UTD Faculty Travel to Cuba to Meet with Counterparts


View of Havana, Cuba. Original image from Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress collection.
As part of UT Dallas’ continuing engagement with Cuba, faculty members traveled to the island nation in May to meet with their academic counterparts at the University of Havana, learn more about the Cuban economy and explore further opportunities for collaboration.
Dr. Magaly Spector, professor in practice and special assistant to the provost, led a delegation that included Dr. Hasan Pirkul, Caruth Chair and dean of the Naveen Jindal School of Management, and Dr. Anwar Zakhidov, professor and associate director of the Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute.
Dr. Yildirim Hurmuzlu, a professor in SMU’s mechanical engineering department, also was part of the delegation. Hurmuzlu joined meetings at the University of Havana to learn about the university’s engineering program and build bridges for collaboration with Cuban faculty.
Zakhidov, who has a memorandum of understanding in place with the University of Santiago de Cuba to jointly explore physics and engineering projects, met with Dr. Carlos Cabal, a physics professor at the University of Havana, to discuss developing new nanoparticles with the help of Cuba’s researchers.
The goal is to develop a “winter school,” which also would teach magnetic resonance imaging techniques and combine both universities’ resources to allow for the exchange of graduate and postgraduate students, Zakhidov said.
The group also was invited to the Tabacuba tobacco factory in Havana, where wages are the equivalent of $20 a month for cigar rollers.
“Cuba has a tremendous economic potential,” Pirkul said. “It is a beautiful country with a very rich history. Unfortunately, they are a long way from realizing this potential. They must reform the economy and introduce economic incentives to not only the investors but also the workers. These incentives will go a long way to improve the productivity and bring prosperity to the country.”
From left: Drs. Hasan Pirkul, Carlos Cabal, Anwar Zakhidov and Yildirim Hurmuzlu in the Great Hall of the University of Havana.
The trip was the culmination of a decade of work with the University of Havana by Spector, who will retire from UT Dallas in August. In the past several years, Spector traveled to Cuba numerous times with Jindal School faculty and students. In 2017, with the Office of Global Health at UT Southwestern, she led a team of family medicine and public health professionals to meet with the president of the Latin American School of Medicine, the hemisphere’s largest medical school, located outside of Havana.
Spector hosted a number of Cuban academics at UT Dallas, including Dr. Luis Alberto Montero-Cabrera, a chemistry professor who presented a materials science colloquium on campus, and Dr. Augusto Iribarren, a professor from the Institute of Materials at the University of Havana, who conducted research and initiated collaborations while working in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering for three weeks in May 2016.
“It is my hope that UT Dallas builds on the foundation we have developed with our academic partners in Cuba, to engage in research collaborations that harness the best of both cultures,” Spector said.
–Alex Lyda

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