Veterinary college scientist named Beau Biden Scholar

Irene Sumbele, a medical parasitologist from war-torn Cameroon and visiting scientist with the Master of Public Health program at the College of Veterinary Medicine, has been named the 2020 Beau Biden Scholar by the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF).

The award is given to an IIE-SRF fellow who embodies the legacy of the late Beau Biden, former attorney general of the state of Delaware, in pursuing justice and safeguarding vulnerable populations.

Irene Sumbele

Sumbele is the third IIE-SRF Beau Biden Scholar, and the first woman recipient.

“Participating in the Scholar Rescue Fund and working with scholars like Irene is core to Cornell’s mission of teaching and research excellence,” said Provost Michael Kotlikoff. “We are proud to work with SRF and IIE to support researchers whose vital work is threatened by conditions around them, and whose work has made such a difference in improving people’s lives.”

Sumbele, hosted by Global Cornell, came to Cornell in October 2019 as an IIE-SRF fellow after fleeing Cameroon’s civil unrest and conflict. Her research has improved management of infectious diseases prevalent in Cameroon, including malaria and parasitic worm infections. She also led public health initiatives to reach communities in her home region.

Her recent research has focused on health challenges – especially those faced by children – in Cameroon’s conflict zones, where violence between government forces and separatists has killed thousands and left more than a half-million displaced and 2 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

“I am greatly humbled to be selected as the 2020 IIE-SRF Beau Biden Scholar,” Sumbele said. “This opportunity will enable me to carry on the spirit of Beau Biden’s work by highlighting the plight and health-related challenges of vulnerable populations in conflict-hit areas of Cameroon.”

Sumbele’s appointment, in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, recently was extended for a second year.

“Dr. Sumbele has been a great addition to our team, because her work ties together infectious disease, food systems and disaster preparedness and response, which are three key focus areas for us,” said Alex Travis, director of the MPH program. “The field of public health is all about making a difference, and Dr. Sumbele’s research truly does just that, identifying needs and helping the most vulnerable among us.”

Once IIE-SRF selects a threatened or displaced scholar, the program works with host universities to arrange an academic appointment. At Cornell, the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies connects the scholar with faculty and students across the university who share thematic, regional or methodological interests.

“Given a political climate that in many places around the world threatens scholars’ freedom of expression, we believe that we have a commitment as an institution – both academically and morally ­– to contribute to efforts protecting scholars under threat,” said Nishi Dhupa, executive director of the Einaudi Center and associate vice provost for international affairs.

Said Mark A. Angelson, IIE-SRF chairman: “Dr. Sumbele honors Beau Biden’s legacy through her research to prevent infectious diseases, as well as her advocacy for stronger health education and nutrition among Cameroon’s underserved communities.”

Sumbele is Cornell’s sixth IIE-SRF fellow; others have come from Azerbaijan, Côte d'Ivoire, Syria and Turkey, in academic fields ranging from horticulture to political science.

Elise Gold is Global Cornell’s director of marketing and communications.

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Abby Butler