U to help Africa, water with Global Spotlight

The Office of International Programs announced a Global Spotlight last week to draw more attention to the global work the University of Minnesota is involved in. While the University works with multiple international issues, the two-year spotlight will focus on problems in Africa as well as the global water shortage. âÄúWe felt very, very strongly that we needed to focus our attention and to have a very strong presence in other parts of the world to better leverage educational opportunities for our students,âÄù Senior Vice President for system academic administration Robert Jones said. Although the two themes âÄî water and Africa âÄî arenâÄôt necessarily related, Assistant Vice President for international scholarship Carol Klee said both problems are prevalent. The program will help highlight the existing strengths of the University and tie the initiativeâÄôs name to events related to the themes, Klee said. âÄúWe really want to publicize these issues, and part of that effort is really to build on things that are already occurring at the University,âÄù she said. As a part of the initiative, the OIP intends to sponsor cultural events, lectures and symposiums in the community, including the Darfur lectures from Ashis Brahma scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. An original goal of the program was to send grants to people working on projects that focused on the spotlighted issues, but Klee said she does not know how much money they will be able to give to the program. âÄúWeâÄôre anticipating weâÄôll be able to do this, but obviously it will depend on what happens to the budget,âÄù she said. Jones said a goal of the funding is to eventually leverage outside grants for faculty to continue international research. The spotlight on Africa transpired in part because Minnesota has the ninth largest African population in the United States. Klee said the University wanted to explore partnerships with African universities. One way Klee hopes to publicize the initiative is to involve student groups that have projects related to the problems, including Engineers without Borders, a student group that partners with communities across the world to help advance their engineering skills. Former EWB President Brian Bell said the group began a program focusing on water and sanitation problems in Uganda last summer. Bell, a civil engineering senior, said eight students and two professional engineers plan to return to Uganda in June, bringing with them a new ground water supply system, a sanitation system and information from a malaria prevention project. While the group raises funds for the project, the situation currently forces students to come up with about $1,000 themselves, Bell said. Fundraising officer Diego Ponce de Leon Barido said the cost of this summerâÄôs trip is approximately $64,000, and they have only raised about $16,000 so far. âÄúFor this thing to happen, we need a very strong financial backbone, and we need all the resources we can get,âÄù Barido said. Currently, they raise funds for the program from different University departments, alumni and corporate partnerships, and Barido hopes that they will raise enough for the program before they leave in June. While the new project is getting underway, the OIP is already beginning to search for the 2011-2012 focus, with the announcement expected in the fall.