The AACRAO Cuba Project: A Blog Series with Martha Van Devender - Part 1

Part 1: It almost didn’t even happen for me.

In fall 2017 AACRAO put out a call for applications to participate in a new type of research project. They were partnering with the Busquedas Investigativas program to give U.S. credential evaluation specialists an opportunity to research the Cuban educational system on behalf of AACRAO. The team would be made up of representatives from AACRAO, U.S. universities, and professional associations. They would travel to Cuba with a group of graduate researchers from the University of Maryland and George Washington University, among others. The participants would be expected to pay for their travel, but once in Cuba AACRAO would cover the bulk of the expenses, including lodging for a nine-day trip. I was jealous when the first time I heard about this opportunity was when they announced the finalists, even though I knew several of them and knew they would do a great job. I felt like I had dropped the ball. Why had I not known in time?!?

Fast forward to December when I get an email from TAICEP.  AACRAO has invited TAICEP to participate in the Cuba research project.  They were offering it as a professional development opportunity to someone who could get the application in on time. But they needed it, along with a letter of support from the employer, in the next three days. The week before Christmas!!! I knew this was my chance. I immediately emailed the office in Milwaukee. One of the key disadvantages of working remotely for ECE is not being able to run down the hall to a superior’s office in dramatic fashion. Luckily, I was not the only member of TAICEP at ECE to get that email. The managers and leadership already knew what I was talking about when I asked if I could apply. I thought I met the qualifications, and I was already attending the TAICEP conference. So they promised to support me and let me apply. I submitted my application before the deadline, with just a few hours to spare. It was the last thing I did before I flew home for the holidays. The application materials said we wouldn’t hear until after Christmas, so I was prepared to not think about it for a while.

I was in the car, heading up the mountain to my parents’ house, when my cell rang. I could tell it was a work number, and it must be important if they were calling when I was on vacation. It was my boss telling me that I needed to check my email, that I had been selected, and that they needed more information like passports and things. D’oh!  Travel was about five weeks out at that point. And I didn’t have any of that information with me. Everything would have to wait until I got back, with precious visa days wasting. But it all worked out, and I got to go to Cuba with a great group of people. We came back with more questions than when we arrived, which is exciting. We still have more work to do to tease out some details in their educational system. But whatever we do learn, we want to share it back with our communities. This is a start. I am grateful to both TAICEP and ECE for supporting me in this. I hope I make everyone proud.

    Tank on campus at Universidad de la Habana. Always keep fighting.

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Martha Van Devender  is a Senior Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2005. She specializes in education from Anglophone Africa and Latin America. She is also interested in online research and verification tools.



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