Contributor: Frank Menchaca, SVP, Global Product Management for Research, School and Professional at Cengage Learning.

The last moments of major change in U.S/Cuba relations happened more than 50 years ago — and were broadcast in black and white. These images have been used in political science and history courses for many years now and are indicative of just how little U.S. students know about the rich culture of the island that’s a mere ninety miles from the U.S.

The Obama administration’s historic announcement of intent to normalize relations with Cuba comes with the biggest set of concessions the United States has ever given to the Castro regime. While general tourism will not be permitted (as of yet), education is one of the twelve existing categories that will be impacted by the decision, making it easier for U.S. students to get visas to study in Cuba. The details of exactly how that will work have not been released by yet.

After decades of contention with only small, incremental changes, an expanding flow of resources and cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba will empower numerous benefits for today’s students. While the island of Cuba is geographically close, many young people (and older people) know very little about it. U.S. students will now have more broad access to learn Spanish, study musical traditions and the arts, increase knowledge of organic farming, and explore history, immigration and politics like we’ve not been able to for generations.

The benefits to Cuban society are also great – from improved tourism and opening new channels to sell its goods in the U.S. Advances in digital innovation that’s personalized to the way students learn and prepare for the workforce will be a big boon as well. It can help usher in a new wave of educational policy reform in Cuba, and help address concerns about keeping education accessible for all students in Cuba and providing fresh resources for vocational training on the island.

Before the recent thaw between the U.S. and Cuban governments occurred, Gale, part of Cengage Learning was blazing a trail by working with scholars in Cuba to create a groundbreaking two-volume encyclopedia titled simply Cuba (ISBN: 978-0-6843-1681-9). Published in 2012 under the Scribner imprint, this reference work provides a 360-degree view of Cuba in publishing the work of leading experts both on and off the island. No other title on the subject can boast such an impressive list of contributors, which includes the daughter of Raul Castro. The entry list has twenty-eight composite articles on topics including Cuban Thought and Cultural Identity, Diasporas, Economy, Faith, Food, Language, Race, Sexuality, Sports, Sugar, and Tobacco. In addition, 150 smaller articles cover literary and artistic works, political documents, speeches, testimonies, and historical events. The set is richly illustrated with full-color images, and is available in a both an English-language eBook (ISBN: 978-0-6843-1684-0) and a Spanish-language eBook (ISBN: 978-0-6843-2514-9). The original print set won a RUSA award, and a review by the Times Literary Supplement touted it as “a magnificent reference book, of value to anyone working seriously on Cuba as well as to the general reader; and it is one that, thanks to its elegant and thoughtful essays, is eminently readable throughout.”

For journalists covering the story developments around this historic announcement in the days and weeks ahead, we’re also making art and excerpts from the book available.

We’ve only touched the surface of potential collaboration opportunities that this policy change will make possible. The expansion of English language teaching and learning on the island will make Cuban students more connected to the world than ever before. And consider the treasures available through the National Library of Cuba and imagine optimizing them for research and learning, bringing historical Cuban content to the desktops of students worldwide. At Cengage Learning we hope to be at forefront of such projects and look forward to the prospects for academic scholarship and discovery these changes will enable.