Study abroad — in Charlottesville

U.Va.’s ties in Africa bring foreign grad students here.

By Charlie Feigenoff (Ph.D., English '83)
Ribeiro and Kanyanga.

Ribeiro and Kanyanga.
Photo by Charlie Feigenoff.

Not since the days when Thomas Jefferson welcomed the most eminent philosophers, scientists and artists to Monticello has Charlottesville seen such an influx of scholars from abroad.  

Members of the University community travel more and more to other countries, and one result of the many relationships they have formed is that the University is increasingly playing host to students and faculty from abroad.

The department of environmental sciences, for example, has cultivated ties with researchers and institutions in southern Africa for more than a decade. Bob Swap, research associate professor, has been one of the leaders in this initiative; he estimates that since 2000 the University has sent 150 different people to the region and hosted 100 others.  Two students from southern Africa are in Charlottesville to work on graduate degrees.  

A meteorologist with the Zambian Meteorological Department, Joseph Kanyanga first encountered U.Va. faculty when he was assigned to advise his department about how best to collaborate with SAFARI (Southern African Regional Science Initiative) 2000.  “We not only embraced the idea but offered one of our offices, the Mongu Meteorological Office, as a measurement site,” he said.  Zambia hosted the First International Data Workshop for SAFARI 2000 researchers in August 2001, and Kanyanga came to Charlottesville in 2002 for the SAFARI 2000 International Conference.

Currently a doctoral student at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, Kanyanga is writing a dissertation on atmosphere-biosphere interactions over southern Africa, with Bob Swap as one of his advisers.  Kanyanga is also a START (SysTem for Analysis, Research, and Training) fellow, which has allowed him to return to the United States and work at the University for four months.  The START fellowship program is cosponsored by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, the International Human Dimensions Programme and the World Climate Research Programme. 

“In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve been able to link up with many people who are undertaking similar research,” said Kanyanga.  “It has given me a clearer picture of what has already been done, so that I can focus my energies and time on the remaining gaps.”

Natasha Ribeiro, a lecturer at Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique, also encountered department faculty during SAFARI 2000.  Thanks to a fellowship from her university, she is now enrolled at U.Va. as a doctoral student, doing research on the interaction of fires, elephants and forests on the Niassa Reserve, the largest protected miombo forest ecosystem in Africa.  

“Elephants and annual burning are the most prevalent controls on vegetation in the area,” Ribeiro said.  She is analyzing each of these factors individually, as well as seeing how they interact.  She will also be analyzing remote sensing data from airplanes and either using or constructing models as part of her dissertation.

When Jefferson founded the University, he declared his intention to establish a university on “a plan so broad & liberal & modern, as to be ... a temptation to the youth of other states to come and drink of the cup of knowledge.”  This is one instance where Jefferson underestimated the potential of his University.  Students from other countries, not just from other states, are now eager to do their academic imbibing at U.Va.