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Otterbein explores South Africa

Otterbein explores South Africa

Five members of the Otterbein faculty made a visit to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in August, seeking to establish partnerships between the two universities.

Members of the group included Professor Gayle Walker from the Department of Music; Associate Professor Kevin Svitana from the Department of Biology and Earth Science; Assistant Professor Anna Young from the Zoo and Conservation Science Program; Associate Professor and Chair Jacqueline Haverkamp from the Department of Nursing; and Associate Professor Greg Sullivan from the Department of Health and Sport Sciences.

“What I’m looking for when we are developing global partnerships is: can we develop a comprehensive partnership, one that includes student-to-student exchange, faculty-to-faculty exchange, collaborative research, collaborative development of programs, and staff-to-staff shared development,” said Provost Miguel Martinez-Saenz, vice president for academic affairs. “Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University provides us with an opportunity to have a footprint in Africa that spans all those areas.”

All five faculty members helped Otterbein’s South African footprint grow over the course of the 10-day visit. In addition to meetings at NMMU, the group toured surrounding areas and some visited animal reserves, including Addo Elephant National Park, Kruger National Park and Lalibela Game Reserve.

Walker, director of choral activities at Otterbein, explored the possibility of the Otterbein choir traveling to South Africa or, perhaps, a joint tour.

“I greatly enjoyed meeting my choral and vocal colleagues at NMMU,” Walker said. “Their choirs are quite good. While in Port Elizabeth, I was a clinician for the NMMU choir as well as the Westering High School choir, and I also worked with and conducted the Eastern Cape Children's Choir.  In addition, I attended the AChoired Taste Festival in Capetown to hear performances by the best choirs in the Cape, including both the NMMU and Stellenbosch University choirs.”

Svitana, director of the Sustainability Studies Program at Otterbein, thought there might be opportunities for faculty and student research at NMMU.

“South Africa has one of the largest unproven shale gas reserves,” Svitana said. “Part of what I do is look at environmental impacts and environmental awareness, and the feasibility of gas production.”

Young, director of the Zoo and Conservation Science Program at Otterbein, was interested in developing an exchange of faculty, particularly with NMMU professors who perform conservation research such as the effects of global warming on avian physiology. She is also arranging internships that would allow for two Otterbein students to study the endangered Cape Parrot next summer with the Wild Bird Trust.

“It was so amazing to see wild animals in their natural habitat and spend time watching them interacting in social groups and foraging,” Young said about her visit to Kruger National Park. “It helps put into context what we observe in zoos, and how that can compare to what animals are doing in the wild.”

Haverkamp used the trip to explore opportunities for joint programming with the Department of Nursing at NMMU.

“NMMU’s programming is quite different from ours as the South African Nursing Council has students qualify in specific areas of nursing such as medical/surgical nursing, obstetrics, pediatrics, etc….Whereas nursing students in the United States sit for one licensure exam that permits them to enter into any of these areas,” Haverkamp said.

“Regardless of these differences, NMMU would like to send some faculty here to look at some specific programming,” Haverkamp continued. “For example, they would like us to help them develop some type of administrative track. We have a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) nursing executive track, and they are very interested in that.

“In return, much student learning could occur by Otterbein developing a travel course in which students go and learn and serve in South African clinical settings,” Haverkamp added. “They have big healthcare issues in South Africa that includes large populations with HIV and TB.”

Sullivan, who teaches sport management, represented the rapidly growing Department of Health and Sport Sciences.

“Within Otterbein sport management, we tend to focus on sports popular in the United States,” Sullivan said. “In South Africa, their most popular sports are rugby and cricket, with soccer, probably, third. It’s not only interesting to note the differences in sports and popularity, but also cultural differences as to why those sports are popular—for example, how the entire post-Apartheid South African nation embraced rugby with the help of Nelson Mandela.

“For Otterbein students, we need to do a better job of sharing the idea that sports are global,” Sullivan continued. “They should understand why those sports are popular and that there exists an opportunity for those sports to become popular here in the United States.”

The partnership seems full of possibilities, and NMMU seems to agree. NMMU sent visitors to Otterbein’s campus in November 2014, March 2015 and June 2015 to explore opportunities for the two schools to work together to enhance what each of us respectively offers our students and faculty.

See more photos from the group's visit to South Africa in our Flickr photo gallery.