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Study to focus on computer science and innovation in Kenya, Uganda

September 25, 2013

A grant announced this month from the National Science Foundation seeks to understand how African computer science is developing in Kenya and Uganda and the role it plays in supporting innovation in those countries.

Over the past decade, a significant computer science research community has been quietly emerging in sub-Saharan Africa, and with it the potential to fuel new and transformative innovation. Computer science and engineering underlie numerous innovations – from mobile phones to geographic information systems – that are reshaping critical infrastructure in Africa for communication, banking and transportation. This, in turn, is reshaping the everyday lives of Africans living in both urban and rural areas. Jameson Wetmore Download Full Image

Jameson Wetmore, principal investigator on the NSF project and associate professor from the School for Human Evolution and Social Change, wants to help chart the transition from Africans simply absorbing advanced science and technology to building some of their own. Why choose to study computer science first? “Computer Science is a technical field that doesn’t require big labs and costly equipment,” Wetmore says. “So it may be possible for African countries to develop local capacity for CS at a faster rate than some other scientific fields. This means that CS could have a big impact on innovation and technology in sub-Saharan Africa in the coming years.”

An experienced team

The study analyzes important developments in the construction of an African computer science capacity by examining prominent computer science departments in two countries in East Africa: Makerere University in Uganda and University of Nairobi in Kenya. The project team has extensive experience conducting research in sub-Saharan Africa and has a network of contacts in both countries.

Co-principal investigator Gregg Zachary has been studying innovation in sub-Saharan Africa for more than ten years. Recently, he identified the emergence of computer science at Makarere University, in Kampala, Uganda, as an important potential example of how local science programs could produce innovations with a distinctive African character.

“African innovators still battle negative stereotypes,” says Zachary, a professor of practice in ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. “While computer science is important as a formal academic discipline and a source of innovation, this study also provides a valuable new way of thinking about African innovation capabilities.”

ASU is partnering with Concordia University in Montreal on this project. Matthew Harsh, a co-principal investigator, has analyzed the innovation system surrounding agricultural biotechnology in Kenya, with a focus on national policy frameworks. He has undertaken similar surveys of innovation systems on how digital technology has changed science communication and collaboration in Kenya. Harsh is an assistant professor in the Centre for Engineering in Society at Concordia.

Making connections, sharing knowledge

The main goal of the research is to understand how computer science capacity is being built in Kenya and Uganda and how this capacity is connected to socially and economically relevant innovation.

Researchers often report on the success of knowledge and technological infrastructure that is created internationally and brought to Africa, mainly by private companies. Evidence suggests, however, that computer science expertise and innovative capacity are being created locally. And according to recent studies of science and technology policy, local capacity is critical for the creation of relevant and long-lasting innovations and economic benefits.

“Usually when researchers go to Africa, it is to provide aid, or to bring over a technology that has been developed in the West,” says Zachary. “What we want to do with this project is look at how knowledge is being created in Africa first. We want to study their system and we hope to find lessons there that we can take back with us, instead of the other way around.

“By combining our research program with the knowledge that is being created in sub-Saharan Africa today, we hope to gain a better understanding of how local CS identity is being created and also to build lasting connections to such an exciting and burgeoning innovation system,” he adds.

ASU professors named Outstanding Doctoral Mentors

September 25, 2013

Three Arizona State University professors, with multiple awards, honors and publications among them, are also distinguished by commitment to their students’ academic and professional success.

Graduate Education has recognized James Blasingame, Marilyn Carlson and Elizabeth Segal as Outstanding Doctoral Mentors of 2013-2014. Outstanding Doctoral Mentors Download Full Image

The award honors mentors who have demonstrated excellence in areas such as graduate teaching excellence, chairing doctoral committees with timely completion rates, attracting doctoral students to ASU, a commitment to diversity and guiding student professional development.

“These three extraordinary mentors have guided and inspired their doctoral students through graduate studies and degree completion,” says Andrew Webber, vice provost for Graduate Education. “It is also clear from nomination letters that these mentors have become life-long advisors and colleagues to their former students.”

James Blasingame, associate professor in the Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

“Knowing how talented, devoted and knowledgeable our doctoral students are, I have always thought it was my job to help put them in the right place at the right time, so they could show the world what they know, what they are learning and how they are trying to change the world,” says Blasingame, who focuses on young adult literature, literacy, secondary writing instruction, preparing pre-service teachers and cowboy poetry.

Known affectionately by his students as “Dr. B,” his numerous teaching innovations include relationships forged with local high schools and literacy projects in which ASU doctoral students helped struggling readers, as well as programs such as the Mesa Writing Project – an experiential workshop on the teaching of writing for K-12 teachers, directed and co-directed by ASU English faculty and doctoral students.

