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Illinois College signs research agreement with Cuban academic institutions


Jacksonville, Ill. – President Barbara Farley and a team from Illinois College traveled to Cuba to sign a long-term collaboration agreement with two academic institutions – the University of Pinar del Rio and Soroa Botanical Garden.

“This is an exciting time for Illinois College,” President Farley said. “This collaboration with these two highly regarded academic institutions in Cuba will provide a unique cultural and learning experience for our students.”

The collaboration was formally recognized in the signing of a mutual agreement during an official ceremony at the University of Pinar del Rio on January 9-10. President Farley, along with Bryan Arnold, assistant professor of biology, Steven Gardner, professor of modern languages, Adam Porter, dean of faculty, and Lawrence Zettler, professor of biology, made the trip. Two Illinois College students, Shannon Skarha and Justin Mably, were also present at the ceremony.

“Our goal is to give IC students the opportunity to conduct research in Cuba as well as work with Cuban researchers here in the United States,” Gardner said. “Specifically, this endeavor will start by giving faculty and students from the biology department an opportunity to work with Cuban counterparts from the University of Pinar del Rio and the Soroa Botanical Garden on bat and orchid research.”

Research collaboration will begin with biological and environmental research, but the University of Pinar del Rio has expressed interest in expanding into more fields of study such as education. Gardner said, “A door has been opened between IC and two highly respected Cuban academic institutions, and we would like to make the most of this special opportunity.”

Zettler noted, “With warming relations, a lot of colleges and universities in the United States are positioning themselves to partner with the Cuban institutions, but Illinois College is already there, ahead of the pack.”

This idea of a research agreement began in 2012 when Gardner and Zettler met and spoke with a Cuban orchid specialist, Ernesto Mújica, at the 4th Andean Orchid Conference in Guayaquil, Ecuador. “After speaking with Dr. Mújica about the specific habitat requirements of this orchid in Cuba, it soon became clear that this same orchid species has a different set of ecological requirements than ghost orchids in South Florida, less than 200 miles away,” Zettler said.

An instant connection was made. “Dr. Mújica invited us to come to Cuba, and we went. We had already planned to take students to Cuba at some point so this whole idea of going to Cuba and doing research fell into place.” Gardner said. “We got to know Ernesto’s research in ghost orchids which connects very closely to Dr. Zettler’s research. And with that we saw the real possibility of some type of collaboration.”

The week before the signing ceremony, both IC students will be conducting research with Arnold and Zettler, alongside two Cuban scientists, Mujica (orchids) and Jose Manuel (bats) in Guanahacabibes National Park. “In this area there is a very diverse assemblage of bats that not a lot of people have had a chance to study and with this collaboration our students will have the unique opportunity to conduct important research with Cuban bat experts,” Arnold said.

Since meeting Mújica, Illinois College has visited Cuba twice. One of those trips was with a group of IC students on a BreakAway. Mújica also spent four weeks in South Florida with Mably and Skarha researching the ghost orchid at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. In June (2016), Illinois College faculty and students will return to Cuba on another BreakAway trip.

For more information, contact Steven Gardner at 217-245-3438 or at; Lawrence Zettler at 217-245-3479 or at; Bryan Arnold at 217-245-3445 or at You can also visit the Illinois College Orchid Recovery Program Web page at
About Illinois College

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. The college is located in Jacksonville, Ill. With an enrollment of about 1,000 students, the college offers over 50 undergraduate programs and a Master of Arts in Education degree program. In 1932 the society of Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Illinois College, and it remains one of only 11 in the state.

Illinois College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

Visit or call 217-245-3467 for more information.

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