This research collaboration emerges as a result of over a decade of work in cultivating academic opportunities for partnerships grounded on academic and scholarly interests. Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, Rutgers Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor, has been leading these partnership efforts, and in the process, was able to create opportunities for Rutgers students and faculty to visit Cuba and collaborate with selected faculty on study abroad projects; study trips; visits to local development projects; and collaboration with scholarly presentations in international conferences. A Fall 2016 conference built on these early and consistent exchanges, where Rutgers and University of Havana leaders updated. With a new era in US-Cuba relations looming on the international horizon, the timing was feasible to expand and deepen the opportunities for faculty in both institutions to partner.
The timing for this kind of academic exchange and partnership is fitting as our institutions are rapidly becoming not only local centers for research and innovation but also international centers to bridge the global divide and capitalize on the wealth of human capital across geographical boundaries. The research university, as we define it for the twenty-first century, plays a definitive role in propelling the creation and dissemination of knowledge. Understanding this role within the context of globalization is one of the key drivers for our institutions, as we operate at the nexus of science, social development, scholarship, and the new knowledge economies. There was agreement from all faculty members about the role of our respective institutions in educating a new generation of scientists and workers that are needed to cultivate effective technological and intellectual leadership that can generate new knowledge needed to address common issues of development and sustainability. Issues of equity, quality, eradication of poverty, utilization of new technology to solve problems, community development, population health, agriculture models, public history, the well-being of all people, and the preservation of our cities were at the core of our discussions and exchanges during the conference.
Five broad themes provide the potential for multi-disciplinary interest and are all directly linked to larger societal priorities for sustainability in both countries:
1. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) (including Computational Science)
2. Urban Policy and Community Development
3. Arts and Humanities
4. Population Health
5. Environmental Science