June 20, 2005
IT staff and Emory faculty partner at Kenya school
Don harris is vice provost for information technology and chief information officer
It’s not every day that Emory is on the national news in Kenya, but May 24 was special. That day marked the launch of the Internet connection at Meru High School in Meru, Kenya. I was part of a combined Information Technology Division (ITD)/faculty team representing Emory that also included Ron Schuchard, Goodrich C. White Professor of English, and his wife and fellow professor Keith (both former teachers at the school); Alan Cattier, director of academic technologies; computing support specialist Ade Afonja; and multimedia developer Jack McKinney.
Also in attendance were more than 700 current students of the school, “old boys” (school alumni), representatives of the Kenyan educational system, and local and regional government officials.
The computer lab expansion at the Meru school continued a project began last year when the Schuchards worked with ITD to transport and set up computers that had come off cycle from student labs in Atlanta. The new computer lab was dedicated by the Schuchards and Senior Vice President for External Affairs Emeritus Bill Fox, in memory of Emory Professor Emeritus George Brumley, who was killed along with members of his family in a tragic plane accident while visiting Kenya in July 2003.
This year the lab was expanded, and software packages, like the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Human Anatomy and Starry Night, were added. But the addition everyone anticipated was the Internet connection that would link the school with Emory. As the Emory team upgraded and tested the computing resources, the enthusiasm of the boys in the school was hard to contain. Many found reasons to walk by the lab’s doors and windows to see what was happening. For those who had never seen a computer before the first arrived last year, the idea of receiving information from around the world on these same computers must have been hard to imagine.
After the work was completed, the Emory team enjoyed the fruit of their labors. Alan spent time with the school librarian showing him how to search the web; Ade conducted a faculty workshop; and Jack and I worked with individual faculty and students. The school’s response perhaps was expressed best by Kalothi Mwiiti, a 2004 graduate and student mentor.
“You have touched so many lives here in Meru, and most of all you opened a whole new world in my life,” he wrote in an e-mail. “My studies are more interesting and easier. You should be here to see how the boys are excited to use the machines.”
For someone who notched the school’s highest standardized test scores last year and aspires to attend Emory’s School of Medicine, this was quite a compliment.
We often think about what it means to be an international university—to play on the global stage. Certainly it includes world-class teaching and research. But it also includes having a world-class service orientation. The Meru school project has been a very practical way to connect Emory to our friends in Kenya, while at the same time allowing them to broaden their perspective of the world. One would hope such a connection would lead to further exchanges with faculty and students.
Yet there was another valuable aspect to this project that should not go unmentioned: The project allowed staff to partner with faculty in a way that benefits both.
That ITD not only sent computers but also human support was greatly appreciated by Meru’s faculty, students and administration, and we will feel the benefits of our trip for many years to come. It was indeed an honor for all of us to represent Emory through this project. I hope that in the future other projects will allow staff from throughout the University to join faculty in reaching out to our global community.