UVU President Holland Supporting Statewide Partnership with Mali
October 14, 2009
For Immediate Release
For more information: Louise Illes (801) 863-6040, Danny Damron (801) 863-8703
University Marketing & Communications: Erin Spurgeon, (801) 863-6807
Written by: Alex Strickland (801) 863-6351
UVU President Matthew Holland will attend a Utah Statewide Partnership Signing Ceremony today at the Governor’s Office in Salt Lake City. Holland will be joined by Governor Gary Herbert, Commissioner of Higher Education William Sederburg, USU President Stan Albrecht and Dr. Ginnette Bellegarde Siby, Minister of Higher Education in Mali.
“It’s an interesting opportunity,” said Danny Damron, UVU’s International Center director. “Mali is a very poor country that we can learn a lot from and maybe make a difference in.”
College of Science & Health Assistant Dean Louise Illes said a partnership with Mali could yield an incredible amount of opportunities. Illes would know; she’s been to the West African nation twice and met with government officials as high up as the prime minister. Illes traveled to Mali with Mali Rising Foundation Director – and one of Illes’ former students at Brigham Young University and a colleague when he taught at UVU – Yeah Samake, who has been the driving force behind the Mali-Utah partnership.
“Yeah invited me to Mali in 2008 to see firsthand, both the work being done by dentists and doctors who were visiting the country and the need for more schools,” Illes said. “We were struck by the lack of infrastructure in the country and the very extreme needs for science and health support in addition to other areas.”
But in meetings both with the country’s prime minister and minister of health, Illes said they told her that there were three priorities for Mali, and the first among those was education, followed by nutrition and health. They realized, Illes recounted, that education can help supply the solution to the other problems.
“They recognize that education is critical,” she said. “There’s only one university in Mali and they have only about 500 faculty members for 80,000 students. That’s roughly the same as what we have at UVU but with three times as many students.”
Illes said that the memorandum of understanding being signed this week is vague on specifics, but opens up the opportunity to receive federal grant money to start more defined programs with Malian institutions. Not only is there federal money available for many types of partnerships with Africa, but Mali in particular holds strategic value for the U.S. The nation extends into Northern Africa, parts of which are known to be safe havens for Al-Qaida terrorists, so a stable country like Mali is of geo-political importance. In fact, the U.S. recently signed an agreement to place a military base there.
Though nothing specific has been laid out, Illes said there is a great desire by Malian faculty and students to study in America, and that much could be gained from exchange programs both for students and their teachers.
Damron cited a successful partnership between the UVU Woodbury School of Business and a Korean institution that facilitates student exchange between the two schools as one of many potential models for a Malian partnership. Each fall, two Korean students spend a semester at UVU and in the spring two Wolverine students head to East Asia.
Associate Vice President of Undergraduate Research Kathie Debenham said the potential benefits to sending students and faculty abroad are endless and the results can be amazing.
“It’s electrifying what happens when our students, under the mentorship of faculty, have the opportunity to contribute to and help a need in a community,” she said, referring to a group from UVU that traveled to the African nation of Namibia recently. “They also receive such an appreciation for the opportunities they have available to them here.”
For Samake, a Malian native who, despite the fact that he makes his home in Utah is the elected mayor of a region near Mali’s capitol that encompasses more than 40 villages, the partnership does nothing but open doors.
“I believe this partnership will truly benefit all partner Universities and the people of Mali,” said Samake, whose Sandy, Utah-based non-profit is dedicated to providing better access to education for Malian children.
Utah universities want to increase their cultural programs and want their students and faculty to be sensitive to the needs of West Africa and Mali has a growing demand for higher education, Samake said.
Illes cited a long history of connections between Mali and Utah through a variety of nonprofit organizations that make the partnership a natural fit.
“Our interest in Mali will likely center in areas of medicine, health and water and power issues,” Illes said. “There is potential for us to do some really amazing things.”