- From the President
- Institute for Global Studies
New faces join UD global team
- Reflections of the Middle East
- What price ignorance?
- World Traveler: Making beautiful music
- UD-Africa: a global partnership
- Global Campus
It was the 1980s, and demonstrations against South Africa’s oppressive policy of apartheid were erupting at UD. In January 1981, South Africans Sibusiso Vil-Nkomo and Renosi Mokate received scholarships to pursue graduate work in public policy and administration at UD, a place they would come to love.
“On the path to their doctoral degrees, Delaware would become like a second home to this accomplished couple,” says UD Professor Dan Rich, one of their former advisers.
Vil-Nkomo and Renosi married in 1984 and soon completed their doctorates. After graduating, they returned to South Africa, where their contributions have been considerable-and from where they are now reconnecting to their alma mater in new and important ways.
Mokate helped run the first democratic elections in South Africa, which Nelson Mandela won in 1994, becoming the first black president in South Africa’s history.
Today, she has an impressive resume of public service and administration, with posts ranging from her current role as adviser to the National Treasury of South Africa, to former executive director at the World Bank, where she was responsible for Angola, Nigeria and South Africa.
Vil-Nkomo was appointed public service commissioner by South African President Mandela in 1994. He later joined the faculty of the University of Pretoria as a professor and went on to become the first black rector in that university’s history.
Today, Vil-Nkomo chairs the board of directors of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), a new national think-tank focused on charting the path for South Africa’s social and economic prosperity and the achievement of national goals for equality and democratic engagement of all populations-what has been called the second South African revolution.
During a visit to UD in January 2012, Vil-Nkomo proposed an expanded higher education collaboration involving UD, MISTRA and universities in South Africa. In February 2013, a UD faculty contingent, including public policy experts Maria Aristigueta and Dan Rich and chemical engineer Doug Buttrey, traveled to South Africa to explore higher education partnerships as part of a State of Delaware mission.
Led by Delaware Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock, the mission included three core components-business development and trade, corporate governance, and higher education partnerships-and overlapped with a visit by a Congressional delegation headed by U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, who chairs the Sub- committee on African Affairs of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
During the weeklong trip, with the aid of MISTRA and the state, the UD contingent visited a dozen universities and governmental agencies, from the University of Pretoria in the urban capital, to the University of Cape Town on the picturesque southwest coast.
The UD team also took part in a symposium sponsored by MISTRA and the Tshwane University of Technology focusing on priority areas for South African development, including public education, higher education, economic development, global marketing strategies and community development.
Also discussed were opportunities for strengthening collaborations through study abroad, distance education and e-learning, faculty and graduate and undergraduate student exchanges, and research collaborations in many areas, from human rights and forced migration, to fuel cells and bioenergy, biotechnology and water issues.
At a reception for Sen. Coons and his delegation at the U.S. Consulate, the UD contingent met many other South African leaders, including NM Kganyago, a member of the South African Parliament from Impopo. He received his master’s degree in school psychology from UD in 1989.
“We are grateful to the State of Delaware, Congressman Coons’ Office and our distinguished alumni Sibusiso Vil-Nkomo and Renosi Mokate for facilitating this higher education mission,” said Nancy Guerra, associate provost for international programs. “The exciting collaborations that are emerging will benefit students, faculty and the greater community both here and in Africa.”
Lisa McBeth’s students surprised her with a seven-foot-tall giraffe during the last week of their study abroad trip to South Africa in January 2013. She named him Jabulani, a Zulu word that means “rejoice.”
“That is what we have done for almost a month now,” McBeth wrote in a blog entry the day she received the gift. “Rejoiced in the opportunities and experiences we have shared and the lessons learned. Rejoiced in knowing we made a difference in some lives and touched many.”
The nursing instructor has touched many lives, including those of the students she has taken to South Africa and Peru in the past three years. Their nominations resulted in her recent selection as UD’s first Study Abroad Faculty Director of the Year.
The students credited McBeth with challenging them and with caring about the women they treated in prenatal clinics and the babies they cuddled in orphanages. She opened their eyes to health care disparities and their hearts to patients who craved a kind touch as they dealt with the pain of childbirth.
One student said McBeth gave her advice and guidance while also allowing her to gain confidence interacting with patients and other members of the medical staff on her own.
For McBeth, the trips are literally and figuratively a labor of love.
“I’ve always been passionate about childbirth and women’s health issues,” she says, “and I wanted to take my students into clinics where they could really make a difference. I keep telling them, ‘If you just impact one woman, you’re making a difference.’”
The study abroad program follows on the heels of a labor and delivery course that McBeth teaches at UD. “It’s amazing to see the students connect what they’ve learned in the classroom with what they do at the bedside,” she says.
They also come to see the glaring discrepancies between American hospitals and the public clinics in South Africa and Peru, including not only the absence of caring on the part of many midwives but also a lack of supplies and sterile techniques.
At the same time, however, McBeth realizes that childbirth in America has been victimized by technology. “We intervene too much, and our maternal mortality rate is climbing. This program allows my students to see natural childbirth and understand that women can deliver babies without pain meds and epidurals-that they can give birth to babies who are alert and kicking rather than drugged and limp.”
McBeth says that winning the award “completely rejuvenated” her.
“It reminded me of why I’m doing this-why I love what I do,” she says. But if she was surprised at being selected, her students were not. One of her nominators summed it up best when she wrote, “Lisa exhibited the qualities of a global citizen every minute of the trip.”
To commemorate the award, McBeth’s name will appear on a plaque that will be hung in Elliott Hall, home of the Institute for Global Studies. She has also been appointed to the institute’s advisory board-a fitting assignment for a “global citizen.”
