By Maggie McDaniel
The first conversations took place in 2009 at Ole Miss. More than five years later, a dozen University of Mississippi students and faculty traveled to Ethiopia to meet with leaders at Addis Ababa University, one of the first universities to participate in the Ole Miss in Africa initiative.
Nosa Egiebor, who in 2014 became UM’s first chief international officer and executive director of global engagement, accompanied Ole Miss students and faculty for a few days on their Study Abroad trip in January 2015.
Addis Ababa University “has an excellent record,” Egiebor said. “Before now, Ole Miss did not really have much of a presence in Africa, and we are really pushing to make sure that this university establishes a pretty strong footprint throughout Africa. To that extent, Ethiopia is one of our initial countries, Nigeria is another one, and Burkina Faso is another one in West Africa.”
This will contribute significantly to the university’s strategic objective of “bringing the world to Mississippi and taking Mississippi to the world,” according to UM Acting Chancellor Morris Stocks.
The university has similar initiatives planned for Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Australasia.
At the beginning of fall semester 2015, Addis Ababa University President Admasu Tsegaye and several other AAU top administrators visited the Ole Miss campus, where they met with Stocks, Acting Provost Noel Wilkin, deans and department heads to continue discussions about parnterships.
Administrators in Oxford and Addis Ababa said both universities will benefit from student and faculty exchanges. Two areas of special interest are journalism and engineering. The engineering and journalism schools have faculty who have experience at universities in both Mississippi and Ethiopia.
Will Norton, dean of the School of Journalism and New Media at UM, taught at Addis Ababa University and wanted students to see the similarities and differences between Ethiopia and Mississippi.
“You have in Africa a proud people who have accomplished a lot. They are recognized for their achievement, but they are branded negatively just like Mississippians are. This state with proud people who have accomplished a lot is looked down on by many,” Norton said. “So we can understand why Ethiopians feel so strongly bout being looked down on.”
Egiebor, who also is a professor of chemical engineering, said that AAU created a water resource center that could use input from UM engineers. He met with several faculty members in AAU’s school of engineering.
Bikila Teklu, dean of civil and environmental engineering at AAU, spent 2005-2009 as an engineering science graduate student at the University of Mississippi. He graduated from Ole Miss with Ph.D. degree and stayed for an extra year as a post-doctoral researcher.
“I have been to some other big cities where there have been universities, but I find that in a smaller college town it is kind of cozy and does not take your focus away from studies,” Bakili said.
Bakili said he enjoyed the football and tailgating atmosphere at Ole Miss.
“I didn’t have any idea about American football, but I got into it and I still watch it sometimes when I get the chance,” Bakili said.
Bakili said that engineering professionals are in high demand in Ethiopia as the nation is undertaking significant infrastructure development.
“It is expected that Ethiopian engineering students studying at Ole Miss, upon completion of their studies, would make significant contribution in educating future engineers and sharing their research experience with students and faculty at their home university,” Bakili said.
Addis Ababa University, with almost 50,000 students, is more than twice the size of the University of Mississippi. It has about 120 international students pursuing undergraduate and graduate programs, more than half of them from other countries in Africa.
AAU already has partnerships with several other U.S. universities. One is Ohio State University. In addition to study abroad programs, during the past three years both institutions have organized “One Health” summer institutes and provided certification programs on health issues.
In 2011, the Ethiopian ambassador to the United States and several Addis Ababa University administrators came to Mississippi, where they met with students and faculty at Ole Miss and toured the Delta.
At that time, Zenebe Beyene, a key player in organizing the visit, noted that the vision for the partnership was to go beyond the academic benefits to promote “cultural understanding between students and faculty here at the University of Mississippi and the faculty and students from Addis Ababa University.”
And that’s exactly what happened in 2015, this time on African soil. In January 2015, 10 journalism students and several faculty spent eight days in northern Ethiopia working on a Study Abroad multimedia journalism project.
Beyene again was instrumental in getting the two universities together. He has taught intersession courses as a visiting professor at Ole Miss. At the time of the students’ visit to Ethiopia, Beyene was an assistant dean at the School of Journalism and Communication at AAU. Now, he is director of AAU’s Office of External Relations, Partnership and Communication. He paved the way for students to meet sources for their interviews in several cities and towns in Ethiopia. AAU graduate students assisted as interpreters and guides.
Logan Kirkland, a UM journalism major and editor in chief of The Daily Mississippian, still cannot believe that he got to practice international journalism in Africa.
“Having the chance of a lifetime, no matter how cliché that sounds, it is unbelievable,” Kirkland said. “Just getting on the plane and going into a foreign place helped me grow as a journalist.”
With its 76 undergraduate and 247 graduate programs, and its unique culture, AAU offers many classes of interest to U.S. students. Courses singled out by AAU administrators include archaeology, anthropology, Ethiopia/Africa studies, history, languages and literature, and health-related programs like the study of tropical and infectious diseases.
Egiebor is excited to work with AAU.
“They see the importance of international engagement,” Egiebor said. “I find them as excellent partners I am really willing to work with to take the relationship to a much higher level.”