U-M hosts African scholars with a unique program
Written by Mandira Banerjee
ANN ARBOR—Gerald Walulya, a former journalist in Tanzania and Uganda, chose a fascinating time to finish his doctoral dissertation on how the press covers elections in East Africa’s one-party dominant states.
For Walulya, witnessing the 2016 U.S. presidential election while based in Ann Arbor has been eye-opening.
“In Africa, the candidates focus more on issues. In the U.S., it feels more personal. Hillary Clinton’s health seemed more important that what she stood for,” Walulya said.
Walulya is a participant in the U-M African Presidential Scholars Program (UMAPS), which hosts early-career African faculty on campus four-to-six months. The visiting faculty attend seminars, write and present papers at conferences, do research, work on their projects with mentors and expand their networks.
U-M launched the program in 2008 and is one of only a few universities in the U.S. that brings together African early faculty scholars from a variety of fields. The 12 academics in this year’s group have interests that range from sustainable stormwater management and urban memories to biochar-based urine processing and the development of oil communities.
UMAPS fellow Dagnachew Belete from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia is interested in lessons of stormwater management.
“Working as a city planner, I realized that the cities put in urban drainage plans, but municipal corporations don’t implement them,” he said.
Belete has visited storm water sites, rooftop gardens and retention ponds in Ann Arbor and Detroit with his mentor Larissa Larsen.
“The lack of water management leads to a lot of waterlogging in Addis Ababa,” he said. “I will share the lessons from here with condo developers as construction is on the rise.”
Priscilla Mante is a Ghanaian professor researching models of a traditional medicine that comes from the bark of a tree. The medicine is used to treat epilepsy seizures and pain.
“There is a lot of misconception about epilepsy in Ghana. It can be seen as a curse,” said Mante, who is learning new techniques in the lab of Lori Isom. “Unfortunately, I don’t have all the equipment in Ghana for this research. The time at U-M helps me further it by testing and modelling.”
Fellows in the 2016-17 UMAPS program come from Ghana, South Africa, Liberia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of the Congo.
UMAPS activities promote scholarly relationships and help young faculty to advance research and to build greater capacity for their home institutions, said Oveta Fuller, director of the African Studies Center for 2016-17.
“We have been tracking 120 UMAPS researchers who have gone through the program,” she said. “They go on to do high-impact work and research and move into leadership positions at their home universities.”