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Africa Project Takes Two Steps Forward; Consortium Finalized, Swap Receives NASA Award

August 23, 2002-- U.Va. and four southern Africa universitieslaunched a research and education consortium in late July during a signing ceremony at a historic Portuguese fort in Maputo, Mozambique.

Several university officials, including Vice President and Provost Gene Block, visited southern Africa, toured universities and research facilities and field sites, and met with African officials. U.Va. environmental sciences faculty members presented seminars.

Two Mozambique cabinet ministers, Lidia Brito, minister for education, science and technology, and John William Kachamila,minister for the environment, attended the ceremony.

"There is a remarkable sense of positivism among our southern African colleagues," said Hank Shugart, W.W. Corcoran Professor of Environmental Sciences and director of U.Va.'s Global Environmental Change Program. "Everybody has an upbeat attitude as we embark on this consortium's initiatives."

Participating African universities include 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 will collaborate on environmental, health and education initiatives throughout southern Africa. U.Va. has been conducting environmental research and collaborating with African universities for more than 25 years.

Goals include developing innovative collaborative curriculums including faculty and student exchanges; creating cutting-edge international distance education learning; upgrading research stations in Africa; and convening meetings of transnational stakeholder groups to translate research findings into informed environmental policy.

"The importance of the consortium agreement for U.Va. is that it brings us into a regular working relationship with four African universities that will provide unique research opportunities in environmental and health sciences," said Block. "It will also catalyze new educational opportunities for our students and serve as a test-bed for thematically focused distance education."

In early October, researchers from consortium universities and government and non-governmental agencies will hold a workshop at U.Va. to present findings from SAFARI 2000, a major U.Va.-led African atmospheric research project conducted two years ago in southern Africa.

Bob Swap, the U.Va. environmental sciences researcher who led the massive SAFARI project, and some members of his international team of colleagues, will be awarded a group public service medal from NASA later this month for their exemplary contributions to NASA's research mission. The award will be presented to Swap and his colleagues during a ceremony in Washington.

New Initiatives Built on Past Work

  • One consortium project, which will be led by U.Va.'s digital library, includes archiving and connecting information about land use in southern Africa. This could include chronicling oral histories of environmental change that could be compared with research data. Members of the Department of Anthropology may become involved with this work.
  • The Department of Environmental Sciences led a real-time international distance education seminar last fall for students at U.Va. and in Africa. This fall, Shugart plans to teach a distant education laboratory course in computer modeling for students in Africa.
  • Recently, Swap led a study abroad course in South Africa for 14 students studying African culture and environment.
  • Field stations in Africa may be upgraded to include living facilities for visiting students and faculty for long-term environmental studies.
  • Consortium members will continue their community-building initiatives, crossing borders to engage stakeholders in science-to-policy actions.
  • Members of the consortium hope to bring in several U.Va. schools and departments to collaborate on new projects in research and education possibly involving medicine, nursing, law, anthropology and law.

Contact: Fariss Samarrai, (434) 924-3778

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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