The program promotes African links, diversity in plant sciences
The Cornell Assistantship for Horticulture in Africa (CAHA), a program that brings master’s students from sub-Saharan Africa to Cornell to complete a doctorate in horticulture, has now added a second assistant for African Americans, in the aim to increase the diversity of the science plant – an area that lacks minority representation.
CASA was established in 2006 through the vision and gift of Emeritus Professor of Horticulture Chris Wien MS ’67, Ph.D. ’71. This semester, the program – which admits one researcher for each assistant until that student completes their doctorate – brought its fourth African doctoral student to Cornell.
Now, a second donation from Wien has funded an African-American master’s student from the United States or Canada to complete a PhD at Cornell and conduct dissertation research primarily in sub-Saharan Africa under the supervision of an advisor based in Africa through an institution there. .
“We plan to broaden participation and increase diversity in plant science,” said Sarah Evanega, professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute, hosted at Cornell, and adjunct associate professor at the School of Integrative Plant Science. “Chris Wien’s gift has now been fashioned to also provide an opportunity for African American master’s degree students to engage in research on the African continent.”
The deadline for African American students to apply for an assistantship in 2022 is December 1. If accepted, funding for each assistantship includes a stipend and covers some research and travel costs.
“We would like to offer interested African Americans to get more involved in the work in Africa, doing part of their doctorate. in an institution in sub-Saharan Africa, ”said Wien, whose vision for CAHA was influenced by his time in the 1970s working in Africa at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. “Even if they don’t come directly from there, it will hopefully spark an interest in tropical agriculture, hopefully in Africa. “
The CAHA was originally designed for a MSc student from Sub-Saharan Africa to complete their doctoral work at Cornell and conduct dissertation research primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa under the supervision of a Cornell Educational Advisor whose research is based in Africa. The position requires the student to return to their home country or region once their doctoral work is completed. In addition, travel funds have been allocated to the student advisor to visit field sites in Africa.
In this way, CAHA aims to develop and establish lasting collaborations between the horticulturalists of Cornell’s Ithaca campus and those of sub-Saharan Africa.
“The spirit of CAHA is to build capacity to ensure that there is a strong group, if you will, of committed academics and horticultural experts who are invested in the growth of horticulture on the continent. African, ”Evanega said.
Supporting Cornell faculty supervisors to observe university student research in the field also helps maintain two-way engagement.
ACHA’s latest student Julian Atukuri from Uganda joined Cornell this fall and works under advisor Rebecca Nelson, professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science Section of Plant Pathology and Plant Biology. microbes and plant breeding, will study aflatoxin fungi contamination of peanuts and maize, a major problem in resource-poor regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Aflatoxins can cause liver cancer, disrupt immune function, and induce protein deficiency syndromes when metabolized in humans.
“My research will focus on developing appropriate measures to control aflatoxins by improving soil and plant health, thereby improving human health,” Atukuri said.
Kalenga Banda, a CAHA student from Zambia, is completing her thesis on postharvest management of sweet potatoes, an important staple food in sub-Saharan Africa. Her field work in Africa was disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she worked with advisor Chris Watkins, professor in the horticulture section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, to address post challenges. -harvest facing North American sweet potato farmers.
“My research focuses on the chill sensitivity of sweetpotato cultivars and the role of hardening in chill tolerance, with the aim of identifying cultivars that are chill tolerant and those that would benefit from interventions such as hardening”, Banda said. She also studied the role of ethylene in sprouting and sugar changes in sweet potato.
Upon completion of her thesis, Banda will return to the University of Zambia where she will take up a faculty position. Eventually, she hopes to join a regional agricultural research institute, such as the International Potato Center in Kenya.
“It’s not easy for African students to get into an American university like Cornell, so the assistantship made it easier,” Banda said. “Being a recipient of the scholarship, because of the prestige that comes with it, puts you on another level. “
A seminar, “Cornell Africa Horticulture Assistantship: Advanced Horticulture in Africa”, will take place on Monday 22 November at 12:25 in the Plant Sciences building, in room 404, and via the seminar in the Horticulture section Lien Zoom.