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Campus News

New Consortium Focuses on Africa

by Greta Petry

The Capital Region and Africa are an ocean apart. But a recently formed UAlbany consortium is helping to bridge the distance by opening up new opportunities for student recruitment and internships.

Distinguished Service Professor Emerita Shirley J. Jones, director of the U.S.African Partnership for Building Stronger Communities Project and instructor of a three-credit School of Social Welfare course on African social and economic policies and programs, conceived the idea for the Consortium on Africa. She secured a small grant from the University’s Affirmative Action Committee to convene the consortium, which had its first meeting in November.

Jones said, “I am excited about the positive response to the Consortium on Africa, and recognize the early work of Kwadwo (Joseph) Sarfoh (Department of Africana Studies) and Eloise Briere (Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures) at the University at Albany in helping to establish exchange and linkage programs between UAlbany and Africa.”

According to Jones, only about four percent of international students at UAlbany are from Africa. The economic plight of higher education institutions in Africa and the negative image of Africa portrayed by the media contribute to the difficulties in establishing those programs.

Carol Whittaker, assistant dean and placement director at UAlbany’s School of Public Health, said the new consortium is of particular interest to SPH students. Whittaker, who co-chairs the group with Sarfoh, said the students “are very aware that public health is a global issue. Many of them are seeking opportunities to undertake internships abroad, especially in Africa, where emerging infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS are ravaging the continent. Some of these students will undoubtedly pursue careers in international health. The Africa consortium will provide a platform for me, other SPH faculty, and students to explore opportunities and share experiences across disciplines related to Africa. I expect many productive collaborative projects to flow from this initiative.”

Whittaker is working with two graduate public health students who intend to do internships in Tanzania this summer; SUNY Central’s Center for International Development (CID) is helping to set those up. The interns will assist staff of the Tanzanian Parliament in establishing health policy options.

Jones said the initial goals of the Consortium on Africa were to:

  • identify faculty recruiting African students and/or directing programs and activities in Africa.

  • increase the number of African students and scholars at UAlbany.

  • promote student and faculty links, and exchange programs.

  • help to eradicate negative media portrayals of Africa.

  • spotlight UAlbany courses that address African issues and policies.

  • establish collaborative partnerships to undertake research and publication, seek funding, and advocate for effective change and development in international education with a focus on Africa.

Whittaker noted that Office of International Education Director John Rohrbaugh, a member of the consortium, is supportive of the group’s goals.

Rohrbaugh said: “The Consortium on Africa is a key step forward for the University at Albany in bringing together faculty who share a common international interest in their teaching, research, and service commitments. As we work to better internationalize our campus, as many other leading universities are doing, I believe that the Consortium on Africa will serve as a positive model for initiating other faculty consortia: on Latin America, on Asia, on Central and Eastern Europe.”

Other members of the new group include James Asare; Briere; Shai Brown; Carson Carr, Jr.; Florencia Cornet; Gareth Griffiths; Deborah LaFond; Margaret Reich; and Marcia Sutherland. Joining the consortium from the community are Julian Bain, director of AIDS Global Advocacy; and Deborah Ballard, an AIDS educator at Albany Medical Center.

At the December meeting, CID Director James Ketterer described two major projects CID now has in Kenya and in Tanzania. In addition, Bain spoke about his ongoing work with South Africa, where he provides training and educational programs on AIDS prevention.

As an interdisciplinary spin-off of Jones’s well-established partnership project in the School of Social Welfare, the consortium can build on previous efforts that include her three-credit hour summer elective. The course focuses on international social policy and uses action learning and research as part of its theoretic underpinnings.

Through this course in 2003, 13 UAlbany undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and community practitioners visited South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria on the Summer Study Tour to Africa. The group was hosted by Peninsula Technikon, University of Cape Town, the Ghana Association of Social Workers, and Lagos State University. Plans for a 2004 summer study tour are being completed. Depending on grant funding, this year’s tour will either take students to South Africa and Nigeria, or to South Africa and Uganda.

In a separate tour, several consortium members from the Department of Africana Studies participated in the department’s third summer program in Ghana last summer. Coordinated by Sarfoh and held at the University of Ghana at Legon, the program provides for cultural discovery and reconnection with African traditions and practices; promotes and enhances participants’ knowledge of Ghanian and African issues; allows participants to take courses that contribute to UAlbany’s curriculum; and strengthens academic links between UAlbany and Ghanaian universities. In keeping with the interest generated in Africana studies, the department will offer a Summer 2004 study abroad program in Ghana and Kenya with a stop-over in Ethiopia. Such summer study programs fall in line with the consortium’s goals.

Whittaker noted that UAlbany has strong ties to Africa. “Our first MPH graduate was from Uganda. For years after he returned to Uganda, he sent us his friends and relatives to study public health. We have been able to support some African students on Fogarty and Fulbright fellowships. One student from Chad completed his studies in the spring of 2003, and is now back in Chad sharing his knowledge. We have one Ugandan student at this time.”

The consortium is open to any interested faculty member, graduate student, or member of the community. Meetings are at noon on the third Tuesday of
the month.

For more information and the location of the next meeting, contact Whittaker at or 402-0385, or Sarfoh at or, or 442-4725.