Northwestern’s undergraduate study abroad program in Cuba is the first of its kind to be awarded one of President Barack Obama’s signature education initiative grants following a historic shift in US-Cuba relations.

Awarded through the US State Department’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, the award—a $25,000 grant that will help subsidize study abroad for more low-income students and faculty collaborations—is a testament to the University’s leading work in Cuba.

“Havana is a mere 40-minute flight from Florida,” said Devora Grynspan, director of the Office of International Program Development (IPD) at Northwestern. “But working in Cuba has been difficult compared to many of our other study abroad programs, even ones based on the other side of the world. The educational opportunities in Cuba easily justify the extra effort.”

Since 2010, Northwestern has been offering study abroad programs in Cuba, one focusing on public health and another, added to the roster more recently, examines culture and society through art, literature and film.

Northwestern will take advantage of the award and the normalization of relations with Cuba, announced by the president in December, to build on its success.

Through Northwestern’s two study abroad programs in Cuba, undergraduate students are exposed to a unique culture that has influenced arts and the humanities around the world and a healthcare system that, while lacking in resources, has produced remarkable health outcomes, Grynspan noted.

Recipients of awards from 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund were announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry at the Summit of the Americas in Panama recently. The goal of the fund is to increase the number of US students studying in the Western Hemisphere to 100,000, with the same number of Latin American students studying in the US, by 2020.

With support from the $25,000 award and almost $25,000 in matching funds from Northwestern, IPD will build on the Cuba program by strengthening its relationship with Universidad de las Artes and by establishing connections with University of Havana and other relevant institutions working on public health and the arts. The goal is to significantly expand student mobility between Cuba and the United States by developing long-term faculty collaborations and engagement with partners in Cuba.

“Cuba has had a remarkable and unique history in Latin America since its colonial days, and it has produced equally remarkable literature, art and music,” Grynspan said. “Cuba is also fascinating from a global health standpoint.”

With few undergraduate study abroad programs in Cuba, and even fewer programs focused on global health, Grynspan said the grant is an acknowledgement of Northwestern’s early success in Cuba.

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