Engineers rebuilding Liberian universities and infrastructure

Through visiting professorships, summer programs and more, the U-M community will contribute to the revitalization of the nation.

Michigan Daily: ‘U’ students, faculty to take part in $18.5M effort to improve Liberian infrastructure and education
R&D Magazine

U-M Press Release by Nicole Casal Moore
March 7, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – An $18.5-million effort to help rebuild Liberia’s universities and infrastructure after 15 years of civil war will begin this spring and University of Michigan professors, staff and students will play an important role.

Through visiting professorships, graduate student fellowships, summer programs for Liberian youth and other endeavors, members of the U-M community will contribute to the revitalization of the nation founded by freed American slaves.

The program, Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development, is led by North Carolina-based research institute RTI International. Several institutions in addition to U-M are partners.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is funding the project that will develop centers of excellence in engineering and agriculture at the University of Liberia and Cuttington University, respectively. The aim is to supply these fields with skilled graduates qualified to meet current and future workforce demand.

“Engineering, science and technology are what propels countries into economic greatness and improves quality of life for their residents. Much depends on having a scientifically and technically trained populace, and through this project we’re doing a small part to enable that in Liberia,” said Herbert Winful, a professor in the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science who is U-M’s principal investigator on this project.

At U-M, the College of Engineering, the African Studies Center and the Women in Science and Engineering program are involved. With its $1.5-million portion of the larger grant, U-M will:

  • Send one or several engineering faculty members to Liberia to serve as visiting professors for two academic years.
  • Support a Liberian graduate student with a 2-year fellowship at U-M.
  • Bring two Liberian engineering professors to Michigan each year for five years for research residencies as part of the U-M African Presidential Scholars program.
  • Run a “Smart Start” summer camp for Liberian young women in order to pique their interest in science and engineering.
  • Send faculty-led teams of U-M undergraduates to mentor and tutor Liberian students and to identify and implement engineering-based solutions to community problems.

“The African Studies Center is greatly pleased to help facilitate this collaboration, which highlights the unique approach U-M has championed in uniting African studies with science and engineering,” said Kelly Askew, U-M associate professor of anthropology and director of the African Studies Center. “This grant is important in that it advances both the university’s commitment to internationalization and to African studies. It promises to yield mutual benefit for all involved by significantly extending the College of Engineering’s presence on the African continent and by bringing engineering capacity to Liberia, a country in dire need of it.”

Winful and Askew expect to go to Liberia to kick-start the project later this semester.

“By the end of the program, high-performing graduates from the centers of excellence will be far better prepared to respond to the economic and development challenges facing Liberia as it rebuilds its economy, physical infrastructure, social structure and government institutions,” said Nathaniel Bowditch, the project’s director at RTI International.

In addition to U-M, these institutions are involved: Rutgers University, North Carolina State University, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana and engineering consulting firm Associates in Rural Development.