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A McCormack Graduate School delegation led a negotiation simulation during Regional Environmental Diplomacy Institute-Africa.
March 1, 2016

UMass Boston Practices What It Teaches, Researches, In Ethiopia


  • Boston
"Our trip brought us close to a community of scholars and leaders, providing a tangible experience for research development."

Several UMass Boston faculty members and students spent part of the winter break in Ethiopia sharing their scholarship, conducting research, and hosting workshops on environmental issues. 

McCormack Graduate School Dean David Cash and Associate Professor Maria Ivanova led a delegation from the Center for Governance and Sustainability to Ethiopia to deliver an environmental diplomacy workshop called the Regional Environmental Diplomacy Institute (REDI)-Africa in partnership with the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre & Network (HoA-REC&N) at Addis Ababa University (AAU). REDI was supported by the Office of Global Programs at UMass Boston and delivered in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia.

The workshop, the first of what Ivanova hopes will become an annual event, launched in January after years of planning with AAU, which shares a memorandum of understanding and participates in a reciprocal exchange program with UMass Boston. President of AAU Dr. Admasu Tsegaye hosted the UMass Boston delegation and students and faculty engaged with colleagues at the university.

“It’s really a unique experience, both for faculty and for students, because it’s highly engaged scholarship,” Ivanova said. 

Professor Jeffrey Pugh, Ivanova, Cash, and several McCormack PhD students led training workshops on international environmental negotiation with leaders from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, members of Parliament from Djibouti and Ethiopia, non-governmental organizations, and university faculty and staff.

“It was an opportunity for the country to see how they are doing and how they perform compared to their peers—but also an opportunity for us to see the real side of what we’re studying and how our research really reflects what’s going on in the world,” PhD student Natalia Escobar-Pemberthy said.

Students and faculty from the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Coasts and Communities program also visited for a week as part of their Environmental Issues in the Horn of Africa course. The program, co-directed by Ivanova and School for the Environment Dean Robyn Hannigan, brings together students from a cross-section of disciplines at the university.

The trip not only immersed the fellows in the environmental challenges of the Horn of Africa, but also presented them with opportunities to discuss collaborative project ideas, identify areas in which they can engage in research, and establish relationships. Click here for more photos of their trip.

“The students are bringing to bear many different lenses,” Cash said. “They’re focusing on innovation from a business angle, they’re focusing on water impacts from a more natural science perspective, and there were folks looking at things from a policy perspective.”

Students visited field research sites that revealed links between those disciplines and enabled comparisons of the environmental challenges and opportunities facing Ethiopia and Massachusetts. 

“We spent time talking about the huge growth of flower horticulture … and we look at very similar issues when we look at cranberry farming in Massachusetts, a mainstay of agriculture here,” Cash said. 

For Professor and Chair of Economics Adugna Lemi, a native of Ethiopia and graduate of Addis Ababa University, the trip was transformational. 

“Although I have lived in Ethiopia for so many years, I was not aware of such huge magnitude of environment-related problems in the country,” he said. “This visit has definitely made me rethink and refocus my research agenda to incorporate environmental concerns.”

 Outside the capital, the delegation visited sites such as Lake Ziway, which reinforced how environmental issues impact the economy and the social fabric of the nation. 

“When we discuss development or environmental problems, we are often far removed from the experience,” said Nichole Weber, a PhD student in business administration and an IGERT fellow. “Our trip brought us close to a community of scholars and leaders, providing a tangible experience for research development.”

 Students also witnessed the actions that academics and civil society are undertaking as Ethiopia evolves. 

“I grew up in Brazil, a developing country, and have traveled to more than 20 other developing countries. Ethiopia is just different,” said Miranda Chase, another doctoral student in the Coasts and Communities program. “We met with leaders who have a deep understanding of how to use environmental resources to address social and economic issues. They have a vision for their country, and we all can learn from it.” 

For Escobar-Pemberthy, who conducts research about global environmental agreements and how they are implemented, the mission reinforced why it was such a good choice to take on her PhD at UMass Boston. 

“The research that we do has an applied perspective that is different from most of the other schools,” she said. “It’s not only the application of what we’re learning, but also how the teaching and the research we do really molds the contributions the university makes to local and global issues.”