A delegation from the University of Oregon traveled recently to the west-central African nation of Gabon and signed an agreement that will set in motion a teaching and learning partnership intended to help the country move from an oil-based economy to a more green model.
Gabon has long been oil-rich, but with oil reserves due to run out within 20 to 30 years, the nation is looking to its other natural resources – especially pristine tropical rainforests and abundant wildlife – for sustainable economic development. Preserving Gabon's environment and wildlife, while its forests are managed sustainably, is an important consideration for many Gabonese.
To create sustainable economic development, improve the country’s infrastructure and increase opportunities for all of Gabon’s people, the country’s leadership has turned to the UO and its expertise in various facets of sustainable development to build a new kind of partnership.
Through the UO’s Global Oregon Initiative, UO faculty and Gabonese researchers will team up to study common challenges – in Gabon, in Oregon, and in other places - looking to balance sustainability, human well-being and environmental conservation.
“The UO-Gabon partnership is very exciting to me, as an environmental scientist, an educator and a sustainability scholar," says Brendan Bohannon, a professor of biology, director of the Institute of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and chair of the UO Sustainability Council. "We are already leaders in sustainability research and practice, but the UO-Gabon center will provide us with new possibilities for international leadership.”
In October, a delegation from the UO – including Vice President of Equity and Inclusion Yvette Alex-Assensoh,Vice Provost for International Affairs Dennis Galvan, Jay Namyet of the UO Foundation and John Manotti of UO Development – met with the Gabonese minister of higher education and signed an agreement that lays out the operational details of a new Gabon-Oregon Transnational Research Center on Environment and Development.
The agreement has been hammered out by a Global Oregon team over the past year, with help from the UO Foundation and many faculty colleagues from UO and partner institutions in the state. It has been approved by the Gabonese National Assembly and is administered on the Gabonese side by the ministry of higher education.
The Gabonese are making a multi-million dollar investment in their own higher education infrastructure and staffing, a small amount of which will help finance the new center. On the UO side, the agreement places the Gabon-Oregon Center with similar internationally-oriented units, such as the Confucius Institute, the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies and Global Oregon, in a future Global Studies Institute under the Office of International Affairs.
Even before the signing, the proposed center had attracted considerable international interest from colleagues wanting to find ways to partner with the Global Oregon team. Interest has come from Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution, the Albert Schweitzer Hospital Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community (UK), and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, as well as from several large corporations doing business in Gabon.
The center will have two branches, one in Eugene and one in the Gabonese capital of Libreville, organized as a network to foster the two-way flow of students, research and ideas.
Faculty and students have already benefited from the UO-Gabon collaboration. This year, six Gabonese students are in residence at the UO, studying business, environmental science, marketing and biology. The students recognize the importance of a sustainably managed eco-tourism industry in Gabon, along with an agricultural focus for the country that will not have adverse effects upon the environment.
One of those students, Gleen Landangoye, now in his second year at the University of Oregon, is studying green business and intends to put his education to good use when he returns to Gabon after completing his studies.
Eighty percent of Gabon is forested, says Gleen, but “we don’t know how to manage it.” He believes there is a way to both protect the environment and practice sustainable forestry to help the economy. He looks forward to his business courses helping him figure out a plan.
Faculty from other Oregon University System institutions, participating through the UO-led Oregon African Studies Consortium, are also eager to begin the collaboration.
Laurence Becker, Associate Professor of Geosciences at Oregon State University says OSU faculty members are excited about having new opportunities to expand their research.
“For some, that will mean developing new partnerships related to Gabon's tropical ecosystems, forest resources, and public health science,” Becker says, adding, “I look forward to collaborating with colleagues at the University of Oregon and in Gabon to examine land-use change associated with national parks.”
At the UO, Doug Blandy, Professor of Arts and Administration and Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, says the association with the new center supports the Arts and Administration Program’s goal to recruit students from African nations as well as cultivate research opportunities for program faculty and students.
“I look forward to exploring the ways in which my own research interests associated with cultural interpretation in association with digital media and learning can be furthered through a relationship with the center,” says Blandy.
Possible areas of research include:
· Forestry and Environmental Studies
· Endangered Species in Tourism
· Subsoil Microbial Biodiversity in Forest Ecosystems
· Riparian Ecosystem Health and Remediation
· Wood Durability, Harvest Reduction and Carbon Accounting
· Wood Products Innovation
· Alternative Energy and Materials Science
· Green Chemistry
· Young Women’s Health
· Ethnobotany and Antihelmintic Drugs
· Manioc Toxicity
· Medical Anthropology of Health
· Neurotoxicity of Hydrocarbons
Social and Economic Dimensions of Development
· Sustainable Cities and the Libreville Urban Expansion
· Land Use, Livelihoods, and National Parks
· Anti-Poaching Incentives and Economic Modeling
· Ecotourism, Cultural Tourism and Heritage Sites
· Environmental Law and Civic Engagement
· Cultural Cooperation and Media
· Archeology and Cultural Preservation
Specialized Training and Educational Opportunities
· COACh Gabon
· Neuroscience Trainings
· Distance Education Linkages for Primary and Secondary Schools
You can view the official agreement document by visiting the Global Oregon site.
By Aria Seligmann
UO Office of Strategic Communications