SUNY Potsdam finalizes partnership with Cuban university

SUNY Potsdam President Kristin G. Esterberg and University of Cienfuegos Rector Juan Cogollos sign the joint Memorandum of Understanding between the two colleges.

POTSDAM — An educational partnership became official last week between SUNY Potsdam and the Universidad de Cienfuegos in Cuba.

SUNY Potsdam signed an official memorandum of understanding with the Cuban university for a long-term international collaboration that involves students, faculty and staff of both institutions. In addition, the State University of New York system signed an agreement with the Cuban Ministry of Education, the first of its kind between Cuban and U.S. institutions.

Last month, several SUNY administrators and faculty members — including SUNY Potsdam President Kristin G. Esterberg, School of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven J. Marqusee, Director of International Education Krista M. LaVack and SUNY Provost Alexander Cartwright — traveled to the Universidad de Cienfuegos to witness the collaboration of the two universities.

“This is one of the most exciting things I’ve been a part of. I think it’s such a unique opportunity for our students,” Mr. Marqusee said. “Potsdam students will have experiences that few others are able to get and it’s something they will take with them for the rest of their lives.”

The trip to Cuba was the fifth for Mr. Marqusee. His first trip to the Cuban university was just 15 months ago. During that trip, which was for an international conference, he “fell in love with the university.”

“I saw all kinds of possibilities. They were interested in developing relationships with U.S. universities, so I came home and I started talking about it with Krista LaVack and with our president. I knew that there were a lot of collaborations between a variety of arts and sciences departments, but it was also clear there were potential collaborations with education and with Crane,” Mr. Marqusee said, referring to SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music.

Mr. Marqusee said the relationship is mutually beneficial for both colleges.

“There’s a tremendous amount that we can learn from Cuba and there’s a lot they can learn from us,” Mr. Marqusee said. “So this collaboration I think is beneficial.”

SUNY Potsdam hopes to host a Cuban scholar this fall semester, and in the long term, the college would like to develop a spring semester study abroad program for 15 to 20 freshmen, hosted at the Universidad de Cienfuegos. In addition, the college plans to offer long-term study abroad programs for upperclassmen.

“Ultimately, we would like to send faculty back and forth, and when we can, bring students here to study,” Mr. Marqusee said. “We hope in the next year or so to be recruiting students here who will prepare, their first semester their freshman year, for a semester in Cuba by learning Spanish, taking Spanish classes and taking courses on Cuban history and culture. Then the spring semester, they would travel to Cuba with an accompanying faculty member and they would take courses in Cuba that would fulfill general education requirements. It’s very exciting.”

SUNY Potsdam has been collaborating with the Cuban university since before the official memorandum of understanding was signed.

In January, 15 students embarked on a travel course to the Universidad de Cienfuegos. While in Cuba students studied agroecology and public health. Brent M. Crow, assistant professor of Community Health at SUNY Potsdam, was one of the faculty members leading the trip.

“It was a very fruitful experience for the faculty and the students,” Mr. Crow said. “This offered them a perspective they never would have gotten in the United States. It gave them the opportunity to see what they could do if we removed technology and restricted access to money and resources.”

The experience did more than provide unique experiences for the students — it will also look good on their resumes.

“It really makes our students unique,” Mr. Crow said. “It makes our students more attractive to future employers, for internship opportunities and when applying for master’s programs.”

Mr. Crow said he hopes the partnership with Cuba expands into an exchange program for not just students, but faculty members as well.

“I also hope it would open the opportunity for an exchange of faculty for the purpose of giving guest lectures on either end,” Mr. Crow said. “I just want to see this program grow because I think it has potential to do great things for our students and for our department.”

Later this month, 25 student members of the Crane Latin Ensemble, led by faculty directors Marsha Baxter and Peter McCoy, will travel to the Universidad de Cienfuegos in Cuba for a music performance and educational tour, accompanied by Professor Oscar Sarmiento, who will perform poetry readings. They will attend workshops on Latin music and Cuban history and study and perform Afro-Cuban music with Cuban musicians.

Ms. Baxter said the group has a full itinerary planned.

“We will travel to Cuba for a week as part of an educational, musical, cultural exchange with the University of Cienfuegos,” Ms. Baxter said in November. “That exchange will include classes, clinics, workshops and collaborative efforts with Cuban artists. It will allow our students the rare opportunity to experience this kind of collaboration.”

Before its trip to Cuba, the ensemble will perform a free concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday at SUNY Potsdam’s Sara M. Snell Music Theater, where the public is invited to attend.

Elizabeth Lewis, Watertown Daily Times

March 13, 2017

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