A Global Exchange
Study abroad programs to Africa teach American students an appreciation for the continent and the resiliency of its people.
By Dana Forde
The wealth of educational opportunities in Africa has encouraged universities nationwide to establish partnerships with institutions on that continent. Kent State University, The Ohio State University, Princeton University and Rutgers University are just a few that have embraced educational programs that strive to engage students in the process of global exchange.
In only its second year of existence, Princeton’s ecology and evolutionary biology field semester in Kenya has proven to be highly popular. Based at Kenya’s Mpala Research Center, the spring project has drawn an average of seven American students and two Kenyan students each year, says Dr. Daniel I. Rubenstein, the chair of the department.
“While Princeton students may be strong on concepts, Kenyan students are much more aware of natural history and local issues,” he says. “We try to enroll local university students so that they learn the ways of modern science and so that the two different groups of students can learn from each other.”
As part of the program, students participate in projects, lectures, group discussions and oral and written presentations involving the tropics, East African wildlife, global technology
“Students come back transformed, as scientists who are aware of important social, economic and conservation issues,” Rubenstein says.
Officials at Kent State say partnerships with African institutions help American students appreciate the history of the continent and the resiliency of its people.
Every semester, five student-teachers visit South Africa through a collaborative initiative between the University of Cape Town and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. In the program, which lasts between eight and 15 weeks, students learn how global health, poverty and environmental ills impact educational opportunities in South Africa.
“Student teachers have the opportunity to experience social change first hand and bring that back to the classroom,” says Dr. Kenneth Cushner, Kent State’s executive director for international affairs and a professor of education.
During the summer, Kent State also sponsors professional development workshops for instructors at Kenyatta University, in Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi. Through the workshops, Kent State faculty and students from the College of Education lead courses on classroom management and teaching. The university has also teamed up with the University of Zambia’s School of Nursing in a program that allows students at the African university to earn doctoral degrees from Kent State.
Dr. Steve O. Michael, Kent State’s vice provost for diversity, says the various initiatives have been successful.
“My personal vision is for students to see themselves as global leaders,” says Michael. “My hope is that their education will transcend Ohio and the United States and encapsulate the globe.”
The nation’s largest university, Ohio State, offers study abroad programs to Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. Additionally, many of Ohio State’s educational partnerships focus on agricultural and environmental sciences.
For example, through a pest management research program, Ugandan graduate students develop a method of pest control that protects crop productivity in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The program partners Ohio State with historically Black Tennessee State University and the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, as well as Uganda’s Makerere University, the Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organization and four regional institutions in the country.
“Advising graduate students from Africa became an incredible opportunity for me to broaden my horizons,” says OSU
professor Richard Pratt. “I know that my contributions to improving food security in Africa will be limited, but if I help develop the leadership abilities in my students, they will be able to accomplish a lot.”
The School of Business at Rutgers offers a 12-day spring break program that allows students to meet with various South African business and government representatives to study the nation’s business market. In some cases, students have developed business models, which many South African institutions have incorporated into their marketing plans.
“They’re really leaving something behind that helps,” says Cal Maradonna, Rutgers’ associate provost for student life, who organized the first study program in 1996.
With visits to Soweto, Namibia and the Cape of Good Hope, students learn the lessons of social and racial strife. Maradonna says some students are uneasy with visiting townships where citizens were once forced to live under apartheid.
“We would be doing a disservice to the students if we did not let them see this,” he says. “It is a way to learn about South Africa’s history and the poverty that many people continue to live in.”
Brett E. Tanzman, a third-year law student at the Rutgers Law School, joined a select group of business students and a small group of law students on last year’s trip to South Africa. Tanzman, who is the editor in chief of the school’s Journal of Law and Public Policy, says the experience had a profound impact on his legal studies.
“South Africa serves as sort of a model of how a country can reconcile differences and overcome challenges,” he says. “And to see where they are now post-apartheid is amazing.”
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