A Learning Space for African Scholars

image from UM Photo Services "Day in the Life" series through CC 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Globalization has transformed how societies interact and has opened the doors of opportunity for cross-continent educational learning and collaboration. 

The University of Michigan Presidential Scholars (UMAPS) program has provided residential opportunities for faculty from universities located in Ghana, Liberia, South Africa, and Uganda since 2009.  UMAPS supports the work of University of Michigan (UM) and partner schools by providing a mentored, educational environment in which upcoming African scholars can further their research, network with professionals at UM, and collaborate with their colleagues and peers from other African universities. Awarded scholars are matched with a UM mentor during their four or six month residency and are given the support, materials, and funding needed to achieve the goals of their proposals.

2016 UMAPS Scholars are shown with mentors and staff members from the African Studies Center, which administrates the UMAPS program

Seventeen African scholars were selected as 2015-2016 UMAPS participants and traveled to University of Michigan in August to begin their six-month long internships. Among them were Akye Essuman, Endale Gebregzabher, and Joy Gumikiriza, academicians from three different African countries, but who came with similar goals and left with similar accolades for the UMAPS experience. These scholars are working towards completing thier research in the realms of breast cancer, geriatrics, and substance abuse, respectively.

The three have come to appreciate the high level of organization, interdisciplinary team settings, exposure to clinical and research resources, and problem-solving skillsets the University of Michigan offers its scholars. From engineering to African literature, individuals in the UMAPS program have a wide range of studies and disciplines.

“When everyone talks about their field, you think wow, this is a different way of looking at something,” says Gumikiriza. “I can relate it to my own work, and it can better inform the findings of my research.” Ms. Gumikiriza, who is a lecturer at Makerere University School of Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry, is working with her mentors “to create a multidisciplinary and systematic approach to assess and reduce substance abuse in Kampala, Uganda.”

Gumikiriza, along with the other scholars, have been grateful for the time and resources available for their personalized projects since they have a special place within their hearts. Within her hometown, for example, a variety of substances affect cognitive abilities of community members and predispose them to many diseases, but there is not an emphasis on research to help eliminate alcohol and drug abuse and the consequences that come along with these diseases.

Endale Gebregzabher, lecturer at St. Paul's Hospital Millennium Medical College in Ethiopia and PhD candidate in Medical Biochemistry at Addis Ababa University, agrees. “We have a poor structure for biomedical sciences in Ethiopia,” he notes, “and access to the research labs, instruments, library resources, and data bases at University of Michigan has helped jumpstart my project.”

Along with structure and access to information, time is a necessity for research and is not always available for these scholars because of other commitments in the workplace.

“Sometimes, we have a lot of domestic issues and challenges at work,” says Akye Essuman, a lecturer at the University of Ghana and training coordinator for the faculty of family medicine in the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, “and it is hard to dedicate time to writings on topics of your own interest. Here, we can bring our data and use the resources to actually do something with it.”

This is the third educational and research visit to UM for Essuman, who has now created sustainable links and collaborated with many professionals and encourages “the next generation to focus on becoming educated and taking advantage of the resources and training opportunities in America.”

Mr. Gebregzahber agrees that the experience, friendships, and networking gained from partnering with the University of Michigan and colleagues from other universities means that African scholars will “continue to utilize the UMAPS program for the opportunities to extend knowledge and research in a sustainable way.”

You may read Akye Essuman's final report here (PDF).

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