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October 27, 2020

U.S. State Department Grant Funds Mountain-to-Mountain Collaboration Between Appalachian State University in North Carolina and South Africa’s University of the Free State
Appalachian State University (App State) and South Africa’s University of the Free State (UFS) will strengthen their existing partnership through a U.S. government grant-funded mountain-to-mountain project — one that will engage faculty, staff, and graduate students at both institutions in teaching, research, mentorship, scholarship and more.

Key project activities and initiatives funded by the grant include the following:

Developing two new master’s degree programs in mountain studies and community development.
Developing a leadership mentoring program for young Black women academics.
Conducting joint mountain-to-mountain research projects in the High Country and South Africa.
Installing five weather stations in South Africa’s Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains.
The $500,000 grant project, funded through the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in South Africa, will take place over the next two academic years (2020–21 to 2021–22).

“I’m very excited about this project, as it will provide us the opportunity to connect faculty, staff and students in our Department of Geography and Planning and the Center for Appalachian Studies with their counterparts in South Africa,” said grantee Dr. Jesse Lutabingwa, Associate Vice Chancellor for International Education and Development at App State.

Lutabingwa will co-direct the project with Dr. Grey Magaiza, head of the UFS Qwaqwa Campus’ Department of Community Development. Grant project collaborators at App State are co-grantee Dr. Kathleen Schroeder, professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, and Dr. Julie Shepherd-Powell, assistant professor in the Center for Appalachian Studies and director of App State’s Master of Arts in Appalachian studies program.

According to Lutabingwa, the project’s goals are as follows:

The development of a multidisciplinary master’s degree program in mountain studies to be offered at the UFS Qwaqwa Campus. Initially, at least seven–10 students will be enrolled in the program, with an expected enrollment of 15–20 students in subsequent years.

The development of a master’s in community development degree program to be offered at the UFS Qwaqwa Campus, with an initial enrollment of at least 10–12 students. In subsequent years, 20–25 students are expected to enroll in the program.

At least three joint mountain-to-mountain research projects are to be conducted in the Appalachian Mountains of the United States and South Africa’s Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains. This research, which will involve communities in the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains, will focus on social entrepreneurship; substance abuse; transhumance — the seasonal migration of livestock and those who care for them from one pasture to another; and rural transport monitoring.

Several senior women in academia at App State and the UFS Qwaqwa Campus will mentor at least 22 junior Black women academics at the UFS Qwaqwa Campus to develop their leadership and research capacity.

At least 27 faculty and staff will participate in bi-directional exchanges between Appalachian and the UFS Qwaqwa Campus for the purpose of developing curriculum, teaching and conducting research.
Faculty are expected to publish at least three to five research papers as a result of their participation in the project.
Additionally, Lutabingwa said one of the key aspects of the grant project involves the installation of five meteorological weather stations in the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains, which will be used to monitor the climate of the mountains’ highly fragile environment. The mountains’ highest peak, Thabana Ntlenyana, rises more than 11,400 feet above sea level — or more than 4,700 feet above Mount Mitchell, the Appalachian Mountains’ highest point.

App State and UFS Qwaqwa Campus faculty will work together to establish a wireless sensor network that can collect, store and transmit data gained from the weather stations. Several graduate students at the UFS Qwaqwa Campus will also be involved in this work.

“The Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University has a long history of supporting community-based research within the Appalachian region, as well as internationally in places such as Wales and Austria,” said Shepherd-Powell. “We are excited at the potential for our graduate students in Appalachian studies to work and learn with graduate students at UFS, fostering a shared understanding of global mountain regions.”

Dr. Geofrey Mukwada, associate professor of geography and University Staff Doctoral Program (USDP) project leader at the UFS Qwaqwa Campus, described the grant project as “one of the best things to happen to UFS in years.”

“Building research and leadership capacity is what a 21st-century university needs, and it is the basis for our sustainable future as an institution of higher learning. Many thanks to the U.S. government for the grant and to our partners at App State for their invaluable support,” he said.

App State’s long-term relationship with UFS formally began in 2009, with the signing of a partnership agreement.

About the UFS Qwaqwa Campus

The Qwaqwa Campus is home to the Afromontane Research Unit, one of only three focused mountain research groups in Africa, as well as the Sustainable Rural Learning Ecologies group in the Faculty of Education. The campus’s research agenda focuses on identifying the best possible strategies for creating jobs in impoverished rural mountainous areas and understanding how best to stimulate economic growth in those contexts. Learn more.

Journalists interested in more information about the project can contact U.S. Consulate General Public Affairs Officer Jennifer Bullock at BullockJ@State.gov, (011) 290-3244.