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$41,000 grant will create Afro-Cuban study abroad program

Afro-Cuban study-abroad program will enhance liberal learning and high-impact practices central to WSSU’s Strategic Plan.

Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) has been awarded a $41,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State and Partners of the Americas to develop a study abroad program focusing on the African presence in Cuba.

“This capacity building grant will allow Winston-Salem State University to develop a signature and sustainable study abroad and research collaboration program in Cuba,” said Dr. Joti Sekhon, director of WSSU’s Office of International Programs. “This unique program will allow WSSU students to explore the cultural and historical connections between African Americans and Afro-Cubans, and critically examine the historic and contemporary exchanges between these two constituent populations of the African Diaspora in the Americas, as well as Cuba’s engagement with Africa.”

The program will be developed in partnership with the Fernando Ortiz African Cultural Center in Santiago de Cuba and is expected to begin with a pilot in May 2018. During the pilot, students and faculty will travel to key historical and cultural locations, attend lectures and engage in dialogues and experiential learning activities. Project leaders and a small group of faculty will prepare for the pilot through curriculum development and Spanish language learning seminars. Students selected for the program also will prepare for the program via Spanish language and Cuban history and culture classes. 

Long term, faculty will develop curricula and study abroad experiences that include opportunities for research and internships in Cuba, and community engagement in the Winston-Salem area and in Cuba. Sekhon said the program is designed to enhance liberal learning and high-impact practices central to WSSU’s Strategic Plan, principles of equity, social justice and community empowerment.

“With the renewed interest in U.S.-Cuban affairs, this is particularly significant as our program will look at this connection through the Afro-Cuban lens, something that is overlooked in the dominant narrative of U.S.-Cuba relations,” Sekhon said. “We will study issues from alternative perspectives and thereby allow students to engage critically with the dialogues and discourses on Cuba and the United States in a global context.”

The grant will be matched with funding from WSSU.

Uchenna Vasser, associate professor of Spanish, is the principal investigator (PI), and Sekhon and Dr. James Pope, assistant professor of liberal studies, are co-PIs.

WSSU is one of only 11 universities to receive funding out of a pool of 94 applicants. Capacity building grants aim to increase the overall number and diversity of student participation in study abroad.

A bold past. A brilliant future.
For 125 years, Winston-Salem State University has fostered the creative thinking, analytical problem-solving, and depth of character needed to transform the world. Rooted in liberal education, WSSU’s curriculum prepares students to be thought leaders who have the skills and knowledge needed to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. WSSU is a historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina with a rich tradition of contributing to the social, cultural, intellectual, and economic growth of North Carolina, the region and beyond. Guided by the motto, “Enter to Learn. Depart to Serve,” WSSU develops leaders who advance social justice by serving the world with compassion and commitment. Join us in celebrating our 125th anniversary with events throughout 2017. Learn more by visiting WSSU's 125th Anniversary website.

U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs builds relations between the people of the United States and people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, professional and private exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships and mentoring programs. These exchange programs improve foreign relations and strengthen the national security of the United States. The State Department is committed to supporting the next generation of diverse American leaders to gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in a globalizing world.  Learn more at or via Twitter @ECAatState and with #StudyAbroadBecause.

Partners of the Americas
The mission of Partners of the Americas is to connect people and organizations across borders to serve and to change lives through lasting partnerships. These partnerships create opportunity, foster understanding, and solve real-life problems. Inspired by President Kennedy and founded in 1964 under the Alliance for Progress, Partners is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization with international offices in Washington, D.C. Learn more at

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