International Conference on Cuba to Highlight Issues of Sustainable Community Development


By Tom McLaughlin

Signaling a historic, new era of research collaboration, Rutgers University–Camden will bring together leading scholars from the United States and Cuba for a conference focusing on issues of sustainable community development in the island nation, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 on the Rutgers–Camden campus.

The International Conference on Cuba will be highlighted by a free, public symposium, titled “Sustainable Community Development and STEAM Fields: What We Can Learn from a Changing Cuba,” from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31, in the Multi-Purpose Room.

“The timing is ripe for us to come together in these intellectual pursuits,” says Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy and Administration and director of the Community Leadership Center at Rutgers–Camden. “There is a lot that they can learn from us and much that we can learn from them. Working in collaboration with the University of Havana, Rutgers will draw on its strengths in these areas of expertise and be at the forefront of addressing needs that will help Cuba to thrive in the 21st century.”

Academic scholars from the University of Havana will present their research, touching on the conference’s five main themes: science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) disciplines; urban policy and community development; arts and culture; environmental science; and population health.

Representatives from Rutgers University and the University of Havana will sign a renewal of the flourishing Memorandum of Understanding. Bonilla-Santiago has shepherded an earlier incarnation of the agreement between Rutgers–Camden and the University of Havana for the past 15 years.

Mark Wells, coordinator for Cuba Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, will speak on the unique opportunities for research partnerships as the countries normalize their diplomatic relations. Barbara Lee, senior vice president for academic affairs for Rutgers University, and Luis Alberto Montero Cabrera, emeritus professor and president of the Scientific Council at the University of Havana, will deliver keynote addresses, focusing on the current states of higher education in Cuba and the United States.

On the following day, Cuban scholars will join their Rutgers counterparts in roundtable discussions to design collaborative research projects in their respective fields. The primary goal is to develop research proposals that strengthen understanding around the contribution of the STEAM fields to sustainable community development in Cuba and the United States.

On the third day of the conference, Rutgers faculty will guide their Cuban guests on community site visits to see firsthand the research and community development projects being conducted in the region, including LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden and the Rutgers University Pinelands Field Station in New Lisbon.

“The Cuban people have been incredibly innovative, creative, and resilient,” says Bonilla-Santiago, who first visited Cuba more than 40 years ago. “They already have the experience. Now we want to give them the tools to help them succeed.”

The conference will then serve as a launching pad for a March 2017 spring trip to Cuba for Rutgers faculty to continue the collaboration and visit community development sites in the cities of Havana, Pinar del Rio, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad.


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