Returning Home to Help

By Catherine Amoriello ’17

While many students and faculty busied themselves this summer with trips to the beach and relaxing vacations, one professor made a trip across the Atlantic to enjoy a different type of summer getaway.

Dr. Joseph Zume, associate professor of geography and earth science, forfeited the majority of his summer vacation to participate in the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program. The program provides African-born scholars from the United States and Canada the opportunity to
return to Africa and work on research projects, graduate student teaching/mentoring, and curriculum co-development, according to its website. As a Nigerian native, Zume felt compelled to apply.

“I had nearly my entire education in Africa,” he said. “It takes a lot of investment in someone to get a good education. My country invested a lot in me. So, in what way can I give back to this society that invested in me? That is the motivation. Any opportunity for me to give back is a very welcome opportunity.”

Zume attended school in Nigeria all the way up to the master’s level, receiving his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Jos and his master’s degree in applied geophysics from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. A chance meeting with a professor from the US one summer in
Nigeria eventually led Zume to travel across the Atlantic to receive his doctorate in geography from the University of Oklahoma.

After living in the US for sixteen years, Zume wanted to take what he learned from his teaching experience in the US and share his knowledge and expertise with African universities.

“I was very excited to get the opportunity to go back and contribute. In our department here (at Shippensburg University), we like to give a lot of outdoor exposure (and) experience to our students. You learn a lot hands on. That’s not the case in most African universities.”

Zume centered his proposal for the fellowship on hydrology after identifying a need for a field station at the University of Cape Coast, in Ghana. He applied for the program in April 2016, received his letter of award in November 2016, and six months later, was on his way to spend the months of May and June in Ghana. Being named a Carnegie fellow is no easy feat, and Zume prides himself on having been selected for the program.

“The proposal is reviewed vigorously by a review committee at the Center for International Education in Washington, DC,” he said. “It’s a very competitive process. Hundreds of people applied, and only seventy were chosen across the US and Canada.”

Zume’s goal for his trip was to help the University of Cape Coast develop a curriculum that entailed more hands-on learning and fieldwork. “The project had to do with just initiating a step, no matter how small, that will gradually change the classroom tradition in African universities. It’s the University of Cape Coast, so the university is right on the Atlantic coast, which is a perfect opportunity to introduce students to hands-on learning in this coastal environment.”

Coastal locations are projected to have the highest vulnerability to climate change, according to Zume, and providing African students the opportunity to do fieldwork will better prepare them to help their societies develop innovative adaptations to climate change.

Zume knew the cost of developing a field station would amount to between $50,000 and $200,000, which is why teaching the faculty at Cape Coast how to properly raise funds was the first crucial step.

“The second workshop (I gave) was based on research. How do you write grants? How do you write very persuasive grants that become successful? From there I put together a grant writing team. We started developing a grant to look for money. The more money we get, the more we can do.”

Although Zume is now back in the US, he is still diligently working with the grant writing committee in Cape Coast by way of virtual meetings. They plan to submit the grant to the Rockefeller Foundation, and if it fails there, they will try to submit it to another agency in Europe.

“This is a partnership that is going to go on for quite some time. We’re proposing a three-year grant implementation, which means if we become successful and our grant gets funded, I will be going to Ghana every summer for the next three years until the field sites become fully operational,” Zume said. “I see myself working there longer, because I am personally interested in climate change. I will be interested in using that data for personal research (and) collaborating with local faculty there for many years to come.”

Zume credits the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program with giving him the opportunity to give back to the continent that molded him, and encourages other African-born scholars to take advantage of the opportunity as well.

“The Carnegie program is doing something marvelous for the African continent. Anything that mobilizes us to go and give back, to help bring that place up, it’s a very noble goal. I think the Carnegie is doing a great service. Any African-born faculty who has confidence in what they do should apply to go help out.”


Catherine Amoriello ’17 is an intern for SU Magazine.