Historic collaboration offers Illinois students once in a lifetime opportunity in Cuba

Posted: 06-Jan-16 17:13

A historic five-year deal between Illinois College and one of Cuba's most historic universities will enable students from the US to research the ultra-rare Ghost Orchid, which can only be found in three locations around the world.

Historic collaboration offers Illinois students once in a lifetime opportunity in Cuba

A historic trip to Cuba will offer a group of Illinois students the opportunity to identify and study the ultra-rare Ghost Orchid.

Lawrence Zettler, who is the Professor of Biology at Illinois College, and two of his students, will meet with Ernesto Mujica to research this incredible plant at the Guanahacabibes National Park, which is on the west coast of the island. A separate party will also be travelling from the state to research vampire and pallid bats.

This is not the first time that members of the college have visited Cuba in an educational capacity – with Zettler and Mujica being long-time friends and collaborators, but this is the first time that such a trip will have been coordinated as part of a landmark five-year agreement that will give both countries access to a variety of experts in their field and opportunities for further study.

"When you have a signed collaboration agreement, you have to have relationships with people who matter."

Explained Barbara Farley, who is Illinois College's president. She also commented:

"You can't have some vague hope that something will happen. We're not starting from zero. Dr Zettler in particular working with Cuban researchers has paved the way for us to be early into this."

It is the famed botanical gardens at the University of Pinar del Rio that will form the basis of the trip, with a whole host of ornamental plant species and orchids blossoming in the sultry Cuban climate. The library at the university is also thought to be one of the largest and most vibrant on the island.

Professor Zettler met Mujica at a conference in Ecuador in 2012, and it was from here that the latter invited the former and some of his cohort to Cuba as part of a delegation. The Cuban then made the trip to the United States to study rare orchids at Florida's National Wildlife Refuge at the behest of Zettler.

The ultimate goal of the link-up between Illinois College and the university is that more students can enjoy the stunning landscapes of Cuba while furthering their own ‘hands on' study and research. The hope then is that a number of Cuban educators can reciprocate the trip and deliver key note speeches at the American institution.

While this collaboration is groundbreaking due to the size of the two facilities involved, it is though that as relations between America and Cuba continue to improve that further deals of this nature will be sought.


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