The team includes professors from engineering, education, natural resources management and architecture.
An interdisciplinary team from Texas Tech University is one of three groups and the only American team to win a sizable international grant to increase engineering programs in Ethiopia.
Stephen Ekwaro-Osire, the associate dean of research and graduate programs in the Whitacre College of Engineering, is the principal investigator (PI) for the grant, which is funded by the German Agency for International Cooperation and administered by the British Council. The grant provides 1 million euros (about $1.1 million) to create a center of excellence at Jimma Institute of Technology (JiT) affiliated with Jimma University in southwest Ethiopia as well as additional graduate programs at JiT and three other regional universities. The grant will focus on civil engineering and construction technology.
In addition to Ekwaro-Osire, the members of the team are Joseph Aranha (architecture), Tewodros Ghebrab (civil, environmental and construction engineering, or CECE), Dave Louis (education), Gad Perry (conservation biology), Sanjaya Senadheera (CECE) and Venkatesh Uddameri (CECE and director of the Water Resources Center). Other faculty members from the Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering may teach distance classes and act as mentors as well.
In the last decade Ethiopia has seen a substantial increase in university attendance. From 2002 to 2012 the number of university students rose from 58,000 to 554,000, and there was a 1,600 percent increase in postgraduate students in the same time period. However, there are not enough professors to conduct research and teach the students, meaning staff with master's degrees are teaching courses that should be taught by staff with doctorate degrees. At JiT, only 27 of the 405 staff members have doctorate degrees. Few avenues exist to correct this imbalance as many schools, including JiT, don't have Ph.D. programs.
“They have these universities they need staffed as quickly as possible, but they do not want their students to go overseas because students who go overseas sometimes do not return in a timely manner,” Ekwaro-Osire said. “That's why the focus of this grant is on development of home-grown graduate programs.”
The grant will create resources for an additional 200 master's students and 20 doctoral students spread throughout four universities. The Texas Tech team will design the curricula, introduce at least three new graduate programs and expand others, teach online classes, mentor graduate students and conduct research. They want to make sure the graduate students know how to research and how to teach so they can continue teaching at Ethiopian universities after graduation.
Job Kasule, a former postgraduate researcher from Texas Tech, will be the grant's scientific coordinator at JiT. He will work with the PIs in the grant to coordinate distance learning, international collaboration, mentoring and research grants and other research opportunities.
The grant funding lasts for two years, at which time the team hopes to have enough students in place to make the engineering education programs self-sustaining and have the infrastructure surrounding the center of excellence at JiT in place.
This grant is one of several international awards the university has received in the last two years since the International Research and Development Division (IRDD) of the Office of International Affairs was created to increase focus on the global community. Sukant Misra, associate vice provost for international programs, said IRDD fosters relationships with funding agencies and international partners, which led to being notified about the British Council opportunity.
It was a good fit because of the university's connections with Ethiopia and the unique resources Texas Tech has to address issues facing the west African nation, such as limited water. The College of Engineering also has one of the best distance education programs in the nation, which will be put to use to teach graduate students halfway around the globe.
The increasing focus on international collaboration and research is moving Texas Tech toward national research institution status, he said.
“It is a crucial part of the activities of research-intensive universities that seek to offer opportunities for students and faculty to interact with an increasingly globalized scientific, economic and cultural environment,” Misra said. “The Office of International Affairs integrates the global vision of the university by increasing the capacity of Texas Tech faculty and creating new opportunities to enhance the global reputation of the university.”