Monmouth College students conduct summer research in Puerto Rico, Cuba

MONMOUTH — Mere hours after the college’s last final exams of the spring semester on May 14, Monmouth College biology professor James Godde was on a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with eight students for a research trip.

The group returned to the U.S. one week later, but Godde soon departed again, leading eight more students to Cuba on a 10-day trip that concluded June 4. Other faculty members on that interdisciplinary trip included modern foreign languages chair Tim Gaster, English chair Marlo Belschner and Dan Ott, assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies.

“Cuba is a beautiful, complex and fascinating country, and this opportunity allowed us a glimpse of its struggles and its potential,” said Belschner. “The two students who were working with me, Stevie Croisant and Alex Hernandez-Sotelo, interviewed the representative from the Federation of Cuban Women, and learned so much about gender issues in Cuba.

They constantly sought information about these issues as we traveled throughout western Cuba. I am very pleased with their work and focus, and I am confident that the experience had a huge impact on them – as it did on me.”

Lauren Kellen, a senior biology major from Mendota, felt the same way about her time conducting scientific research in Cuba.

“The whole trip was a fantastic adventure,” she said. “It was quite the experience to venture through another country and learn their customs. The ecosystem and environment were beautiful.”

The group saw such sites as Orquidiario Soroa (an orchid garden), Havana cathedrals and a variety of caves, including Cuevas de Bellmar and the prehistoric mural at the Cuevas del Indio near Vinales.

Kellen even passed along a little knowledge about Cuba’s caves, one of the “fascinating” bits of information she acquired from the “passionate” guides.

“The calcium carbonate stalagmites and stalactites grow constantly, and you can tell by the constant dripping of water,” she said. “The dripping signifies that the cave is alive.”

Kellen, a high-scoring forward on the women’s soccer team, enjoyed speaking the “universal language” of her sport.

“One night that we had downtime, I went for a run into the city and found a group of boys playing soccer. I used the little Spanish I know to ask if I could play and had a blast. It was a really cool cultural experience.”

One of Kellen’s teammates, Rachael Landrey, a junior elementary education major from Wonder Woods, was also on the trip.

“My favorite academic part of the trip was visiting the Presbyterian church, and my favorite fun part was going snorkeling,” she said. “It was a great learning experience, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to go.”

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