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Coleman welcomes dignitaries for African center symposium

A year after traveling to Africa, President Mary Sue Coleman Friday welcomed scholars and dignitaries from around the world to "Engaging Africa/Advancing African Studies,'' the first major symposium of the new African Studies Center.
President Mary Sue Coleman addresses participants of the first symposium of the African Studies Center. (Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services)

"Scholarship knows no borders, and the growing collaborations between our universities draw on the strengths of diverse perspectives and encourage creativity and innovation," Coleman said. "The public we serve, and our students and faculty, expect the University of Michigan to meet society's needs."

"To meet those complex needs and prepare our graduates for the challenges of a shrinking world, we must draw upon the perspectives of both faculty and students from around the world. At the same time, we must encourage members of our community to engage in scholarly activities throughout the globe."

Amos Sawyer, former president of Liberia and associate director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, told the symposium audience, "We thank you for engaging Africa in this way during this economic global downturn ... It is not all doom and gloom but there are significant challenges, which we must address.

"We are building on the capacity which existed in Africa and at the same time enhance your own capacity."

David Wiley, director of the Michigan State University African Studies Center, said, "The answer is partnerships. That's why I'm an optimist. We are not in an American crisis — it's a global crisis. We need partnerships, equity, transparency and reciprocity."

Africa, with 11 percent of the world's population, experiences 24 percent of global disease, said Peter Donokor, provost of the College of Health Sciences at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, as he described the ways U-M collaborations in Ghana are tackling the health care crisis there. Coleman's visit last year helped strengthen those ties and sparked new collaborations, Donokor said.

Groups that were once "at each other's throats" are now "talking to each other," he added.

The African Studies Center launched last July, builds on the research of 140 U-M faculty members in a host of disciplines who are working in Africa. Coleman praised the efforts of Kelly Askew, associate professor of Afroamerican and African Studies and anthropology, who organized the center and serves as its first director.

"Many African studies centers and institutes around the nation and world focus their work on the social sciences and humanities and that's great," Coleman said. "We do this, and more, by also incorporating disciplines such as medicine, engineering and dentistry. This provides a much broader platform for scholars engaged in research, teaching and service related to African topics."

Last spring, Coleman noted, U-M surveyed graduating seniors and found half the class had traveled overseas, with one-in-five students reporting spending at least an academic term abroad. However, just 7 percent said they had been to Africa.

To boost those numbers, Coleman said the University has launched the President's Challenge for the Student Global Experience, in which her office will match every $2 donated to endow study abroad with an additional dollar, with a goal of raising $15 million for overseas study opportunities.

For more information about the center, go to

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