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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Culture

Western researchers at work in Cuba

Posted January 14, 2005 by Cubana in Cuba Culture.
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By Alan Johnston

Article in Western News, journal of the University of Western Ontario
 

Special seed money grants give Western professors a head start in developing international research collaborations in Cuba.

“The purpose of the International Research Awards (IRA) program is to support international research projects, get them off the ground,” says Acting Vice-President (Research and International Relations) Ted Hewitt.

“In many cases, they stimulate larger projects that will attract outside funding and consolidate our work in areas of strategic importance to Western such as Cuba.”

The IRA program currently supports three interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaborations with Cuban partners at the University of Matanzas and the University of Holguin.

The projects in arts, education and health sciences are having an impact on the island already, Hewitt says. “The program is good for us and good for our Cuban partners.”

Western faculty members involved are: Prof. Jeff Tennant, Chair, Department of French, and Prof. David Heap, Theoretical and Applied Linguistics Laboratory, in the Faculty of Arts; Prof. Cornelia Hoogland, Faculty of Education; Prof. Volker Nolte, School of Kinesiology, Faculty of Health Sciences.

Tennant and Heap are collaborating with Prof. Jesus Fernandez, University of Holguin Oscar Lucero Moya (UHOLM), on a research project in sociolinguistics and dialectology. They aim to create “a body of sociolinguistic interview data” on the Spanish spoken in the province of Holguin while also providing technical assistance to the Cuban counterparts in the form of equipment and skills training.
Western’s three-year relationship with UHOLM has included joint organization of a language teaching conference, visiting professorships and development of teaching materials.

The collaborative research project, says Tennant, aims to “fill an important gap in the sociolinguistic description of modern Spanish while at the same time examining the effects of social factors such as socioeconomic status on linguistic variables in a country where one of the government’s explicit aims is to reduce socioeconomic disparities.”

Tennant and Heap hope the initial project will lead to a larger externally funded research program.

Hoogland and Prof. Zoe Dominguez Gomez, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Matanzas, are working on a research project entitled “A Collaborative Inquiry into the Place of Poetry (both Poetry’s Sites and Purposes) in Cuba.”

They want to understand “the literate acts that compose poetry, as they are publicly and formally performed in Cuba, with a view to providing greater understanding of the kinds of ‘attention’ available in oral literacies, which when articulated and applied to print-dominated literacies such as we have in Canada, will result in broader understanding of what literacy can achieve.”

Written and oral forms of poetry will be analyzed for subject matter, emotional content and style at the individual level of attention, as well as responses to different poets and languages, musical accompaniment, tone or mood of the setting and location at the communal level of attention. The researchers will observe literacy events among people in small towns.

Hoogland received one of the first IRA grants. Her earlier research on the role and practice of storytelling, writing and language in Mexico, Brazil and Cuba “offered strong contrasts to Canadian cultural structures and practice, which will be useful to those working within arts and literacy education contexts.”

Nolte and Prof. Celia Hernandez, University of Matanzas, are collaborating in biomechanical research involving comparison of coaching techniques and rowing performance among Cuban and Canadian rowing teams.

The relationship between the two teams began when Nolte, a former Canadian national team rowing coach, visited Cuba with a Western delegation to investigate possible cooperation between Western and Matanzas, particularly in biomechanics.

The Western delegation visited several training centres and recognized potential for Cuban excellence in rowing. Rowers are recruited by Cuba’s national team training centre in Havana from provincial training centres, including one in Varadero operating in association with the University of Matanzas. Cuba, however, is handicapped in its efforts by old European built boats, inadequate for competitive sport, and a lack of infrastructure for biomechanical research at Matanzas.

Nolte and mechanical engineering professor Brian Thompson - the new Dean of Engineering at the University of Ottawa - developed rowing research at Western in cooperation with the London High Performance Centre, home of the Canadian national women’s team.

Their international reputation in rowing research has been complemented by association with the world-renowned boat company, Hudson Boat Works, here in London. The researchers work with the company developing equipment prototypes and techniques software.

Canada, says Nolte, is well placed to assist Cuba in creating a strong research and training program at the University of Matanzas, including acquisition of high-tech equipment and software, as well as faculty and student exchanges.

Nolte’s Cuban partner will visit Western in the spring on an International Development Research Centre scholarship. Using the university’s biomechanics research infrastructure, the researchers will analyze data from the two national teams’ rowers, and Hernandez will collect more data on the Cuban men’s and women’s teams.

The Hudson Boat Works has donated six boats to the Western/Cuba project, the Western rowing team two. The Sherrit mining company based in Toronto has donated a shipping container for the boats and will also pay the transportation costs to Cuba. The Western rowing research team is asking all Ontario rowing clubs for donations of good used boats for the Cuban rowing teams.
Created in 2002, the International Research Awards are unique in Canada, Hewitt says. The Arts, Humanities and Social Science Fund established by the President has provided $60,000 a year for the grants program developed in response to the university’s strategic plan for internationalization.

Tennant recommends the IRA program to any faculty interested in international research collaboration. “It is an excellent program for a small project or for obtaining seed money for the initial phases of a larger, longer-term project, for example while a research collaboration has just recently been established,” Tennant says.

International research projects are important because they give Western faculty access to materials that they would not be able to access without international collaboration, says Tennant. “They promote the exchange of ideas with academics in other countries, thus enriching the discussion and contributing to the advancement of knowledge in the field,” Tennant adds.

“They allow the university to fulfill a role of solidarity with researchers in developing countries by facilitating their access to international networks in the field and to the necessary infrastructure for carrying out research.”

Twelve projects have received the special grants with a maximum of $7,000 so far, and “in future we expect the number of applications for International Research Awards will grow,” Hewitt says.

Two competitions are held each year – one in the spring and another in the fall. Faculty can get the necessary information from Research Development Services –

http://www.uwo.ca/research/RDS/programs/index.html

Member Comments

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On January 14, 2005, Dana Garrett wrote:

Poetry is one of my areas of interest, an area in which I’ve been published.  I’ve read a few translated books by Cuban poets and had e-mail correspondence w/ one Cuban poet. Cuba has had many wonderful and profound poets both before and after the revolution. 

What a shame that as an USA citizen that I cannot go to Cuba to interact w/ Cuban poets first-hand, to learn from them and they from me.  But, historically, art is often one of the first casualties of politics and turf wars. 

Still, I’m glad for the opportunity open to these other western scholars and writers.