Seven international scholars are spending the year at UC Davis, soaking up expertise in the areas of agricultural economics, geographic information systems, water law and vegetable crop management.
The scholars, from African, Asian and South American countries, are not at UC Davis only to further their own research. They also study with a goal of solving environmental and agricultural challenges in their home countries.
For the first year since 1996, UC Davis is a host for the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowships, a Fulbright program that brings professionals from developing countries to American universities for a year. The program honors the late Minnesota senator, Hubert Humphrey.
Fellows in the program divide their time between campus classes, seminars and research, and travel around the country to speak with experts from government agencies and private companies. By spring, they must secure an internship away from the university in their field.
"The fellows go back to their countries and move on as a leader in their field of expertise," said Dennis Dutschke, who is coordinating the fellowships for the campus outreach and international programs office.
Fellow Esther Meela, an agricultural research officer in Tanzania, hopes to learn ways farmers in her country can better pack, store and transport vegetables after harvest. Tanzania is trying to develop an export economy in such crops as snowpeas, okra and eggplant. "We feel the farmers can make this step ahead," she said. "They just need the knowledge."
She's taking a class in post-harvest management, but she's also learning much from visits to farming operations from Salinas to Fresno. Meela said she's been impressed with the way farmers and researchers often collaborate to solve production problems.
Fellow Daniel Somma, an Argentinian national parks planner, is preserving rainforest habitat for jaguars and other animal species in his country. Here, he is studying GIS techniques with UC Davis professor Richard Plant and visiting with environmentalists at The Nature Conservancy and scientists at UC Santa Barbara.
"I enjoy the open-mindedness here in California. You can find new answers here," Somma said. "I think we need new answers for the future of the world."
The real-work applications of the Humphrey program are what distinguish it, says Beth Greenwood, executive director of international programs at the School of Law. "You don't just come here and study in the library," she said. "You identify resources you can use long after you return to your country."
Greenwood is mentoring Aibek Moldogaziev, a Kyrgzstan government lawyer helping the water-rich former Soviet republic make a transition from a centralized water usage system to one negotiated between emerging states. From his research with law professor emeritus Hap Dunning and officials at institutions like the World Bank, Moldogaziev will draft water usage agreements between Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors.
The fellows are also honing their English and computer skills in mini-courses on campus. In her Tanzanian office, Meela explained, researchers have infrequent access to e-mail. And office computers do not have Internet access.
UC Davis is one of 13 universities, and the only UC, hosting Humphrey Fellows this year, Dutschke said. Other fellows are studying at universities such as Johns Hopkins, Cornell and Penn State.
Despite some lawmakers' interest in limiting foreign student visas, Dutschke believes the Humphrey program will continue. It has the support of Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose undersecretary, Patricia Harrison, spoke to a gathering of fellows recently in Washington, D.C.
"In these difficult times we are going through it is in the interest of our nation," Dutschke said. Programs like the fellowship should help develop working ties between countries, he said.
The Humphrey fellowship mission in the U.S. also involves service. Dutschke would like the fellows to visit local schools to speak about customs and culture in their countries. Meela, Moldogaziev and some other fellows also hope to volunteer to build homes with Habitat for Humanity.
Some scholars complain that small-town Davis can be boring, Somma said. But he has found that the community offers enough culture for his liking.
After all, Somma said, "We are here to work as scholars." He admits, however, that he was delighted to find a pick-up soccer game Saturday mornings on the fields near Russell Boulevard. There, natives of Mexico, South American countries, the United States and other nations congregate. "Davis is a very friendly place," Somma said.