Since the summer of 2008, chemical engineering professors Douglas Buttrey and Babatunde Ogunnaike have been teaching graduate courses at the African University of Science and Technology (AUST) in Abuja, Nigeria. But their connections run even deeper in this nation named for the Niger River.
AUST is the first of four planned African Institutes of Science and Technology, as part of the Nelson Mandela Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based organization. Sponsored by the World Bank, AUST offers master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science and engineering, mathematics, theoretical physics, petroleum engineering, and materials science and engineering.
Ogunnaike grew up in Nigeria and received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of Lagos, where he was a professor from 1982 to 1988. After a successful research career at DuPont, he joined the UD faculty in 2002 and began helping to develop curriculum for AUST in 2004 after learning of its mission to empower and educate future leaders. He quickly recruited Buttrey to the project.
“Through AUST, we can train people in technology so that they can begin confronting problems facing the continent,” says Ogunnaike, who is interim dean of engineering at UD. Opportunities for improvement, he says, include solar energy technologies, potable drinking water and an improved power grid.
Each year at AUST, Buttrey teaches courses in engineering thermodynamics, while Ogunnaike teaches a probability and statistics course for engineers. Faculty and students meet three hours a day, five days per week, for three weeks.
“It’s not ideal, but when you coordinate nearly 100 faculty volunteers from the U.S., Canada and Europe, it’s necessary,” says Buttrey. He hopes to see future courses lengthened through distance or e-learning opportunities.
Beyond building the students’ technical skills, volunteers instill values such as accountability, integrity and responsible leadership. “We’re helping them build a moral compass that will shape their future actions in a politically embroiled country,” Ogunnaike explains.
“We talk about Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King-people they look up to-and we discuss how long change took for them, the price they paid and the commitment it takes to make things happen,” Buttrey continues.
For Buttrey, seeing progress come to this African region is personal. In the early 1900s, his grandfather was a cotton buyer for the British government. He lived in Illushi, Nigeria, and died there in 1915. Today Illushi is home to 6,000 people with tremendous needs. Many infants do not survive their first year and while primary school enrollment averages 300 students, fewer than 10 students attend secondary school.
Buttrey, who reconnected with the village in 2008, is working to restore the primary school there. He is funding a project to replace the school’s roof, with others providing new windows and potentially solar lighting. The project will be completed in the coming months, as people and supplies can be brought into this at-risk area north of the Niger Delta. He hopes to involve AUST students in the project so that they can experience progress firsthand.
“We can only educate so many students, but the AUST students-they can carry the torch and teach others,” Buttrey says.
Swiss scientist Kurt Hanselmann arrived in Namibia to teach chemical and biological oceanography assuming he could easily access the Internet and basic lab equipment. Not so.
Such are the circumstances in many developing countries, where students are eager to learn, but resources can be extremely limited.
The Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR), based at the University of Delaware, is working to improve marine education in Africa and other parts of the world where research programs are still getting off the ground. The organization is sending established scientists to teach short courses and provide on-site training and mentorship through its SCOR Visiting Scholars program.
“We find it’s a very effective mechanism, for a small amount of money, to help develop capacity,” SCOR Executive Director Ed Urban says. “Many students can benefit.”
Hanselmann was one of the first SCOR Visiting Scholars, traveling from his native Switzerland in 2010 and 2011 to instruct students at the University of Namibia’s Sam Nujoma Marine and Coastal Resources Research Centre in Henties Bay. At that time, the facility was a few years old but still lacking the glassware, chemicals and instruments commonly found in marine research laboratories.
Hanselmann, a microbial ecologist at ETH Zurich, quickly adapted his course to make good use of the natural ecosystems along the Namibian coast and took students out into the field, for example, showing them transitions from high- to low-oxygen environments in nearby marshes. When he returned home, he arranged to ship used equipment and books to the facility to improve future research camps that he helped initiate and fund through the Agouron Institute.
The SCOR Visiting Scholars program is supported by the National Science Foundation and pays for a select few scientists’ transportation to developing countries each year to teach and mentor students, with the local host providing lodging and the scientists donating their time. So far, courses offered include identifying red tide organisms in Ghana, physical oceanography modeling in South Africa and the science of coastal lagoons in Morocco.
René Swift of the United Kingdom went to South Africa and Namibia to train colleagues on how to use acoustic devices to listen to whales and dolphins. He worked with the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Research to create an improved detection system to determine the distribution and abundance of marine mammals.
The Visiting Scholars program is one of several SCOR activities underway worldwide. The non-governmental science organization was formed by the International Council for Science in 1957 to explore scientific questions about the ocean that require an international approach. About 250 scientists from 35 nations participate in SCOR projects each year.
Other SCOR focus areas include financing travel for researchers from developing countries to attend international scientific meetings and find opportunities for joint research. The organization also aims to involve African scientists and students in ocean observation, deploying and maintaining equipment used to collect information where data has traditionally been limited.
“It’s to the advantage of everyone if people in developing regions are able to participate,” Urban says.
Moving forward, Urban and SCOR partners are trying to build up marine research along Africa’s east coast, including in South Africa, Madagascar and Mozambique, where there are some marine science activities but no large laboratories or ships. Places like Somalia are well known to have coastal issues with piracy, and other social problems such as poverty, hunger and political instability can obviously push science lower on the list of government priorities.
Still, SCOR and its international partner organizations continue to make inroads throughout the continent to encourage collaboration between neighboring countries. The idea is that in many developing regions, one institution doesn’t have all the resources-so they will benefit from pooling resources.
“We’re trying to encourage institutions in the region to band together and share resources in a way that will make more research and training possible,” Urban says.