Student study tours travel to Cuba

Two MIT Sloan student study tours explore Cuba’s industries and developing economy

Students participating in one of MIT Sloan’s first official study tours to Cuba leave March 18 for an eight-day trip on which they will explore the business and cultural implications of renewed diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.

“The United States and Cuba: Evolving Economies” is one of two Cuba study tours this spring. MIT Sloan lecturer Ben Shields and MBA program director Maura Herson are accompanying 24 students on the tour, which will begin in Miami with a visit to Little Havana.

MIT Sloan Professor Renée Richardson Gosline is traveling with another group of students on a study tour to Cuba, as well as Trinidad and Tobago. This group of 28 students will compare the development and behavior of the island nations.

The study tours coincide with President Obama’s visit to Cuba as part of U.S. efforts to normalize relations between the two countries. Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since 1928. The half-century trade embargo against Cuba is still in effect, but the thaw in relations has eased some travel restrictions.

Leadership in action

MIT Sloan study tours are a way for students to earn course credit in an area of interest while playing a leadership role in planning the tour. The tour’s student organizing team works with faculty and staff mentors to determine the curriculum and an itinerary. Following several weeks of classroom sessions on campus, approximately 25 students travel to the chosen region during spring break each year. The Student Life Office approves several study tours annually and subsidizes a portion of them. Other study tours this year include trips to New Zealand, Ghana and Ivory Coast, Southeast Asia, and the United Kingdom.

“Study tours are an excellent opportunity for our student leadership teams to not only work on logistics, but to develop a curriculum to effectively prepare their peers to maximize the educational value of this experience,” Shields said.

Cuba study tour students, working in small groups, have devised research questions they will investigate while on location. The topics range from entrepreneurship on the island to the rum and cigar industries, baseball, and immigration patterns and policy. Once back on campus each student will submit a paper on their findings.

Business and personal

The seminar class kicked off Feb. 8 with a guest talk by Victor Lanio, Sr., the father of second-year MBA student Victor Lanio who helped organize the tour. Lanio’s family left the island in 1962, and he will be the first in his family of three generations of Cuban-Americans to visit the island since then.

“My family has been waiting for the Castro regime to end for nearly 60 years to return to the island,” Lanio said. “In addition to learning more about my family history and sharing it with classmates, I view this trip as kind of like a scouting mission for what I hope turns into a sort of family reunion on the island.”

“Organizing this study tour and having my dad as a guest speaker has been the highlight of my time here at Sloan,” Lanio said.

Other class sessions provided historical and political context for the trip. The students heard from guest speakers such as Patrick Houlihan, Major League Baseball’s vice president and deputy general counsel for labor relations, and Alejandro González, a director at 14ymedio, one of the first independent Cuban media companies.

“From my perspective, the United States and Cuba are at an inflection point. The relationship is undergoing monumental and transformational change. To gain firsthand perspective on how the economy and culture of Cuba are adjusting to these new relations will be a once in a lifetime experience for our students,” Shields said.

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