Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tech hosts 32 Senegalese professors

Tuesday, September, 20, 2011; 10:30 PM
by Donal Murphy, news staff writer, Collegiate Times

ERA Participants at OIRED
Virginia Tech is hosting 32 research representatives from Senegal to teach them about agriculture, language training and e-learning to help combat food security issues — knowledge they will bring back to their country’s farmers.

Since 2007, food security issues stemming from food price spikes, with subsequent riots, have been prevalent in Senegal, a country in western Africa — although 75 percent of its population works in the agriculture, it imports 70 percent of its rice, according to the Tech Office of International Research, Education and Development.

The same year, led a consortium — consisting of Perdue, Michigan State and Tuskegee universities, as well as the University of Connecticut — to create a proposal for the United States Agency for International Development to help Senegal with the food security issues.

Tech later received a $28-million grant from USAID through the Feed the Future initiative.The representatives visiting Tech are all professors and Senegalese experts in agriculture and education through the Senegal Education et Recherche en Agriculture Program.

Four Tech employees have been working with the Senegalese representatives for about six months to prepare them for the program.

Patrick Guilbaud, a curricula, education and training coordinator in Senegal, is Tech’s representative in Dakar, Senegal, serving as the primary liaison between the university and the 13 participating Senegalese institutions.

“This is really a broad based effort to kind of get all partners to fully understand that agriculture has many levels,” he said. “By putting emphasis on all aspects, we’ll be able to have a greater system for Senegal where food security is more emphasized.”

Guilbaud, who was born in Haiti, but raised and educated in the United States, has been working for OIRED for four years. He moved to Senegal to oversee the program’s foreign aspects.
“Being a person who was born in Haiti, I am very aware about food and food security, and how that affects the population,” he said.

The representatives are split into three groups — agriculture, English as a foreign language, and e-learning and pedagogy. Since the initiative’s concentration is food security, the overall theme is agriculture and biological information.

The agriculture group has been traveling around Virginia, visiting farms, agricultural centers and markets to learn about the American agricultural production and agronomics system of agricultural production and agronomics, said Demba Mbaye, a visiting professor.

The EFL group is training to teach English to students in Senegal, given that much of the material on food security is only published in that language.

“They’ll have content-based classes where they’re going to have to be teaching English and learning content at the same time,” said Amanda Johnson, the EFL coordinator for the program

The courses are tailored to each representative’s English level, as it is a “train the trainers” program.

“For us, it is more learning how to use the technologies to better the teaching and make it more attractive and more challenging,” said Babacar Diop, an English professor at the Universit√© de Ziguinchor in Senegal, who is currently participating in the program as an EFL group member.

Diop was in the U.S. for six months prior to this trip with the International Leaders Communication program in Minneapolis, Minn.

“My thought now, though the program is not yet finished, is that we’ve learned a lot of new things, a lot of new sites we were introduced to,” he said. “(They are) very interesting and important tools to enhance our teaching practices.”

The e-learning and pedagogy group is studying how to use Internet sites and computer software to help with course availability. Many of the participating universities in Senegal are in areas with minimal infrastructure, making traveling to the schools difficult. Therefore, many students opt to take courses online.

The professors are being trained to use Moodle, a learning platform similar to Scholar, and other software programs that make teaching online courses easier. Fan (Luisa) Li, a graduate assistant for the OIRED, is leading the group.

“I feel that it is really interesting,” said Mariama Sene-Wade, a parasitology and biology professor at the Universite Gaston-Berger in Saint-Louis Senegal. “It is very important to meet all these people, to see what they are doing for the school — it’s a good thing.”

Li is participating in the program as a member of the e-learning and pedagogy group.
The program is also addressing gender equity — a major issue in agriculture.

“If you go to do a project with the farmers, you teach them how to deal with the crops, and you have to understand who is actually doing the work in the fields,” Li said.
Because women do most of the agriculture labor in Senegal, information is frequently lost when a husband teaches a wife.

This topic is being addressed through a gender workshop, led by VT Advance. It discusses the issues of gender equity and how it can be used for agriculture. The group is mostly male but has several female representatives as well.

