By Mark Eyerly

Students in a Sustainable Solutions class traveling to Cuba to take a deep look at how traditional rural architecture has come to embody sustainable building strategies is just one of the recent examples of how Live Connected, Lead Change is helping prepare Lafayette students to affect change in an increasingly connected world.

Established by a gift from Linda Assante Carrasco ’90 and Marc A. Carrasco, the Global Learning and Community Engagement Fund supports new initiatives that engage undergraduates in educationally meaningful programs that are global in scope and/or involve significant community service. Areas of focus include economic development and empowerment, sustainability, environmental stewardship, and conservation.

Cuba is experiencing a wave of development as other nations lift trade restrictions, shifting the island nation toward a more modern style of construction. The trend is costing Cuba its traditional-style dwellings—affordable, charming, well-ventilated structures of thatched roofs, bamboo, and royal palm that can withstand tropical weather better than modern construction. Many of these houses have design strategies that promote evaporative cooling and passive solar techniques.

Over cups of strong Cuban coffee in conversations with their hospitable hosts, students got a firsthand look at evolving Cuban culture and produced a documentary and booklet on their experiences.

Geology major Justine Perrotti ’19 brought her expertise to the project and looked at how coral stone is used in traditional construction and how it performs compared to concrete in Cuban housing. “It was an interesting way to learn about different techniques and sustainable building materials,” she says.

“We’re not there to change anything or suggest anything, just to understand and to see how they do things,” adds mechanical engineering major Alex Homsi ’19. “Sometimes they’re not sure why they do things a certain way. But when you ask the homeowners, they just say, ‘That’s the way we do it.’”

It’s precisely the type of learning experience that Linda Assante envisioned when she heard then-President Dan Weiss talk about the extraordinary student-led research ideas that would cross his desk in search of funding.

“Marc and I wanted to blend the need Dan identified with our passion for addressing social, environmental, and economic development issues in less-developed parts of the world,” she says. “In the end, it is the students who inspire us to be the very best version of ourselves, and we are grateful for the opportunity to support them.”