Connections in Cameroon

Submitted by Nina M. Riccio on August 6, 2012

Fulbright Scholarships aren’t just for 22-year-olds.

Just ask Dr. Bill Taylor, associate dean of the School of Engineering. Last year, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to help guide the development of a new engineering school at the Catholic University of Cameroon (CATUC) in West Africa.

“[Africa] needs a lot done, and engineers can do the job. So far, CATUC, the second engineering school in the country, has admitted 70 to 80 students,” he said of the University, which has programs in electrical, mechanical, civil, petroleum and agricultural engineering.

Dr. Taylor is no stranger to Cameroon; he first lived there 15 years ago when he was involved with a National Institutes of Health biomedical research grant examining reproductive hormones in women for family planning purposes. This time, he taught three classes, brought over books and equipment donated by Fairfield’s School of Engineering, and helped guide curriculum development. His work continues as he finishes the final few weeks of his Fulbright from Fairfield.

Though each area of Cameroon has its own language, English is used in CATUC classrooms. “Students have a tribal language, such as Lamso, and converse with one another in Pidgin English. I have some knowledge of that language and am working to gain fluency,” said Taylor.

While his African students were very driven to learn, Dr. Taylor noted, the challenges are considerable. Among the most frustrating: the maddening pace of Internet connections, making it just about impossible to download books or programs of any size, and the intermittent outages of electricity and water. Lab equipment is in short supply as well – in fact, the students went on strike last semester in protest – so Fairfield’s School of Engineering donation of two digital development boards and microchips was much appreciated.

The semester was a family affair for the Taylor clan; Dr. Taylor’s wife, Donna, a Montessori teacher, came along and spent some time in the schools, while daughter Maryclare, a pre-med student at Loyola University Maryland, spent two months interning at an area hospital.

Established more than 60 years ago, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange

A CATUC bus readies for a field trip

program sponsored by the United States government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the American people and the people of other countries. Dr. Taylor anticipates further collaborations after the Fulbright grant ends. “Some of us are working on point-of-care diagnostics, using a laboratory chip that you plug into your smartphone. This is the way we are heading in this field and it has great possibilities, especially in low-resource environments.”

 

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