Tech plans to continue this program, possibly bringing a larger group of representatives for a longer period next year, if it is covered under the USAID grant

Link for story:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

UACh Travelogue: My Adventure in Valdivia 1, by Georgia Wyche

Georgia Wyche, an English instructor at the VTLCI, was selected to work nine months at Universidad Austral de Chile (UACh) in Valdivia, Chile. In Chile, she will provide English classes to faculty, staff and students in cooperation with the Center for the Sciences and Global Sustainability and the School of English Language Pedagogy. Over the coming months, Georgia will write about her experiences in Valdivia.

This installment:  August 23 – August 28, 2011 
 My adventure in Valdivia, Chile has just begun. Yesterday, Loreto Quintana and Dr. German Reinhardt of the Center for the Sciences and Global Sustainability at Universidad Austral de Chile (UACh) picked me up at the airport. I was very lucky because they both welcomed me with open arms and were extremely helpful and hospitable. Of course I was exhausted after the long journey to Valdivia from Blacksburg, so they took me directly to my cabin located near the university.  I like the fact that most everything is within walking distance from my cabin.  Last night, I had a fairly good night’s sleep despite the cold weather. It’s quite an adjustment coming from summer in the northern hemisphere to winter in the southern hemisphere.

Today was my first full day to get out and enjoy Valdivia.  Loreto picked me up and we went to the supermarket and to a little shopping area.  It was very foggy this morning. Fortunately, the fog lifted and the sun came out around 11. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous today which seems to be out of the ordinary for the city. I guess I brought the sunshine with me. After shopping with Loreto, she drove me around downtown and the campus of UACh. I really enjoyed the tour, but of course it is a little overwhelming at first when you are trying to take in everything with every little detail.  Loreto brought me back to my place around lunchtime, so I made a simple lunch of pasta with marinara sauce and a banana.  I took a little siesta and then decided to take a nice long walk around downtown Valdivia myself.

Valdivia Fresh Market

The river Calle Calle divides Isla Teja and downtown Valdivia into two parts, so there is a bridge that connects both sides. While walking over the bridge, I admired the scenery around me, in particular the Calle Calle River and the sea lions. I was amazed to see these three large sea lions sprawled out on a dock in the river.  Once you are over the bridge, there is the large outdoor seafood, fruit and vegetable market on the boardwalk along the waterfront. I walked around and explored the market area and then kind of walked aimlessly through the downtown. I went into a few shops and observed the Chilean people in action. I felt very safe and didn’t feel too much like an outsider. The Chilean people seem to be very warm and open.  I look forward to meeting some new friends and becoming more proficient in Spanish.

My evening in Valdivia ended perfectly. Loreto and her family invited me to have dinner at their home. She prepared a traditional Chilean completo.  A completo is similar to an American hotdog, but it is bigger with more toppings.  Of course, we drank good Chilean beer with our completos. I really enjoyed this evening meal with Loreto and her family.

The atmosphere in Valdivia and throughout Chile is a little out of the ordinary these days due to the students and labor unions striking and holding demonstrations demanding equality and changes nationwide.  Everyday life is in turmoil these days.

I felt very welcome at my first formal meeting at UACh (Center for the Sciences and Global Sustainability). My colleagues are Loreto Quintana, Dr. German Reinhardt Vater, Claudio Gutierrez, and Sandor Mulsow. Next week, I begin conversation classes with students and faculty members. I’ll also observe and teach English classes at Hampton College, which is a bilingual (English-Spanish) K-12 private school located in Valdivia. Sandor Mulsow is the director of Hampton College. I’m looking forward to these teaching experiences and strengthening the relationship between Virginia Tech and Universidad Austral de Chile.

Next week is my first official workweek at UACh. I have several meetings scheduled. I am happy to be working despite the strike in Chile. Monday, I’m spending the day at a private bilingual (Spanish-English) school called Hampton College. My UACh colleague, Sandor Mulsow, works and is one of the founders of this bilingual private school. On Tuesday, I’m meeting with UACh faculty members who want help with their English. On Wednesday, I’m meeting with some UACh students who want informal English training until the strike is over and the university re-opens. On Thursday, I’m meeting with Andrea Lizasoain, the Applied Linguistics professor, to formulate a syllabus for next semester. I may be teaching applied linguistics the entire semester depending on when the national strike is over.  Planning and teaching applied linguistics is a challenge that I look forward to doing. I’m looking forward to working, meeting new people and having new experiences this upcoming week in Valdivia at UACh.

Wyche is featured on the UACh Veterinary School website, which describes the relationship between the VTLCI and UACh.