International research and engagement

By Downing Thomas

I had the opportunity recently to attend two events that are exemplary of the ways in which International Programs works to connect our campus and community in Iowa to the globe.  The first, a lecture by Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, a native of Ethiopia and distinguished professor at Purdue University, was exemplary of the connections between human rights issues and agricultural science.   The presentation focused research that resulted in the development of sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and to the beautiful but horribly destructive Striga weed.  In a world where nearly one billion people are chronically hungry, much work remains to be done.  Dr. Ejeta’s hybrids have radically changed the ability of farmers to produce a primary crop in sub-Saharan Africa that is also one of the world’s five most important grains.  Dr. Ejeta was visiting Iowa to accept the Des-Moines-based World Food Prize, and kindly agreed to stop in Iowa City at the invitation of President Mason and the UI Center for Human Rights.

The other event—actually a full-blown conference, the Obermann Humanities Symposium (co-sponsored by International Programs)—highlighted a new breed of public scholar who champions engaged humanities research.  Professor Julie Sze (University of California-Davis) spoke about her efforts to get the word out about environmental issues in California through words and images.  She aims not to tell these stories herself, but to provide a means for the public to tell their stories, with support from university-based groups.   Dr. Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo (Vanderbilt University) explored the fascinating idea of “reverse close reading,” allowing individuals in Panama tell their stories through minimal interventionist oral histories.  That’s just two examples of the rich offerings of the 2009 symposium. Take a look at the Inside Higher Ed review and further discussion of the symposium by Scott Lemee.

We are grateful to the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies for their collaboration and to the Stanley-UI Foundation Support Organization for their unwavering support of international programming and initiatives.

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