October 1, 2007

C.U. Uses Grant to Fund Ph.D. Program in Ghana

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Cornell plans to use a $1.7 million grant from The Alliance for a Green Revolution to provide support for the West African Center for Crop Improvement.
WACCI will be housed in the University of Ghana in Legon, and is closely modeled after the African Center for Crop Improvement in South Africa. Both are advanced Ph.D. programs designed to train African crop breeders to deal with tropical agriculture.
According to Prof. Margaret Smith, plant breeding and genetics, ACCI was started five years ago, and Cornell hopes to have the same role in WACCI as it has in ACCI. The first batch of students will enter WACCI this January.
Stefan Einarson, director of the Transnational Learning Program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said, “We will supplement the program with digital lectures and video conferencing.”
In addition to supplementing course materials, Cornell plant breeding and genetics faculty will also review student theses and dissertation proposals, according to Smith.
Smith said that the program was created because Africa has a need for people trained in plant breeding. Africans would often go outside of Africa to get training, but then would never come back to benefit the agriculture in their home countries.
Prof. William Coffman, plant breeding and genetics and director of International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said, “What’s important in Africa right now is the needs of the African people.”
Einarson added, “You can’t reproduce the tropical agriculture down in Africa, and you can’t replicate the diseases that are happening down there over here.”
According to Einarson, ACCI has been very successful in that the students that have completed the program have all returned to their home countries, and many have even received grants to continue research work that they have done.
Cornell plans to spend most of the money it is receiving from the grant for personnel needs such as salary and transportation expenses. Some of the money will also go to purchasing some equipment.
According to Coffman, Cornell faculty will be working to fill in gaps in the curriculum, identify the first students and hire supportive and administrative staff in the intervening months.
Students in the program will also have access to journals and literature about plant breeding and genetics through support from Mann Library.
According to Einarson, the collaboration with Mann Library has been a very popular idea because the students require better library access.
The program spans five years. In the first two years, students will take classes at the University of Ghana. They will spend the next three years conducting research in their home countries.
“In most university Ph.D. training programs people come and do their research right there where you can talk to them on a daily basis,” Smith said. “So there are some additional challenges to having students scattered across half a continent.”
Cornell staff will assist faculty at the University of Ghana by advising them on how best to deal with students who are not directly in the area.
The students for WACCI will be coming from five countries — Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
“To recruit from five different countries is an endeavor all on its own,” Einarson said.
To help with the recruiting process, Cornell will create a management team that will assist staff at the University of Ghana.
WACCI has been given a $4.9 million grant from The Alliance for a Green Revolution, a partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, to build facilities and hire staff at the University of Ghana, and preparations for the first entering class are well underway.