Skorton to speak at Ethiopian university's graduation on East Africa trip

When the first class of Cornell's Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree program in international agriculture and rural development graduates at Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia on July 4, Cornell President David Skorton will be there to deliver a speech. The two-year-old MPS program is Cornell's first degree program in Africa.

Skorton will visit Ethiopia on the first leg of a two-week trip to East Africa that will also take him to Tanzania and Rwanda. He will be joined by wife Robin Davisson, professor of biomedical sciences, and Alice Pell, Cornell's vice provost for international relations.

"On this trip, we will celebrate the graduation of the Bahir Dar Cornellians and discuss opportunities for collaboration with partners in Tanzania and Rwanda," Pell said.

Skorton, Pell and Davisson will arrive in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, on July 1, and will meet the next day with officials and researchers from several groups, including the International Water Management Institute, the International Food Policy Research Institute and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. The center, an international research organization headquartered in Mexico, is involved in the Cornell-led Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat program, which is fighting a highly virulent new strain of wheat stem rust.

Skorton and his party will arrive at Bahir Dar University on July 3 and will spend the day meeting with university officials.

The Bahir Dar MPS program, offered entirely in Ethiopia, focuses on various aspects of watershed management. Lake Tana, which is adjacent to the town of Bahir Dar in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, is the source of the Blue Nile River. This area suffers from extreme poverty, malnutrition, lake siltation, soil degradation and erratic rainfall.

Ethiopia is involved in transboundary water disputes with Sudan and Egypt, and the country's population -- 75 percent of which is involved in agriculture -- has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world.

On July 5, the Skorton party will travel to Mwanza, Tanzania, where they will tour and attend meetings with officials from Weill Bugando, a medical complex that includes Bugando University College of Health Sciences -- which will graduate its first class of doctors next year -- and Bugando Medical Centre, a 900-bed tertiary care center and teaching hospital. Weill Bugando, which is supported by Cornell benefactors Joan and Sanford Weill, is involved in an ongoing exchange program with doctors from Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC) in New York to train medical students and to help transform Tanzania's health care services. Sanford Weill is chairman of the WCMC Board of Overseers.

Finally, the three will fly to Rwanda on July 9, where they will tour the National University of Rwanda (NUR) in Butare, and Skorton will meet with NUR's rector, Silas Lwakabamba. The two university leaders are co-chairs of the advisory board of the Africa-U.S. Higher Education Initiative established to support partnerships between American and African institutions of higher education.

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Sabina Lee