Jack, smiling and wearing a red scrub top with hanging lights behind him in the Toll Atrium.
Jack, smiling and wearing a red scrub top with hanging lights behind him in the Toll Atrium.

The Truth is Out There

Jack  Goembel

Class of 2023 • Baltimore, Maryland
A dedicated biology major with minors in psychology and chemistry, Jack Goembel ’23 has embraced the liberal arts experience wholeheartedly. With a range of diverse interests, Jack decided to take his experiential learning to the next level with a faculty-led trip to Cuba in January 2023.


An unparalleled experience offered to Washington College students each January, the Cuba Experience is a once in a lifetime opportunity for students to visit Cuba and conduct real-world research into the culture, music, religion, and foods of Havana. Led by two WC faculty members, the Cuba Experience offers students the chance to pursue academic and passion projects alike.

Keen to take advantage of this research opportunity, Jack began brainstorming numerous research ideas and methods before landing on studying Cuban perceptions of extraterrestrial life, with a project aptly named “Marxism and Martians: Comparing Perceptions of Alien Life Between Two Generations of Cuban Nationals in Havana”.

“I started out juggling a lot of research ideas, including using surveys and incentives to figure out the legitimacy of people’s avowed moral systems, interviewing psychiatrists to find differences in their practices across geography, and determining how political beliefs impact people’s perception of alien life… I’m fascinated by the relationship between economic philosophy and perception of alien life, so the fact that Cuba [is] a socialist country – and, furthermore, one with different economic beliefs between generations – meant I could probably get some interesting insight into how that relationship manifested.”

Having been approved for Cater Society grant and successfully completing the IRB process, Jack moved forward with hypothesizing the differences in perceptions of alien life among Cuban generations. “My hypothesis was that younger Cubans, who are more influenced by American media and the turbulent state of modern Cuba, would hold a pessimistic view of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations, seeing them as malicious colonizers. On the other hand, I anticipated that older Cubans, shaped by revolutionary ideals and their experiences growing up in Cuba, would have a more optimistic perspective on the nature of advanced alien civilizations and prospects for first contact. This hypothesis was based in part on utopian trends in Soviet science fiction and Argentine Trotskyist J. Posadas' beliefs that advanced extraterrestrial civilizations must be communist.”

Utilizing a team of local translators, a group of eight participants were recruited from two age groups – those who grew up during Cuba’s revolutionary era, and those who experienced modern Cuba. From there, 20-minute interviews and demographic surveys were conducted, with a bit of help from the extensive preparation he did before the trip.

“Preparation is key! Reading up on Cuban history as part of the course helped contextualize a lot of the differences I saw in participants’ responses. It also meant I asked the right questions in the right order. For example, starting with easier, more frivolous questions before moving to politically charged ones was a good way to establish rapport and have participants more open to sharing their opinions. If I hadn’t done background research to on Cuba’s society, history, and relationship with the U.S., the answers I got wouldn’t have been as insightful.”

Having collected his data and explored all Havana had to offer, it was soon time for Jack to analyze and interpret the results using direct context analysis of the interview transcripts and demographic surveys; “Younger Cubans displayed a more pessimistic outlook on extraterrestrial civilizations and indicated a greater influence from American media. They expected violent first contact and imagined extraterrestrial societies as capitalist. Some even expressed explicit anti-socialist views. In contrast, older Cubans held a positive view of advanced alien societies, reportedly influenced by their personal experiences during their childhood and the values of the Cuban Revolution.”

Upon the completion of his project, Jack presented his findings at the Cater Society Open House in February of 2023 with great success, having found his time and experiences in Cuba to be vastly enriching to his undergraduate experience, citing it as “without a doubt, the coolest project I’ve ever done.”

Following his graduation, Jack will be applying to medical school with the goal of becoming a psychiatrist or primary care provider; “We’ll see where things go – if my time at WAC has taught me anything, it’s that you never know for sure what direction new experiences might take you.

To further explore The Cuba Experience and other experiential learning offering here at WC, check out WC’s Study Abroad program.  

Jack's poster presentation of "Marxism and Martians: Comparing Perceptions of Alien Life Between Two Generations of Cuban Nationals in Havana"

Jack's Four Year Plan

Year 1

Favorite Class  ART-235, Art in the Anthropocene - Dr. Marteel Parrish and Dr. Heather Harvey

Jack's favorite class in his first-year at WC was a hands-on art class, Art in the Anthropocene. Focusing on environmentally-forward work, "the content was fascinating (both the art side and the chemistry side). The assignments, which revolved around creating chemically sustainable artwork, were super creative and open-ended. Every student made something unique, and class critiques were respectful and fun."

Year 2

Learn by DoingExtracurriculars + More

During his second-year, Jack focused on his coursework, though not without remaining involved with his role in Senate, while improving his work in Mock Trial and moving into the position on Treasurer. 

Year 3

Looking Forward Internships & Research 

During his third year, Jack began working on EEG research with Dr. Weil and participated in an internship at the Kent County Medical Adult Day Care, and an externship at the Kent County Vaccination Clinic. He also continued his work with Mock Trial, with the club winning awards at Regionals and gaining Jack as their VP. He also was elected into the role of Chair of the Environmental Committee of Senate. Between his third and fourth years, Jack received his certification in Nursing Assistance in Maryland. 

Year 4

Moving Forward SCE & Beyond

For his Senior Capstone Experience, Jack "wrote a scientific monograph on the evolutionary history of feathers, with an emphasis on their role as display organs prior to the evolution of avian flight. It involved looking at a bunch of cool studies on fossil dinosaurs and pterosaurs with feather imprints, plus analysis of their prehistoric coloration based on preserved microscopic organelles called melanosomes." Following graduation, he will be applying to 20 medical schools and using his gap year to continue his work as a safety companion, possibly at Kennedy Krieger. Following medical school and residency, Jack plans to work as a psychiatrist in a rural hospital.