SAU, Cuban uni­ver­sity ink pact

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - AZIZA MUSA

About two years and four trips later, South­ern Arkansas Uni­ver­sity fi­nal­ized an agree­ment for sci­en­tific and cul­tural ex­changes with a Cuban uni­ver­sity on Wed­nes­day.

The Mag­no­lia uni­ver­sity will now part­ner with the Uni­ver­sity of Artemisa in Cuba in de­vel­op­ing an­nual pro­gram­ming, in­clud­ing stu­dent and fac­ulty ex­changes and joint re­search projects, SAU Pres­i­dent Trey Berry said. The uni­ver­si­ties are hop­ing to ex­change three stu­dents each in the sum­mer of 2018, he said.

“Ed­u­ca­tion has al­ways been a bridge be­tween peo­ple and cul­tures,” Berry said. “Ed­u­ca­tion is also a bridge in un­der­stand­ing. To­day, we con­tinue to build that bridge with the Uni­ver­sity of Artemisa. … We are do­ing this for the bet­ter­ment of our stu­dents, our fac­ulty and hope­fully the peo­ple of our re­spec­tive coun­tries.”

On Wed­nes­day when the two uni­ver­si­ties’ pres­i­dents signed the agree­ment, SAU be­came the first pub­lic uni­ver­sity in the state to for­mal­ize a part­ner­ship with a Cuban school. It is also the lat­est in state lead­ers’ ef­forts to work with Cuba: Many Arkansas politi­cians have pushed for trade with the coun­try.

Other pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties in Arkansas have studyabroad pro­grams in place to send stu­dents to other coun­tries.

Arkansas State Uni­ver­sity has a cam­pus in Quere­taro, Mex­ico, that was paid for by Mex­i­can of­fi­cials. ASU plans to set up fac­ulty and stu­dent ex­changes but is cur­rently fo­cused on re­cruit­ing and ac­com­mo­dat­ing the first class of un­der­grad­u­ates in Quere­taro, said Jeff Hank­ins, vice pres­i­dent for strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment for the Arkansas State Uni­ver­sity Sys­tem.

The Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville also has for­eign-ex­change pro­grams.

SAU’s agree­ment came to be largely be­cause of the work of Ed Kar­das, a dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy and di­rec­tor of the uni­ver­sity’s Honors Pro­gram.

Kar­das tagged along when the Arkansas State Cham­ber of Com­merce went to Cuba in May 2015, shortly af­ter the U.S. be­gan eas­ing travel re­stric­tions to the coun­try. Once he got back, the uni­ver­sity set up the Ex­tra­mu­ral Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee and pieced to­gether a Web page and brochures in Span­ish about SAU for a sec­ond trip there.

He and Jup­ing Wang, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of Span­ish at SAU, went back in Fe­bru­ary for Univer­si­dad 2016, an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence on higher ed­u­ca­tion in Ha­vana. Kar­das grew tired and asked if he could sit down at a ta­ble where, as it hap­pened, Mar­garita Gon­za­lez, the Uni­ver­sity of Artemisa’s di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional af­fairs and a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor, was seated, he re­counted.

The en­counter was fate­ful, Kar­das has said, as the two started dream­ing up an ex­change pro­gram for their two schools. And they started with art.

In Novem­ber 2016, Kar­das, Steven Ochs, an art pro­fes­sor, and SAU stu­dent Veron­ica Ramirez went to Cuba to work with Artemisa stu­dents and pro­fes­sors on a cam­pus. De­spite some chal­lenges, the group, along with Cuban art stu­dents, fin­ished craft­ing a 9-by-23-foot mu­ral with some 3-D el­e­ments and tex­ture. The mu­ral rep­re­sents im­ages of the emerg­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two schools.

Now, SAU is host­ing a del­e­ga­tion from Cuba, in­clud­ing the Uni­ver­sity of Artemisa’s pres­i­dent, Car­los Ed­uardo Suarez Pon­ciano; a uni­ver­sity art pro­fes­sor Abel Al­fonso Cas­tro; and a mas­ter’s stu­dent at the uni­ver­sity, Yoan Perez Nunez. The art pro­fes­sor and stu­dent are com­plet­ing a “mir­ror” mu­ral at SAU sim­i­lar to the one on their cam­pus.

“For me, it was a marvelous ex­pe­ri­ence,” Nunez said through a trans­la­tor. “Be­ing a stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of Artemisa and com­ing here rep­re­sent­ing my fu­ture ca­reer and to fin­ish the mu­ral project that we be­gan in Artemisa.”

Both Nunez and Cas­tro said they have learned more through the ex­pe­ri­ences in Artemisa and Mag­no­lia.

The agree­ment signed Wed­nes­day also calls for the analysis and en­dorse­ment of joint projects for mas­ter’s and doc­toral de­grees; teach­ing of cour­ses, sem­i­nars and sym­po­siums; and an ex­change of bib­li­o­graph­i­cal ma­te­ri­als, texts and jour­nals. It also calls for a fac­ulty co­or­di­na­tor at each school who will help man­age the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two schools.

The school lead­ers are hop­ing for a con­tin­ual ex­change that could start as early as spring next year, Berry said. He added that the Cuban school is very sim­i­lar to SAU in en­roll­ment, its ru­ral set­ting and its aca­demic pro­grams. In fall 2016, SAU had 4,771 stu­dents, a growth of about 43 per­cent in the past five years.

The groups have al­ready been brain­storm­ing on ways to col­lab­o­rate, Pon­ciano said through Kar­das, but any projects will be iden­ti­fied to­gether and will ben­e­fit both in­sti­tu­tions.

“I be­lieve, as well, that af­ter sign­ing this agree­ment that we will have to al­ways be care­ful to re­vise it and re­new it so that it be­comes and re­mains a liv­ing doc­u­ment,” Pon­ciano said through an in­ter­preter. “All we have re­ally done here is make a for­mal agree­ment, but it’s go­ing to be in the will of the fu­ture men and women work­ing to­gether that’s go­ing to make it work and that will also al­low it to grow, de­velop, evolve in the fu­ture.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/STA­TON BREIDENTHAL

Car­los Pon­ciano (left), head of the Uni­ver­sity of Artemisa, and Trey Berry, pres­i­dent of South­ern Arkansas Uni­ver­sity, seal the sign­ing of the schools’ co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment with a hand­shake Wed­nes­day at the Capi­tol.

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