Dr. Roseline Remans with villagers in Mwandama, Malawi (courtesy of Eleanor Cooper, 2008)
On Wednesday, February 18th the Earth Institute at Columbia University's Office of Academic and Research Programs brought together 30 student interns, researchers and faculty members in the first Millennium Villages Student Research Showcase. These students and researchers shared their unique educational research experiences of working toward ending extreme poverty through sustainable development in the Millennium Villages project (MVP), the groundbreaking collaboration between the Earth Institute, Millennium Promise and the United Nations Development Programme, designed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
In all, 21 students and nine MVP coordinators, staff researchers, and Columbia faculty members presented on the variety of ways that they have been involved in the project. Students shared their research and practice experiences in thought-provoking presentations that spanned the entire gamut of MVP research sectors—health, infrastructure, energy, nutrition, community development and others. The majority of the students were graduate students at Columbia University, but some of their colleagues from other universities who have worked with Earth Institute researchers in the past year also made the trip to New York for the event.
“It is wonderful to hear from so many brilliant students supporting this truly interdisciplinary project,” said Dr. Cheryl Palm, the MVP science director. “Seeing that their work has played an important role just further proves that we all can play a part at home and abroad as we work together to achieve sustainable development.” Palm gave the opening remarks of the afternoon to the standing-room only crowd in Alfred Lerner Hall.
The event was a rare opportunity for students like Sullivan, whose research had fascinating results about crop diversity and nutrition, to share their findings and experiences with their colleagues, counterparts and the Columbia community. It also served as a great way for students interested in working with the project to learn more about what work has been done and how they might be able to build upon the support and research already in progress.
“I thought the afternoon was a wonderful chance for me to learn more about many of the incredible projects that fellow students have designed and supported in the Villages,” said Clare Sullivan, a graduate student in Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. “Much like my time spent in Ruhiira [Uganda] last summer, the exposure to real people in real situations was really beneficial to my education and my understanding of the interconnectivity between the many different disciplines.”
Originally started in 2004 to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals through community-led development, the MVP is made up of 14 research village "clusters" in 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and has always engaged students in its work. Led by the Earth Institute, Millennium Promise, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the project is currently working to improve the lives of 400,000 Africans and create a set of models that will eventually affect many more. Each year, student support continues to play a more and more significant role in the progress and success of the project.
Sonia Ehrlich-Sachs, the MVP health coordinator and close mentor of many of the students, gave her warm praise for the hard work and intelligence that these students have exemplified. She said that she knows that students who decide to focus their energy working with the project are some of the best and brightest in the world because they have recognized that the project epitomizes the best of interdisciplinary work in academia. Sachs said, “These are the future leaders in science and sustainable development.”
School Feeding Program, Ruhiira, Uganda (courtesy of Edwin Adkins, 2008)
Another project leader, MVP infrastructure coordinator and professor of Mechanical Engineering, Vijay Modi, also shared Palm’s and Sachs’ enthusiasm. He suggested that potential intern applicants should not rush into working abroad, but instead get involved here in New York first. Professor Modi said: "Do something here and ‘get your hands dirty’ and then go to Africa and you will be a lot more effective."
To see seminar videos and other materials, please click here.
For more information about becoming involved in the Millennium Villages project, please contact Natalie Unwin-Kuruneri of the Office of Academic and Research Programs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
List of presenters:
EARTH INSTITUTE FACULTY AND STAFF
• Cheryl Palm, Science Director, Millennium Villages Project
• Professor Vijay Modi, Infrastructure and Water Sector Coordinator, Millennium Villages Project; Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia University
• Sonia Sachs, Health Sector Coordinator, Millennium Villages Project
• Raffaela Kozar, MV Community Development Sector Coordinator / Agricultural Institutions and Sustainability; Program Coordinator, Tropical Agriculture and the Rural Environment Program
• Edwin Adkins, Energy Sector and Research Coordinator, Millennium Villages Project; Lead Researcher, Lantern Project and Biomass Cookstoves: “Testing Improved Household Biomass Cookstoves: Ruhiira Millennium Village, Uganda”
• Roy Hyunjin Han, Researcher, Department of Computer Science, Columbia University and Jiehua Chen, Postdoctoral Statistician, Department of Statistics, Columbia University: “Automatically Finding Houses in Rural Satellite Images with Multiband Convolutional Neural Networks”
• Matt Berg, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector Coordinator, Millennium Villages Project: “MVP Village Network: Ruhiira, Uganda”
• Prabhjot Dhadialla, Program Director of Health Systems, Development and Research at Center for Global Health and Economic Development at the Earth Institute; Community Health Worker Advisor, MV Health Team: "Community-Based Health Systems in the MVs: Student Innovations and Opportunities"
STUDENT INTERNS / RESEARCHERS
• Adwoa Atta-Krah, MA Sustainable International Development, Brandeis University; Community Development Intern: “Participation that Empowers for Ownership: A Case Study of the UN Millennium Villages Project, Ghana”
• Piali Basu, MPH Student, Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health; MV Health/Nutrition Intern: “A Community-Based Program to Reduce the Prevalence of Severe and Moderate Acute Malnutrition Among Children in Sauri, Kenya”
• Kwame Boakye-Agyei, PhD Candidate, George Mason University; MV Development Strategy Researcher: “Understanding Stakeholder Participation in Rural Community Projects” – Bonsaaso, Ghana
• Eleanor Cooper, Student, University of North Carolina and Marie Aberger, Student, Duke University; Education Interns: Education, Agriculture/Nutrition and Small Business in Mwandama, Malawi
• Aaron Dibner-Dunlap, Student, School of International and Public Affairs and Noran Eid, Water Infrastructure Interns: "Measuring Water Access, Quality, and Collection Burden in Potou, Senegal”
• Sandy Eapen, Columbia University MBA/MIA '08, MV Business Development Intern: “Portable Electric Lighting Market Trial” - Mwandama, Malawi
• Fred Hersch, Student, University of Sydney School of Medicine; MV Health/Medicine Intern: “CVD in the Rural Setting: Mayange, Rwanda”
• Selin Kocaman, Student, Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, Columbia University and Infrastructure Intern (with contribution by Alex Zvoleff, former Columbia Infrastructure Intern and Student in the Department of Geography, San Diego State University): “Infrastructure Planning”
• Jenneth Macan Markar, MIA Student, School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University; MV Community Development Intern: “Building Capacity, Local Knowledge and Policy Support in Agriculture for Sustaining and Scaling up the Millennium Villages Project in Sauri, Kenya” (with contributions by Makiko Fujita, Difei (Vivian) Hu, Estefania Samper, and Harriette Williams)
• Ramon Millan, Student, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University Medical Center; Health/Medicine Intern – Ruhiira, Uganda
• Cyrus Moussavi, Student, Department of Economics, Columbia College; Media & Technology Intern – Sauri, Kenya (Video)
• Cindy Pfitzenmaier, MPH Student in Global Public Health, New York University; Health/Nutrition Intern – “School Meal Program, Koraro, Ethiopia”
• Emily Rubinstein, Student, Mailman School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology; Public Health Intern – Tanzania and Kenya
• Clare Sullivan, Student, Environmental Policy, School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University; Agriculture and Nutrition Intern: "Addressing links between agriculture and nutrition in Ruhiira, Uganda”