University strengthens ties with BotswanaTweet
Binghamton University’s Geography Department has teamed up with the University of Botswana’s School of Environmental Sciences to create a summer program that gives students of all majors the opportunity to experience life in Southern Africa.
In May 2012, four faculty members and 14 Binghamton University students spent just over three weeks studying in Botswana, a former British protectorate with one of the most rapidly growing economies in Africa.
The program was the result of a friendship that started 30 years ago when Norah Henry, professor of geography and co-chair of the geography department, John Frazier, distinguished professor of geography, and Thando Gwebu, professor of environmental science at the University of Botswana, attended graduate school together. In 2008, Gwebu came to Binghamton University as a visiting scholar and plans were put in motion for collaboration between the two universities.
“These kinds of international connections are extremely important to our faculty because we span a very broad population,” Henry said, adding that Binghamton University is a partner of the Race Ethnicity and Place Conference, which Henry calls one of the major focal points of the Geography Department. “These connections are very beneficial.”
The Botswana Study Program centers around comparative health and comparative urbanization classes, Henry said. Students compare Binghamton City Council meetings with town hall meetings in Botswana, for example, and hear lectures from the Broome County Health Department and the Botswana Ministry of Health.
“The world is shrinking, and this is an excellent opportunity for our students to see the issues that are affecting other areas of the world,” Henry said. “The program is very much in line with the goals of the State of New York and this campus to internationalize the curriculum.”
Along with Gwebu and four students from the University of Botswana, Binghamton University faculty and students traveled the country, discovering the landscapes of the Kalahari Desert and the wildlife of the Okavango Delta region, exploring the Westernized capital city, Gaberone, and interacting with local people at soccer games.
One of the faculty leaders of the program, Mark Reisinger, professor of geography and undergraduate director of the Geography Department, said his experience in Botswana made him a better teacher.
“I think that anytime you can refer to personal experiences in a classroom it makes the material that you are discussing much more interesting and real to the students,” Reisinger said. “When you can show students photographs that you have taken while on a trip like this, it really brings things alive for them.”
The relationship between Binghamton University and the University of Botswana has become multi-dimensional, stemming beyond three weeks in the summer.
Katharine Krebs, vice-provost of international education and director of the International Program, said faculty from both schools are looking to conduct joint research projects and develop joint presentations and publications, as well as expand distance-learning capabilities between the schools.
“The Botswana partnership is a model for us in a number of ways,” said Krebs, who traveled to Botswana in 2010 with Geography Department faculty to help lay the foundation for the program. “We have strong faculty leadership from the Geography Department in this project. That’s the kind of contribution we need from faculty in all of our international partnerships.”
The Botswana Study Program has also introduced students in Botswana to what Binghamton University has to offer. The Geography Department’s master’s program saw the addition of a student from Botswana this year, who Henry said was encouraged to apply because of the program.
Kerry Cook, study-abroad coordinator, said that the Botswana program is unique to Binghamton University.
“This program fills a niche here,” Cook said. “It meets the demand of a particular group of students who are looking to study specific kinds of issues in Southern Africa.”
In addition to the Botswana Study Program, Binghamton University offers study-abroad programs in Ghana and South Africa.
“Africa is growing, in terms of both resources and population,” Henry said. “These countries are going to become major focal points in the world. Southern Africa, specifically, differs from other parts of Africa because it has a more stable economy. It is certainly an area where global connections can be made.”