Students in Viñales Valley
Sandy Doss

Exploring Cuba with Penn State Lehigh Valley

Exploring Cuba with Penn State Lehigh Valley

Jul 28, 2017|Holbrook in the FieldHigher Education| by Holbrook Travel

Holbrook's Sandy Doss recently joined the Penn State Lehigh Valley CHANCE Program during a field practicum to Cuba: "Environmental Protection, Conservation, and Sustainability of Cuban Ecosystems." Below, she shares her experience: 

This month, working in partnership with Penn State Lehigh Valley, we ventured into the field to learn from local experts and faculty about ongoing Cuban conservation efforts and environmental policies as we explored the biodiversity of select wetlands, mangroves, forests, coral reefs, marine habitats, and limestone caves.

Cuba, often revered for the cultural, geopolitical, and historical context it provides for immersion learning, was the ideal backdrop for high level discussions on an environmental perspective. Participants in this short-term study abroad program carried out online assignments prior to our travels. While in the field, students from differing colleges of study worked in groups to research a specific environmental sustainability issue confronting not just this developing nation but our world. Our experiences, however, were not devoid of Cuba’s cultural offerings (so rich and full of life witnessed in every aspect), including jazz and dance performances, art museums, a walking tour of historical Old Havana, tobacco cigar farms, organic farming techniques and practices, and meals in paladares (restaurants run in private homes). It is not often we have a musical soundtrack to our research in the sciences!

From government to NGOs to researchers in the field, we delved into the policies and practices of Cuba's national park system and species conservation. Excitingly, Holbrook’s partner, Guanahacabibes National Park, on the western tip of Cuba, began studies of their nesting sea turtles just five years ago (an emerging research critical and important to turtle monitoring worldwide), offering students the opportunity to engage in species citizen science, collecting biometric data in support of green sea turtle nesting. While this data collection occurred on the beaches, our observation of coral farming and the health of Cuban coral reefs proved to be a key highlight of our experiential education. Students also participated in service learning through a beach trash collection project. This proved to be quite a global wake-up call to what we are releasing in our oceans worldwide.


From the work in the field, to our work advancing understanding in conservation, education, and research, students will present professional undergraduate research posters in April based on this month’s immersive field experience.

Holbrook is energized by this work to bring forward our next generation of leaders keen to change the world!


All photos by Sandy Doss