Anne Morrison took up salsa dancing.
Then she went to Cuba with a colleague.
That led to her developing a full-blown interest in the Latin American country.
Soon Morrison could lead the Kent State Cuban Studies Institute, which would be the fourth organization of its kind at an American university and the first in Ohio.
University trustees are expected to consider the KSU institute at their June meeting. Morrison has been named director of the fledgling organization.
''Never did I ever think I would interview Che Guevara's daughter, not once, but twice,'' Morrison said, referring to the insurgent who helped to topple the Batista regime in the 1950s.
''I'm in love,'' she said of the country.
KSU Provost Bob Frank said many faculty at the university and in Northeast Ohio have an interest in Cuba. That interest, however, has been scattered.
So the institute could be a catalyst to organize those interests.
''This is an opportunity to really be impactful,'' Frank said. ''It's a great opportunity for Kent State.''
The institute helps the university to further its mission of engaging the world beyond its doors in this case, a world only 90 miles from Florida, Frank said.
Cuba has been under a U.S. economic embargo for 50 years. The measure aimed to topple the Communist regime of brothers Fidel and Raul Castro. But it financially squeezed the country and limited American travel there.
President Obama eased travel restrictions for Americans with family in Cuba and those who travel with licensed travel operators that offer a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.
But for professionals like Morrison, the way to get to the country is through a license granted by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
An associate professor of lifespan development and educational services, Morrison first visited Cuba with a geography professor nine years ago. She became intrigued with a little-known success in the Caribbean country: its ambitious efforts to increase the literacy rate after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.
Fueled by her academic interest, Morrison has been returning to Cuba four times a year since then on her own dime.
She is writing a book and creating a film with the help of a Cuban photographer and a translator who work with her regularly and open doors in the closed country. Along the way, she has polished her rudimentary Spanish, but admits she isn't fluent.
Morrison returns to the country when she can muster an interview for her project or for other educational work.
Next week, for example, she'll be heading to Havana again to set up the details of an educational trip she will lead June 8-15. She wants to keep the trip to eight travelers who do not have to be KSU students.
Meanwhile, about a dozen KSU faculty have expressed interest in conducting research in Cuba on political science, family studies and biopreparedness based on a call for research that Frank, the provost, put out two years ago.
In addition, the institute envisions partnering locally with other entities, including the Cleveland Institute of Art, to bring Cuban artists to campus for short-term residencies and master classes.
If the institute gets a green light from trustees, Morrison would write for grants to fund faculty research.
Eventually the institute could help KSU students to study in Cuba and could help build a bigger Cuban population on the Kent State campus, Morrison said.
The University of Miami, Tulane University in New Orleans and Florida International University have Cuban institutes. Several other universities also offer study-abroad programs in Cuba.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or email@example.com.