Engaging Africa Symposium
March 13, 2009
I want to extend a special welcome to the scholars who have joined us from universities around our country, and particularly those who have traveled from the nations of Africa. We are extremely pleased to have you with us for the symposium.
A year ago at this time, I had just returned to campus from two weeks of travel and meetings in university communities throughout Ghana and South Africa. There, along with members of the University of Michigan faculty, we enjoyed productive discussions with our colleagues about how to expand our relationships to benefit our institutions and the communities we serve.
That all of you are gathered here for this Symposium is a very positive outgrowth of those conversations.
In particular, we have with us nine scholars from Ghana and South Africa who are at Michigan under the auspices of our new African Studies Center. Their engagement with our campus is part of the faculty exchange agreements we made during last year’s visits. Scholarship knows no borders, and the growing collaborations between our universities draw on the strengths of diverse perspectives and encourage creativity and innovation.
Here at Michigan, we have more than 140 faculty members who are actively studying African or African-related topics in some 40 African countries. Their work is the genesis of our African Studies Center, and I want to acknowledge Professor Kelly Askew for her leadership of the Center.
What makes me particularly enthusiastic about the Center and its potential is its scope.
Many African studies centers and institutes around the nation and world focus their work on the social sciences and humanities. We do this, and more, by also incorporating disciplines such as medicine, engineering and dentistry. This provides a much broader platform for scholars engaged in research, teaching and service related to African topics.
This range of disciplines and their interrelationships throughout our campus are a mirror of the world we serve as a public university. The public we serve, and our students and faculty, expect the University of Michigan to meet society’s needs.
To meet those complex needs and prepare our graduates for the challenges of a shrinking world, we must draw upon the perspectives of both faculty and students from around the world. At the same time, we must encourage members of our community to engage in scholarly activities throughout the globe.
That is why we are so committed to the African Studies Center and interactions such as this Symposium.
It is also why I want more of our students to travel abroad and experience new cultures. Last spring, we surveyed our graduating seniors about their time at Michigan, and we learned a bit about their international experiences.
Half the class said they had traveled overseas, and one in five students reported spending at least an academic term abroad. As you might guess, the majority of students said they had traveled to Europe, followed by experiences in Latin America.
Only 7 percent said they had been to Africa.
Now, I don’t want to disparage Central America or Europe. My husband is a Latin American scholar, and as a college student myself, I studied in England, Austria, and what was then the Soviet Union. I would not trade my study abroad experience for anything, because of what I learned about new cultures, and because of what I learned about myself as an American.
I want today’s students to experience places like Austria and Russia. But I am just as passionate about encouraging them to study in Ghana and Kenya, Mali and Nigeria, and other African countries.
We have some wonderful programs at Michigan that allow our students to study abroad. But we need to do more to encourage and support their travels, so we have launched what is known as the President's Challenge for the Student Global Experience. For every two dollars our donors give to endow international travel, the President’s Office will provide a one-dollar match. In the end, we hope to raise $15 million for overseas study opportunities.
The more our students can draw from the world, the better they can contribute to their communities. This Symposium is a wonderful opportunity for all of us – students and faculty – to better understand Africa and the opportunities and challenges throughout the continent.
I want to thank you for coming together today to share your ideas, your discoveries, and most importantly, your enthusiasm. To truly be engaged at the global level, we must continue to build genuine, reciprocal partnerships, and to connect one-on-one in settings such as this.