UMBC and University of Limpopo partner to grow research and exchange opportunities

On June 12, leaders from UMBC and the University of Limpopo in South Africa formalized commitments to collaborate through joint research as well as faculty and student exchanges. UMBC has steadily grown its international partnerships with universities in Germany, Japan, Portugal, Peru, and other nations around the globe. This is the first such agreement between UMBC and a university in Africa.

“It gives us a lot of joy…to be the first African university with which you sign an agreement like this,” shared Jesika Singh, deputy vice chancellor for research, innovation and partnership at University of Limpopo. “There is so much potential that we see.”

A man and woman in business attire, sitting at a table and smiling, exchange gold folders.
Jesika Singh, University of Limpopo (center left), and Antonio Moreira, UMBC (center right), complete the signing process.

This relationship grew out of the African International Conference (AIC) on Statistics, an event organized annually since 2014 by UMBC statistics faculty and international partners. Past conferences have occurred in Senegal, Ethiopia, Cameroon, South Africa, and Botswana, including statisticians from all across Africa as well as a dozen U.S. institutions. The next two conferences will take place in Ethiopia and Morocco.

Yehenew Kifle, associate professor at the University of Limpopo and currently visiting faculty at UMBC, first connected with UMBC during the 2015 AIC at Jimma University in Ethiopia. Inspired to build on the success of the conference, Kifle asked UMBC to partner on a grant from the South African government to support faculty development.

The grant, managed by Professor Kingsley Ayisi, calls for University of Limpopo junior faculty, some of whom do not yet hold doctoral degrees, to travel to UMBC to pursue doctoral-level training in statistics. Through a similar agreement, other Limpopo faculty will travel to Iowa State University for agricultural training.

Three men in suits sit at a conference table. Flags of Maryland, U.S., and South Africa appear on the table.
L-R: David Di Maria (UMBC), Kingsley Ayisi (center) and Yehenew Kifle (right) at the signing event.

“This is really a milestone for us,” said Bimal Sinha, professor of statistics at UMBC and a leader in organizing the AIC, at the signing. “I hope that once other African universities see this, they will want to participate as well.”

In addition to Limpopo faculty traveling to UMBC, UMBC faculty will travel to South Africa to provide short training courses in statistical methods. Those courses will specifically focus on how statistics are used in the study of climate and climate change, which is already producing severe effects throughout the African continent.

Maryland, U.S., and South African flags adorn the conference table at the partnership event.
Maryland, U.S., and South African flags adorn the conference table at the partnership event.

Beyond the statistics training program, the partners also signed an agreement outlining plans to pursue joint research projects, exchange programs for UMBC and Limpopo students, and other collaborations across a wide range of departments and programs.

“The way I see it, all sides have quite a bit to gain from this collaboration,” said Rouben Rostamian, professor and chair of mathematics and statistics at UMBC.

Man in a brown suit jacket and purple tie speaks at a conference table. Another man, in glasses, appears at right.
Rouben Rostamian (center) with William LaCourse (right), both of UMBC.

“This agreement goes far beyond statistics,” said Antonio Moreira, UMBC’s vice provost for academic affairs. “We are using education between our two countries and our two young universities—both less than 60 years old—to truly change the world by educating, training, and cultivating the future.”

William LaCourse, dean of the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at UMBC, is equally excited for the partnership. He shared, “We’re very proud to be here on this joint venture and to take this journey with you.”

Singh echoed his feeling. What started as a small gathering of colleagues from two continents, she said, “has very quickly developed into something that we can look forward to for many years to come.”

Singh and Moreira shake hands, alongside other signing event participants.

Photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.