Oklahoma State students make historic trip to Cuba

This fall, 13 Oklahoma State University College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources students will have quite a story to tell after a whirlwind, once-in-a-lifetime trip to Cuba as part of the Oklahoma Agricultural Leadership Encounter Class XIII.

Thanks to a recent softening in relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Americans are now allowed to visit the island for several purposes, including education, and the 2015-16 OALE class took advantage of the opportunity.

“Having the opportunity to travel to Cuba during the latter end of my college years was truly amazing,” said Hammons Hepner, an agribusiness and finance senior. “The Cuban culture is both exhilarating and mysterious for the average American. From seeing colorful, colonial Old Havana to eating at the privately owned paladares, my Cuba trip is an experience I won’t likely forget.”

As part of the weeklong excursion, students visited a Cuban organic farm, where in addition to touring the facilities, they enjoyed a farm-to-table lunch onsite.

The group also visited several historic sites as well, including Old Havana, the Cuban National Museum of Art and the San Alejandro Art Academy, learning about the country’s people, culture and history.

“Being exposed to the Cuban culture was my favorite part of the trip,” said Kaylen Baker, an agricultural communications and animal science alumna. “It was interesting and very neat to see how Cubans live their daily lives, but it also made me thankful and proud to be an American.”

Another stop on the OALE Class XIII’s international experience included the Xanadu Mansion on Varadero Beach. The mansion was the former home of Irenee DuPont, the great-grandson of the founder of DuPont, a global company specializing in agricultural materials, food ingredients, construction materials and other industries.

OALE students also had the unique opportunity to spend the week networking and building mentor-mentee relationships with both dignitaries and individual contributors as the group explored Cuba together.

“I enjoyed the trip immensely,” said state Sen. Brian Bingman, president pro tempore of the Oklahoma Senate. “My three lasting impressions from the trip would be the 1950s-styled automobiles, the European- and Spanish-influenced architecture and the lack of commercial or modern farming. The future potential for trade between the U.S. and Cuba may very well be in the agricultural development of Cuba and the upgrading in agricultural practices.”

Sen. Bingman was among several dignitaries traveling with the group of students, including state Sen. Kim David; Fred Morgan, president of the State Chamber of Oklahoma; Tyler Powell, Oklahoma deputy secretary of environment; and Tyler Norvell, executive director of the Oklahoma Youth Expo.

In addition to support from individuals, the Oklahoma Youth Expo also sponsors the trip.

“OYE values the opportunity to work with OSU through the OALE program,” Norvell said. “The OALE students work tirelessly throughout [OYE] to make it a success and earn the opportunity to go on the international trip. We also value the relationships these students develop with our generous sponsors during their international experience. Without the individual sponsors, the trip would not be possible.”

OALE is a joint effort between OSU and the Oklahoma Youth Expo. Each year, a dozen College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources juniors and seniors are selected from more than 50 applicants to represent their university as they travel to the four quadrants of the state learning about Oklahoma’s agricultural entities and networking with agricultural professionals. The group also makes an annual trip to the Oklahoma state capitol as well as Washington D.C. to visit and network with political officials and agricultural agencies.

“The opportunity to take a group of students to Cuba was once-in-a-lifetime,” said Jerry Fitch, OSU animal science professor and OALE advisor. “These students were able to see production agriculture similar to what we saw in the United States 50 years ago, and the opportunity to visit a socialist country and learn more about their way of life likely gave this group a much greater appreciation of life in the United States today.”

Learn more at casnr.okstate.edu.


  • Sam Anthony, animal science ’16, Taneytown, Maryland
  • Kaylen Baker, agricultural communications/animal science ’16, Yukon, Oklahoma
  • Bray Haven, agribusiness senior, Cheyenne, Oklahoma
  • Joshua Haven, animal science senior, Cheyenne, Oklahoma
  • Hammons Hepner, agribusiness/finance senior, Freedom, Oklahoma
  • Zak Laubach, agribusiness ’16, Woodward, Oklahoma
  • Rachel Metzger, animal science/agricultural communications ’16, Stillwater, Oklahoma
  • Tanner Miller, agricultural education ’16, Orlando, Oklahoma
  • JD Rosman, agricultural communications senior, Creston, Washington
  • Tyler Schnaithman, agribusiness senior, Garber, Oklahoma
  • Carson Vinyard, agribusiness senior, Altus, Oklahoma
  • Tres Wright, agribusiness ’16, Carthage, Missouri

Rachel Metzger, newsok.com

September 20, 2016

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