WMU News

WMU economist heads for Africa on Fulbright

May 3, 2005

KALAMAZOO--A Western Michigan University economist is taking his expertise on African development to Ethiopia for six weeks, thanks to funding he's received from the Fulbright Senior Specialist Program.

Dr. Sisay Asefa, professor of economics and director of WMU's Center for African Development Policy Research, will travel May 7 to the University of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, where he will build on existing informal academic linkages with scholars in that nation; give seminars on such topics as economic development, rural development policy, political economy and applied microeconomics; and conduct a needs assessment of that nation's economic development challenges. During his last week there, he will co-direct the Third International Research Symposium on Development Studies in Africa.

The conference is the third such conference to be held since Asefa launched the biennial event in 2001 in collaboration with the Ethiopian American Foundation, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization of academics and professionals in higher education interested in education and development in Ethiopia. The first research symposium brought more than 150 scholars and policy makers from around the globe to WMU to focus on Ethiopia's development challenges. A subsequent symposium was held in Addis, Ethiopia, in 2003, and Asefa has spent the past year organizing the third event, which is scheduled for June 17-18 in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia, which is located in northeastern Africa, is roughly the size of Texas, and the development issues the country faces are common to the rest of Africa and to many other developing nations. Asefa says solutions to Ethiopia's challenges will have important implications worldwide.

"These experiences have brought significant academic recognition to WMU in the specific field of international development studies, focused on Africa in general and Ethiopia, in particular," Asefa says. "For many years, we have had informal relationships with universities in Africa and we've attracted a significant number of graduate students to several graduate programs. In the case of Ethiopia, in particular, our relationship has been very positive and these students have proved to be among the most successful in our Ph.D. program in applied economics."

An additional focus of the trip to Ethiopia this year, he says, will be to investigate ways to formalize some of those informal relationships with Addis Ababa University and other universities. More formal agreements could lead to short-term faculty and student exchanges to facilitate research and training as well as collaboration on future research projects.

"Economics will be the focus of the visit," Asefa says, "but there could be implications for other areas as well, since there is enormous interest there in such disciplines as geosciences, business, geography, biological sciences, mathematics, chemistry, physics and development administration. Some of WMU's graduate programs have expressed an interest in this initiative."

Asefa will be back at WMU for the start of the Summer II session and will use new information he gleans in Africa for courses he is teaching on sustainable development and African economies.

This is the third time Asefa has won Fulbright support. He traveled to Botswana during the 1987-88 academic year as a Fulbright Scholar. And in spring 2002, he spent five months in Ethiopia and South Africa as a Fulbright Scholar.

The Fulbright Senior Specialists Program, through which Asefa will travel this year, differs from the traditional Fulbright Scholar competition in that the Council for International Exchange of Scholars builds a roster of specialists in a variety of disciplines through an open application process. Applicants recommended by specialist peer review committees and approved by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board become candidates for Fulbright Senior Specialist projects.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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