U prof bikes through Africa while teaching students in Minn.

While students returning to campus will bike through snow and slush, one University of Minnesota professor is taking his two wheels across the sands and jungles of Africa while continuing to teach a spring semester class to students back in Minnesota. Paul Porter, an agronomy and plant genetics professor, is participating in the Tour dâÄôAfrique , a bike ride spanning more than 7,000 miles that will take Porter and a group of other riders from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa. During the ride, which began on Jan. 10, Porter will be relaying his experiences and observations to students taking the class âÄúFood & Agri from Cairo to Capetown at 10mph.âÄù Porter, who will turn 53 during the trip, said he came up with the idea to teach a class from Africa as a way to give students a real-time look into African agriculture. âÄúI could have done the ride and come back and held the class,âÄù he said, âÄúbut why not try something a bit unusual?âÄù Porter said heâÄôll be looking at things like soil types, climate, and water supply and then analyzing how those things affect what is being grown.

Graphic by Karina Holtz, DAILY. To interact with the class from across the globe, Porter will be posting written and audio blogs to a website and calling in during some classes on his satellite phone. His goal is to âÄúmake an intriguing story for the students back in class,âÄù he said. Before leaving for Africa, Porter enlisted the help of Eugene Garver , a professor at St. JohnâÄôs University in Collegeville, Minn. who participated in the tour last year. âÄúI gave him some advice,âÄù Garver said. âÄúWe talked about things I brought that I wound up not needing and things that I wish I had brought but didnâÄôt.âÄù Starting in northern Africa and finishing at the southern end of the continent gives riders the opportunity to experience a wide variety of regions and climates. The bikers will encounter âÄúeverything from very flat terrain through deserts to very tough climbs through mountains,âÄù Garver said. The trip was more physically demanding then he expected, Garver said, but overall he had a positive experience on his ride. âÄúOur bikes fell apart, our bodies fell apart and our equipment fell apart,âÄù he said. Porter, who admitted he was not very tech-savvy, said he was more concerned about getting all his technology to work than he was about the physical aspects of the ride. In addition to his blogs and observations, Porter said a series of guest lecturers have been organized to speak to the class throughout the semester. He said the lecturers will relate to what he is seeing and doing in Africa. Porter has also enlisted agronomy and plant genetics graduate student Maggie Mangan to be his teaching assistant to help the guest lecturers and to teach the class on days when he canâÄôt upload information. Mangan said she accepted the job because of the unique subject matter. âÄúI think IâÄôm going to learn a lot,âÄù she said. âÄúIâÄôm excited about the opportunity.âÄù Mangan said she will mainly lead discussions and help PorterâÄôs information get to the class. She said sheâÄôs also been keeping up on current events in the region to provide a context for the students that extends beyond just agronomy. Mangan said she has spoken with Porter since he left and he âÄúis in good spirits.âÄù The blog is up and running, and Porter has already posted a number of audio blogs. âÄúIn the coming months, I hope to relate many stories,âÄù he said in an audio blog posted from Cairo. âÄúI started this trip watching snow blow across a runway and less than 18 hours later I watch blowing sand across the airstrip. They say that sand bites youâĦ I guess IâÄôll find out.âÄù