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USAID To WSU Community: Give Us Your Ideas

October 2, 2012




American universities are teeming with ideas that could reduce suffering and increase quality of life in developing countries, the nation’s top international development official told a Wayne State audience on Friday, urging students and faculty to bring their research and innovations to the attention of the federal government.

Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), spoke at the McGregor Conference Center during a stop on his fall semester tour of select university campuses. The purpose of the tour is to highlight pressing challenges in international development, describe USAID programs that address these challenges, and solicit input from students, researchers, faculty and their partners. Shah said the diversity of WSU faculty and students, who represent 49 states and 60 countries, gives the university a great advantage in the area of international development research.

“We are very pleased that USAID selected Wayne State University as a stop on Dr. Shah’s tour.  It is a tremendous validation of our commitment to developing a state-of-the-art research infrastructure and to recruiting the best and brightest minds from around the world,” said Dr. Ahmad Ezzeddine, associate vice president, educational outreach and international programs.

 “Research doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it is motivated by the desire to find practical solutions to real-world dilemmas – and a great deal of our students and faculty have firsthand knowledge of the international health, hunger and humanitarian issues that USAID is tackling. Dr. Shah sent a strong message to them that they may already have their fingertips on exciting solutions.”

To illustrate the important contribution that university students can make, Shah cited of a group of Rice University students who invented an affordable and efficient battery-run resuscitation device that is reducing infant mortality in resource-poor areas of the world. The invention won a seed grant from the Saving Lives at Birth Initiative, which is supported by USAID, and its creators estimate that its use in hospitals across Africa could save the lives of more than 178,000 babies each year. Harnessing such ideas represents what USAID has characterized as a “open source development model” that empowers students, among others, to solve global development challenges.

Shah announced that USAID is launching the Higher Education Solutions Network this year to improve connectivity, communication and engagement between universities and research institutions, both in the United States and abroad. USAID has said its role will be to “create and leverage a virtual network of experts who are focused on solving distinct global development challenges.” The new network should provide university applicants with more substantive and timely feedback on their proposals than they have previously received from USAID, Shah said.

Among the WSU students who attended Friday’s event was Alban Ivezaj, a first year law student who earned his bachelor’s degree in international relations at Michigan State University. He came to hear Shah’s take on infusing development work with cultural competence.

“A lot of my undergraduate classes focused on the need to preserve local traditions and customs in the communities where USAID has development projects,” Ivezaj said. “I think it’s very important that USAID be mindful of this.”

Also in attendance was Wenwen Shi of China, who is earning her Ph.D. in political science at Wayne State. Shi, whose dissertation examines the impact of Internet technology on political participation and attitudes, said she was pleased to hear Shah speak about the role of international development in bringing stable and democratic political systems to developing countries.

More information on USAID’s “Fall Semester” is available at http://usaid.gov/fallsemester

Information about Wayne State University’s International activities is available at http://oip.wayne.edu or contact oip@wayne.edu