June 21-July 12, 2002
Back Issues
Consortium with African universities moves forward
U.Va. offers to share traffic costs
Job talk -- myths and realities
To the point -- with David Evans
Students create Rotunda mosaic

U.Va., World Wildlife Fund sign agreement

In Memoriam
Notable -- awards and achievements of faculty and staff
Dante Germino dies in train accident
Season tickets available
Employees: How to get back to school
After Hours -- Gayle Noble
Study discovers effects of exercise in women on HRT
Consortium with African universities moves forward
conference participants
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
Peter Omara-Ojunga, University of Venda (standing), makes remarks at last month’s conference to plan a consortium with African universities. Other participants are (from left): Hank Shugart, U.Va.; Francisco Vieira, University of Eduardo Mondlane; Sisai Mpuchane, University of Botswana; Luis Nongxa, University of the Witwatersrand; and Jeffrey Plank, U.Va.

By Fariss Samarrai

When environmental scientist Mike Garstang began studying the atmosphere
over southern Africa more than 30 years ago, he knew he was dealing with a complex and dynamic system with global implications. He had no idea that his work would lead, over the next quarter century, to a new climate of cooperation, with several U.Va. faculty members conducting numerous research and education projects with colleagues at four African universities.

Late last month, U.Va. officials held a three-day meeting and workshop with faculty and administrators from the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique, the University of Botswana and the universities of Venda and the Witwatersrand in South Africa. The five universities are forming a consortium to address environmental, health and education concerns throughout southern Africa.

“Built initially on personal relationships, we are developing new and innovative education projects in southern Africa,” said Hank Shugart, W.W. Corcoran Professor of Environmental Sciences and director of U.Va.’s Global Environmental Change Program. “We are coordinating our work at a new level and hope this is a first step in intensive African interaction in education, research and training.”

Peter Omara-Ojunga, dean of the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Venda, said, “This consortium is an opportunity to consolidate the environmental research activities of universities in Africa with U.Va.”

University of Virginia international

He and officials from the other African universities joined representatives from the U.S. Department of State, the World Wildlife Fund, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, the United Nations and other federal agencies and international conservation organizations at Pavilion VII May 29 to discuss the consortium.

weather tower
This weather tower is used to study the atmosphere over southern Africa.

Goals include developing innovative collaborative curriculums that include student and faculty exchanges and distance learning; upgrading on-site research stations in Africa; and convening transnational stakeholder groups where research findings can be translated to sound environmental policy.

One goal of the distance learning initiative is to develop courses for African students to pursue advanced degrees at U.Va. and WITS without contributing to the “brain drain” from Africa. Exchange programs and classes and field research will complement these courses.

“After 25 years of collaborative regional research in southern Africa, the University is really ahead of the curve in developing international research and education projects,” said Jeffrey Plank, assistant vice president for research. “We are taking the lead on large-scale multi-national research.” Plank has played a vital role in recent years in coordinating and encouraging initiatives leading to the consortium.

Consortium members hope to strengthen the southern Africa environmental community through educational programs in environmental sciences and professional development programs for policy-makers. They plan to close the gap between research and policy by convening groups of natural resources managers representing governments and international conservation organizations, property owners and experts in ecosystem research and environmental law.

“Southern Africa is an extremely important region for collaborations,” Plank said. “With industrialization and unprecedented changes in the region, such as expanded enfranchisement now that colonialism and apartheid are over, and with economic expansion, there is intense pressure on the landscape.

“U.Va. is acting as a catalyst for initiatives across political borders. We want to establish infrastructures that will help southern Africa build its fate through good decision and policy making.”

This fits in with the University’s plans to focus more fully on international programs and projects, said William Quandt, vice provost for international government and foreign affairs.

“The University always has had scholars working together internationally, but we now have more formal university-wide support for it,” Quandt told members of the consortium. “We gain by sitting together, working collectively and addressing large environmental and health challenges together.”

Plank also hopes the combined resources of the consortium will help increase funding for projects. “Key policy makers and program managers at the State Department and the National Science Foundation say we are doing innovative international collaborative work that should serve as a model for other programs.”

Africa map
•l University of Botswana in Gaborone, Botswana
• University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa
• University of Venda in Thohoyandou, South Africa
• University of Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique

Andrew Reynolds, the science and technology adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said exactly that during the May workshop. “Research should engage the public by using a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional approach to problem solving,” he said. “This consortium is ahead of the pack in its building of public-private partnerships and in thinking several years into the future.”

Venda’s Omara-Ojunga also emphasized the potential for building partnerships.

“We can work together with our governments to achieve positive intervention against the poverty and misery thast characterizes so much of southern Africa. We need to translate our results for policy-makers. We believe that research is not only an academic exercise, but that it should play a role in the betterment of human kind.”

Shugart specializes in creating computer models that show the possible long-term effects of various human activities on ecosystems at the regional scale where such disturbances are most likely to force prolonged alterations to the environment. He can, for example, model the long-term effects of a forest fire on a group of villages in a region. These models can be used to inform policy makers of the possible consequences of various land-use decisions.

“Universities are good at gaining information, but we need to become better at turning that information into wisdom,” he said. “We are standing on the brink of the information revolution. We can convert data into usable knowledge.”

Plank said this knowledge is built from collaborative research. “The reason we’ve been successful is because we have established trust over the long term,” Plank said. “These collaborations did not occur overnight. Institutional relationship-building depends on collegial relationships. This is the infrastructure that already exists among our members, and these friendships will carry us to new levels of innovation in research and education.”

Michael GarstangMichael Garstang (right), professor of environmental sciences, spends sabbatical in South Africa establishing contacts
at South African universities and beginning work on weather modification in South Africa.

Exchange of faculty and students with South African universities and participation in the weather modification studies.

Two students from South Africa earn degrees at U.Va. and return to positions at South African universities. Work in the Amazon Basin leads to theory that trace elements in dust from the Sahara and Sahel deserts support the rain forest in the basin.

Scientists conduct the Southern African Fire-Atmosphere Research Initiative (SAFARI) in 1992. Robert Swap, now a research assistant professor, earns his doctorate on the transport of Kalahari and Namib dust to the Amazon Basin. David Larom, U.Va. graduate student, produces dissertation on the affects of atmospheric conditions and temperature on elephant mating calls.

Garstang is awarded the Oppenheimer-Wilson Fellowship. Swap conducts studies at the University of Witwatersrand leading to the design of the biosphere-atmosphere experiment Southern Africa Regional Science Initiative (SAFARI 2000).

During this decade, U.Va. increases faculty and student exchanges with partners in southern Africa and adds research and education projects at all levels. U.Va. also coordinates several National Science Foundation and SAFARI 2000 workshops in southern Africa and hosts several fellows from Africa.

More than 100 scientists from nine African nations, the United States, Europe and Australia, led by Swap, participate in SAFARI 2000.

U.Va. conducts first live international distance education videoconference seminar course (left) with the University of the Witwatersrand in SouthAfrica and the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique.

May 2002
U.Va. hosts three-day meeting and workshop to form coalition with four African universities.

Oct. 2002
U.Va. to host synthesis workshop of
SAFARI 2000 research findings.



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of the University of Virginia

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