September 20, 2007

C.U. Offers First Degree in Africa

Print More

Ethiopian students now have the opportunity to earn a Masters of Professional Studies in watershed management from Cornell at the University’s first ever degree program in Africa. All coursework and field research for the program will occur off-campus at the Bahir Dar University in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia — another first for Cornell.
Beginning in November, Cornell faculty will travel to Bahir Dar to teach three-week long modular courses to 20 Ethiopian students who were selected by a written application and entrance exam.
The program only has permission to continue for one full year. After this time period, the program’s success will be evaluated, said Prof. Tammo Steenhuis, biological and environmental engineering. Steenhuis co-directs the program with Prof. Alice Pell, animal science. However, the ultimate goal is not for Cornell to continue the program, but for it to stand on its own.
“We will make all the material available to BDU so they can do the program by themselves,” Steenhuis said.
The faculty members in the program specialize in fields such as water resources, engineering, project planning and economics, as required by watershed management’s integrated approach to improving livelihood. This program is crucial given that Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, according to the website of the World Bank.
Funding for this program came from a $150,000 grant from the World Bank’s Development Initiative Fund for Ethiopian universities. This money could cover expenses for 20 students learning in Ethiopia, as opposed to just one student if the program was taught in Ithaca, said Amy Collick, one of the program’s coordinators.
“The resources are just not available at many Ethiopian universities, and Bahir Dar is a relatively young university,” Collick said.
Despite these disadvantages, Collick emphasized that there is a high demand for education in Ethiopia, and that the students there are as driven as Cornell students.
The program was based on Cornell’s own existing masters program in international agricultural and rural development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. It will require thirty credit hours total: twenty-four of coursework and six of research, all of which will culminate in a special project. However, according to Collick, the program had been modified to fit Ethiopian needs in collaboration with Bahir Dar faculty.
“Case studies from all over the world are very useful in the curriculum, but we really wanted to use different regions of Ethiopia,” Collick said. “We did a curriculum review at Bahir Dar and the Bahir Dar faculty basically said there were some gaps in the Cornell curriculum to fill. It’s just the beginning of the graduate programs at Bahir Dar, so we’re trying to work with the faculty to teach at a graduate level also. It’s a combined and collaborative effort.”
One study, involving Prof. Robert Blake, animal science, will require students to examine different farming systems found in various villages in the Bahir Dar region. Some of the land in the Bahir Dar region is barren due to overgrazing; some is considered actively reforested area. Eventually, the students in the program will generate solutions to problems involving livestock fencing — just one of many fields incorporated in watershed management.
“Most of the innovation will come from the students,” Blake said. “This is a postgraduate degree that adds exposure to international perspectives. You expect these folks to become leaders. That’s what you expect from any educational program.”