The 21st Show

The 21st: Trade With Cuba, & STEM Education


Today, President Obama met with Cuban President Raul Castro. It’s all part of his historic trip to the communist island.

Before the embargo - U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba were worth about $600 million a year - in today’s prices.  Others estimate Cuba is a $1.2 billion market for agricultural exports if the embargo and other trade barriers are lifted. Today on The 21st we explored what an open Cuba would mean for Illinois.

World and U.S. Agricultural Exports to Cuba from 2005 - 2014

World and U.S. Agricultural Exports to Cuba from 2005 - 2014

Photo Credit: Public Domain/ U.S. Department of Agriculture

“As soon as I heard the announcement from President Obama that he wanted to work on improving our relations with Cuba, immediately, my mind went to agriculture and our growers and our producers,” said U.S. Rep. Sheri Bustos (D-IL). “I want to start laying the foundation where our family farmers can benefit from improved trade. I signed onto some legislation that would give the Cubans access to credit so that they can buy our beans, and our corn, and our hogs, and our cattle, and also our John Deere tractors and our Caterpillar earthmovers.”


U.S. Agricultural Exports To Cuba

U.S. Agricultural Exports To Cuba

Photo Credit: Public Domain/ U.S. Department of Agriculture

Caterpillar Inc.  is certainly ready to move into Cuba. The company recently signed a deal with Rimco, their distributor in Puerto Rico, and has been meeting with the Cuban government to ensure they are ready to resume business in Cuba as soon as the embargo is lifted.

“We have been talking with all the congressmen and congresswomen in D.C. and we clearly communicated that the policy has not been working,” said Marcos Sallowicz, Director for Latin America at Caterpillar. “In fact it’s been heartbreaking for me as I went to Cuba and I can see every single brand [but not Caterpillar].”

Lynn Rohrscheib owns 2,500-acre Rohrscheib Farms and sits on the board of the Illinois Soybean Association and the United Soybean Board. She says that she sees a wide market for soybeans and other commodities.

90 miles. Why in the world can’t we trade with a country 90 miles away who really need the products?Ted Mottaz, Illinois Corn Growers Association and farmer

Ted Mottaz, an Illinois Corn Growers Association board member and a full-time family farmer, agrees.

“When you step off that airplane and get into the Havana airport it is a step back in time,” he said. “And I remember those days. I remember 1959, 1960, when this all started. And they are frozen in that time. I look upon our involvement with Cuba, especially in the food end of it, as almost a humanitarian effort. Not only do we agree with everything that was said about trade – that’s extremely important to us, we need all the outlets we can get – but these people need everything,” said Mottaz.  “There was a water main break on a major highway and they fixed the break, but they didn’t fix the hole because they didn’t have gravel to go back in the hole.”

“I served in Vietnam, and it didn’t take very long for us to go and become trade partners with them,” he added. “And I know the passion, we hear it especially from the presidential candidates whose families came from Cuba, I have no idea at all what they went through. But I think it’s time to let bygones be bygones.”

Mottaz pointed out that Cuba is only 90 miles away from the United States. “Why in the world can’t we trade with a country 90 miles away who really need the products?” he said.

We were joined today by:

  • Charlie Serrano, Managing Director of Antilles Strategy Group
  • Gary Marx, Investigative Reporter and Former Havana Bureau Chief at the Chicago Tribune
  • Ted Mottaz, Illinois Corn Growers Association Board Member and a full-time family farmer
  • U.S. Rep. Sheri Bustos (D-IL)
  • Marcos Sallowicz, Director for Latin America at Caterpillar
  • Lynn Rohrscheib, Owner of 2,500-acre Rohrscheib Farms, Illinois Soybean Association, United Soybean Board  

A turtle named Sam is helping some Springfield students learn STEM skills.

Springfield elementary students working on the GIS curriculum.

Springfield elementary students working on the GIS curriculum.  

Photo Credit: Lyndsie Schlink, Illinois State University, Redbird Scholar

Elementary school students in Springfield are experimenting with Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, mapping software as part of an Illinois State University project trying to improve the science, math and social studies curriculum for elementary students.

“We found that the students were able to do significantly better on the national assessment for educational progress using the geography items,” said May Jadallah, who leads the project that  consists of six computer-based modules. She’s an associate professor in the education department at Illinois State University.

Shannon McCloud, who teaches 5th grade at Dubois Elementary School in Springfield, said the curriculum has been great for her students. She said they’ve really enjoyed the work and have been learning skills like problem solving, reasoning, and spatial thinking on top of the science, math and social studies.

The Illinois State University Research Team

Members of the GIS project’s cross-disciplinary team include graduate assistant Zack Roman (left), Psychology Professor Alycia Hund, principal research assistant Joel Studebaker, Education Professor May Jadallah, Geography Professor Jonathan Thayn, graduate assistant Kavya Gupta, and graduate assistant Daniel Schloesser.

Photo Credit: Lyndsie Schlink, Illinois State University, Redbird Scholar

“The ability to think spatially is really to think in three dimensions.” said Jonathan Thayn, an Associate Professor of Geography at Illinois State University who is also involved in the project. “It’s relationships, proximity, how close am I to something that I need or that I need to avoid. There are lots of games and puzzles that involve it, but we don’t really teach it as an academic discipline, we don’t teach it as a needed skill in elementary schools.  

“That’s one of the most important things. That’s what we do as adults. That’s what they will do as adults. You have to be able to work with other people, find a solution, problem solve,” said McCloud.

Thayn said that learning the software too should be useful for the students. He said that geography and GIS software is applicable to many different areas of everyday life from civil planning, to engineering, to route finding. Future job projections show that geography is one of the fastest growing fields for the next few decades.

“Really anything that happens on the Earth’s surface you can study using a map,” Thayn said. “And if a map has value to explain something, then GIS has much, much, more. You can look at a map, but with the GIS you can actually create new data. Anything that happens on the Earth’s surface can be better explained in the GIS than with any other technology invented thus far.”

McCloud plans to continue to use the mapping exercises in her class, and the Illinois State team is developing a series of videos for teachers across the country who wish to use them in their classes.

Results from the Illinois State Study

Photo Credit: llinois State University, Redbird Scholar

Story source: WILL