The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi will host this year’s Furgason Fellowship International Student Workshop in Cuba for the first time.
The easing of certain trade and travel restrictions by former President Barack Obama made it possible for the institute to realize its founding mission of promoting trinational relationships between scientists in the U.S., Mexico and Cuba for the workshop, said Richard McLaughlin, endowed chair for coastal and marine policy and law at the institute.
Past student workshops were led in Veracruz, Mexico, and Corpus Christi. A third workshop in Cuba had been in sight, but administrative and bureaucratic challenges made it too difficult to coordinate, said McLaughlin, who founded the workshops.
“It just became unmanageable,” he said.
This year’s workshop, which is slated to kick off later this month, will focus on the environmental impacts of tourism on the Caribbean island nation. The Harte Institute selected 18 graduate students from institutions in Mexico, Cuba and the U.S. to participate through the Furgason Fellowship Endowment.
On June 16, President Donald Trump detailed a new policy to curb commercial deals with Cuba and limit Obama’s efforts to ease restrictions on travel and trade.
McLaughlin said Trump’s policy will not impact the workshop. Although the policy bans self-directed travel to Cuba, trips for specific educational, government, religious, and social purposes are still allowed, according to reports.
The workshops are meant to create a network of scientific leaders who will coordinate scientific activity when they become practicing professionals, McLaughlin said. They are meant to encourage international collaboration in the next generation of Gulf marine researchers tackling environmental problems that span multiple borders.
“(The workshops) are less about creating a product than it is to have these students train, work and live together,” McLaughlin said. “We hope they will continue these relationships. These are the best and brightest young scientists from the three countries.”
During the workshop, students will spend time in Caguanes National Park on the northern coast of Cuba. The group will visit with park authorities, local community leaders, environmental specialists and other peers to discuss and evaluate sustainable tourism proposals planned by the park, McLaughlin said.
Coral Lozada, a Harte Research Institute doctoral student and A&M-CC alumna, was chosen to represent the U.S. at this year’s Furgason Fellowship International Student Workshop in Cuba. She’s a graduate of the Master’s International program at A&M-CC.
She joined the Peace Corps through the program and while working on a master’s degree in fisheries and mariculture. Lozada gained a deeper understanding of how a surge of tourism could challenge environments and communities through her work in the Peace Corps, she said.
Her experience piqued her interested in the workshop, she said.
“I’m fascinated by the resiliency of coastal communities,” Lozada said. “There is a lot to be studied there — how can the community keep its identity and how new generations will identify.”
Beatriz Alvarado, Corpus Christi Caller-Times
July 3, 2017