Students Travel to Havana to Take Part in College's First Marine Biology Course Offered There
Leah Schmerl


Thirteen St. Francis College students traveled to Havana, Cuba from May 29th to June 4th, to complete a spring semester Marine Biology course they primarily took online until then.

SFC student in Cuban waters

Dr. Kristy Biolsi, Chair of the Psychology Department and Dr. Kathleen Nolan, Chair of the Biology, Health Promotion, and Health Care Management Department, organized the Cuban portion of the course in partnership with the University of Havana's Center of Investigations of Marine Science (CIMS). SFC is currently the only higher-education institution in New York State to have such a relationship with CIMS.

Dr. Nolan decided to take students to Cuba -- and seek out CIMS for collaboration -- after she joined Dr. Sintia Molina, Professor of Spanish, and Dr. Virginia Franklin, Associate Professor of English, on their spring break Cuba course in March 2018. SFC had never brought marine-biology students to Cuba before.

Under instruction of CIMS Director Dr. Patricia Gonzalez, the students conducted research to record the biodiversity of the reef and shells found on the shore, competition among the indigenous corals, and beach usage and cleanliness. Dr. Gonzalez is a specialist in local coral and has expertise in local fish and invertebrates.

SFC student under water in Cuba

Many students snorkeled for the first time, a cornerstone for the research they conducted, with Dr. Gonzalez as a guide.

"I went snorkeling for the first time ever! It was enjoyable but a little frightful given I can't swim," said Fredalex Frederic, a biology major. "By the last day snorkeling I was moving more comfortably in the water and I was proud of that."

The students also immersed themselves in the unique culture and natural beauty of the island, which had largely been prohibited as a destination for American travelers until about ten years ago and has been recently subject to increased travel restrictions again.

During their time there, students went on swimming excursions to picturesque pools, hikes and a snorkeling outing to the Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba, where they lived with residents of the local community in Playa Larga.

The students also toured Fusterlandia, an artists' neighborhood in Havana with mosaic tiling covering most walls and other public surfaces.

Food proved to be a highlight of the trip, according to a post-course student survey, and students also enjoyed dancing and other nightlife in Havana.

In addition to Drs. Nolan and Biolsi, Richard Conley, Senior Vice President, Director of Agency Production at the Community Preservation Corporation, accompanied the students.

The students who traveled to Cuba are (majors in parentheses):

  • Breanna Chandler (biology)
  • Brendan Chandler (biology)
  • Alejandra Chino (religion)
  • Seray Cifci (biology)
  • Najae Escoffery (chemistry)
  • Agustin Espinoza (biology)
  • Fredalex Frederic (biology)
  • Judine John (biology)
  • Arielle Jurado (psychology)
  • Anissah Mack (psychology)
  • Nathalie Nieves (psychology)
  • Brandon Peterson (psychology)
  • Angelica Quinones (management)

Biology major Georgia Ennis completed the course as well, but did not go to Cuba.

St. Francis College is planning to offer the course -- Contemporary Biology and Psychology and Special Topics in Biology and Psychology: Marine Biology (Behavior of Marine Animals) – next Spring that will include a travel component to California.