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SJU Students, Faculty Warmly Welcomed on Teaching Trip to Cuba

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Reflecting the University’s focus on forming partnerships with academic institutions worldwide, a contingent of St. John’s faculty members and graduate students spent Spring Break teaching international law, entrepreneurship, and library science at a cultural center in Cuba.

The trip, funded by the Felix Varela Foundation, brought three professors and two graduate students to the Caribbean nation. They taught classes at El Centro Padre Felix Varela, the site that welcomed Pope Francis earlier in the year. “We’re all delighted by the enthusiastic reception our teachers received,” said Basilio Monteiro, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Mass Communication in the University’s College of Professional Studies (CPS). “As a result, El Centro Padre Felix Varela is interested in continuing collaborations with St. John’s."

The groundwork for this year’s partnership was laid in 2015, when Monteiro and seven CPS graduate students first journeyed there to meet with representatives from Catholic educational and cultural agencies. The visit took place in February of that year, after diplomatic relations resumed between the United States and Cuba.

“I thought being able to go to Cuba then was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Oscar Diaz ’19GCPS, a participant in the first trip who taught the sessions on entrepreneurship this time around. “I never dreamed I would get the chance to return—at least not this soon. It’s been the pinnacle of my St. John’s experiences so far.”  

Diaz and fellow student Keishla Gonzalez-Quiles ’16GCPS shared responsibilities for teaching business leadership, management, marketing, writing business plans, and social media promotions. Diaz said he was “thrilled” that some of the sessions on entrepreneurship attracted as many as 60 students.

For Joseph Kenny  ’81L, Associate Professor of Administration and Economics, it was “exciting” to lead an interactive seminar for students who were “so knowledgeable and curious about US culture and law.”   Kenny said he was struck by how much Americans have in common with the average Cuban citizen. “Although our legal system is more permissive,” he observed, “both countries rely on law to establish an orderly society.”

Kevin Rioux Ph.D., Associate Professor of Library and Information Science, and Kathryn Shaughnessy, Associate Professor, University Libraries, also noted unexpected commonalities. “Their librarians, like ours, are motivated by the desire to keep finding ways to provide users access to information,” said Rioux. Their main obstacle, Shaughnessy said, is “limited access to the Internet.”

Reflecting the group’s common reaction to their Cuba experience, Rioux added, “I’d do it all over again in a second. The wealth of friends and connections we made and the camaraderie between Cuba and the United States speaks to St. John’s mission to be global in a socially responsible way.”