergraduate students are exposed to a unique culture that has influenced arts and the humanities around the world and a healthcare system that, while lacking in resources, has produced remarkable health outcomes, Grynspan noted.

Recipients of awards from 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund were announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Summit of the Americas in Panama recently. The goal of the fund is to increase the number of U.S. students studying in the Western Hemisphere to 100,000, with the same number of Latin American students studying in the U.S., by 2020.

With support from the $25,000 award and almost $25,000 in matching funds from Northwestern, IPD will build on the Cuba program by strengthening its relationship with Universidad de las Artes and by establishing connections with University of Havana and other relevant institutions working on public health and the arts. The goal is to significantly expand student mobility between Cuba and the United States by developing long-term faculty collaborations and engagement with partners in Cuba.

“Cuba has had a remarkable and unique history in Latin America since its colonial days, and it has produced equally remarkable literature, art and music,” Grynspan said. “Cuba is also fascinating from a global health standpoint.”

With few undergraduate study abroad programs in Cuba, and even fewer programs focused on global health, Grynspan said the grant is an acknowledgement of Northwestern’s early success in Cuba.

IPD’s “Public Health in Cuba” program focuses on the country’s relatively successful system of socialized medicine, tropical and infectious disease, HIV/AIDS and medical sociology during an important phase in the socioeconomic evolution of the island.

Lucy Blumberg, a student of gender and sexuality studies and American studies in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, spent the summer of 2014 in Cuba studying global health, her minor. As a program ambassador, she is now sharing her experiences with this year’s crop of students heading for Cuba. 

“Cuba is so interesting,” said Blumberg, who wishes she were returning to see how the change in U.S.-Cuba relations will change the country. “It almost feels like it has stopped in time, but that could change, particularly in the mentality of the Cuban people.”  

Northwestern students and scholars stand to benefit from improved access to Cuba and funding opportunities not previously available, such as the 100,000 Strong in the Americas grant. There are almost twice as many Northwestern students planning to spend the summer quarter in Cuba this year as last, and at least five faculty members will travel there this summer as well.

Henry Godinez, associate professor of theatre in Northwestern’s School of Communication, will help expand the “Cuba: Culture and Society” program to include theatre by working to develop curriculum in collaboration with a Cuban theatre company called Teatro Buendia.

The culture and society program exposes students to the unique relationship between the United States and Cuba, the effects of political transition on Cuban society and the country’s artistically rich and influential culture through the study of cinema and literature.

“Diversity is paramount,” Godinez said. “We will now have the chance to engage our Cuba study abroad students not only in the expansion of their perspectives about the world in which we live, but actually create work together.”

“Higher education cooperation accompanied by warmer diplomatic ties is and will continue to be very attractive to students and faculty and undoubtedly will improve relations between the United States and Cuba,” Grynspan concluded. 

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