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March 9, 2011 - 10:41am

'U' students, faculty to take part in $18.5M effort to improve Liberian infrastructure and education


Despite the distance between Ann Arbor and Liberia, University professors and students involved in Excellence in Higher Education have found ways to aid the efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation, placing a strong emphasis on the country’s educational system.

After 15 years of civil war in Liberia, the U.S. Agency for International Development project, involving members of the University totaling $18.5 million aims to stimulate the reconstruction of universities and infrastructure throughout Liberia, according to a March 7 press release from the University.

Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development will commence this spring, creating opportunities for professorships, graduate student fellowships, summer programs for Liberian youth, as well as other endeavors, as was stated in the press release.

The University is just one of the institutions involved in the program, which is led by North Carolina-based Research Triangle Institute International, according to the press release. The University was individually awarded $1.5 million to aid the efforts in the program by the College of Engineering, the African Studies Center and the Women in Science and Engineering Program.

According to the press release, the project will also be developing “centers of excellence in engineering and agriculture at the University of Liberia and Cuttington University, respectively,” which is funded by USAID.

The project aims to produce graduates who are “qualified to meet current and future workforce demand.”

As stated in the press release, “Engineering, science and technology are what propels countries into economic greatness and improves quality of life for their residents. Much depends on having a scientifically and technically trained populace, and through this project we're doing a small part to enable that in Liberia,” said Herbert Winful, a professor in the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science who is U-M's principal investigator on this project.

Nathaniel Bowditch, the project’s director at RTI International, said in the press release that the program aims to better equip the people of Liberia for obstacles the nation may endure in the future.

“By the end of the program, high-performing graduates from the centers of excellence will be far better prepared to respond to the economic and development challenges facing Liberia as it rebuilds its economy, physical infrastructure, social structure and government institutions," Bowditch said the in the press release.