“Professor Blasingame is a prominent national and international voice in the area of young adult and adolescent literature, teacher education, writing instruction and the Six-trait Writing Model,” writes Maureen Daly Goggin, a professor in the Department of English.

Before joining ASU in 2000, Blasingame spent 24 years in secondary education and is past president of the Arizona English Teachers’ Association.

Among his honors and awards are the 2008 ASU Foundation Parents' Association Professor of the Year; the 2008 International Reading Association Arbuthnot Award winner for outstanding professor of children's and young adult literature; and the 2007 ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Teaching Award for the Humanities. He is also one of 11 ASU professors to be given the 2007 Arizona State University Parents’ Association Professor of the Year Special Recognition Award.

His current and former students credit him with helping them to network in the field, publish and develop experience as teachers and scholars. Students also describe him as compassionate, unpretentious, inspirational and committed to the success of his students.

Blasingame has authored and co-authored more than 45 publications, including eight books, as well as book chapters, articles and editorials. Interviewed numerous times online and in print, he is also a book reviewer of young adult literature.

Marilyn Carlson, professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Carlson’s students praise her not only as a motivational force, but also for the extraordinary ways in which she champions their academic and future careers as math educators – from publishing, to independent research, to collaborative opportunities.

“Despite her position as one of the top members in our field, she never treats her graduate students as inferior to her,” writes Kevin Moore, a former student who is now assistant professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia. “Instead, she treats them as equally contributing and valuable colleagues. This approach to mentoring sets high expectations for her students, and she helps her students meet these expectations by always interacting in a constructive, energetic and pleasant way.”

After joining ASU faculty in 1995, Carlson served as the director of the Center for Research on Education in Science, Mathematics and Technology (CRESMET) from 2003 to 2008 and also led the development of a doctoral concentration in mathematics education.

Under her leadership, CRESMET increased its supported research projects by 600 percent and she has been an investigator on a dozen projects funded by the National Science Foundation. Carlson has been invited to speak at numerous national and international conferences, and is a respected consultant to universities seeking to improve mathematics education.

Among her honors are a National Science Foundation CAREER award and the ASU President’s Medal for Team Excellence (awarded with distinction). She has also served as a member of the Eisenhower Advisory Board for the State of Arizona, on a National Research Council panel investigating advanced mathematics and science programs in U.S. high schools, and has participated in policy deliberations at state and national levels.

In addition to more than 150 publications and presentations, she has sponsored 45 graduate research assistants since she joined ASU, and served as major advisor or committee member for over 30 doctoral students.

Elizabeth Segal, professor in the School of Social Work, College of Public Programs

Segal is described by her students as a tireless and enthusiastic mentor who instills confidence and the motivation to achieve their dreams, as well as encouraging the highest standards of academic excellence.

Since joining ASU in 1995, countless students have benefited from her counsel as she has chaired and served on dissertation committees as well as informal mentoring.

“Professor Segal, in fact, has been our most influential faculty member in terms of working with students to initiate their publishing and research careers,” writes Steven Anderson, director of the School of Social Work, in his nomination letter. “She also treats students as adults and as colleagues; she is an active learner who values real collaborations with students in research development, as well as in idea generation more generally.”

As a strong proponent of diversity and social justice, Segal is credited with inspiring and attracting underrepresented minorities to ASU’s College of Public Programs, including women, all ethnic minorities, sexual orientations and ages.

“As a first-generation college student of Mexican immigrant parents who did not graduate from high school, it was difficult to find a faculty mentor at a large university during my bachelor’s and master’s degree programs,” says doctoral graduate David Becerra, now an assistant professor in the School of Social Work.

“Dr. Segal took the time to listen to my concerns and gave me the confidence I needed to complete my PhD. She has the unique ability to challenge students and push them to reach their full potential, but in a caring and supportive way.”

Social justice, poverty and inequality are major areas of Segal’s research and publications, as well as public service in institutes such as the Southwest Poverty Consortium and Arizona Human Rights Foundation.

During her professional career, Segal has delivered presentations worldwide and been interviewed on social issues such as immigration policies, promoting social justice, homelessness, social empathy and childhood poverty. She has authored or co-authored 10 books and over 90 other publications.

”One of my most rewarding academic experiences is working with doctoral students,” says Segal. “One of the most exhilarating points in my work is when one of my doctoral students challenges my thinking and we debate multiple sides of an issue. That academic exchange is priceless.”

Editor Associate, University Provost