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A unique cultural exchange took place this past summer when a team of five Lafayette students traveled to Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda to collect data at Lake Victoria on how agricultural intrusion affects local wetlands.

Under the direction of Roger Ruggles, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, the students worked with a five-member team from Makerere University. The Lafayette team consisted of civil engineering majors David Kendall ’08 (Lebanon, Pa.), Christa Kelleher ’08 (Tigard, Ore.), Hugo R.J. Sindelar ’08 (Houston, Texas), and Bailey Simone ’08 (Westfield, Mass.) and English and art double major Karen Ruggles ’08(Easton, Pa.).

“The goal of the project is two fold,” Roger Ruggles says. “First is to research the wetland areas in Uganda and second is to provide an intercultural experience for all participants.”

Their Ugandan counterparts from Makerere included Lammeck Kajubi, lecturer of environmental engineering; Michael Iwadra, lecturer of soil and water resources engineering; and students Pamela Agaba, Jacob Etunganan, and Seguya Kiwanuka.

Kajubi believes his students not only learned about culture in the United States but also received wide international exposure since most of the Lafayette team had spent time in at least two other countries.

“This in itself was beneficial to the research since Lake Victoria is shared by three East African nations, and therefore our research has a cross-border dimension,” he says. “Hence knowing what happens elsewhere with respect to sustainable wetland management and conservation opened our eyes to new possibilities, solutions, and challenges.”

Kajubi was impressed by how quickly and easily the students worked together. Each day’s tasks were “fun and easy to accomplish” because the group remained focused on the project and were getting to know each other outside the research setting. He notes that all the students will continue to reap the benefits of the research collaboration.

“Knowing about Africa, and how different life is down here from that in the U.S., must have been a lifetime experience for the Lafayette students considering that, for most of them, this was their first time in Africa,” Kajubi says. “Such a diversity of exposure prepares a university student for the challenges of today’s workplace environment characterized by globalization and corporate mergers. It is no longer true that university graduates expect to work in their native country all their lives or work with people of the same race until retirement. There is no better time to prepare our future labor force for this workplace experience than now, and one practical method is through such research exchange visits.”

Ruggles received a Fulbright Grant to teach and conduct research in Uganda in 2000. He spent a year at Makerere teaching courses on water resources and researching the application of Geographical Information System technology in solving regional environmental problems.

He took his first group of Lafayette students to Uganda for related research in 2004, after the civil and environmental engineering department received a $366,354 NSF grant. Along with David Brandes, associate professor and acting head of civil and environmental engineering, Ruggles led a team that included civil engineering graduates Chad Yaindl ’06 and Rachael Oleski ’06, A.B. engineering and art graduate Jairo Amarillo ’05, and chemical engineering graduate Matt Root ’06. The initial visit helped the team establish a better understanding of the function of wetlands issues related to ethics in science and engineering.

“I wish to express my deep appreciation to Roger Ruggles for choosing to work with our institution,” says Kajubi. “We have gained immense knowledge and unique experience from him and the teams of students he has brought down here so far. We fondly appreciate all the teaching aids, equipment, and scholastic supplies that Professor Ruggles’ research has contributed to our institution since this project started. I can confidently say Professor Ruggles has trained engineers across continents, a challenging legacy to us younger faculty.”

Uganda lies across the equator in East Africa, bordered by The Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Congo. Formerly under British control, it became an independent republic in 1962. English is its official language. Kampala is Uganda’s largest city, and Makerere is one of the oldest universities in Africa. It was founded as a technical school in 1922 and attained university status in 1970.

Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the students completed the work through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

Categorized in: Academic News