Kenya Bound

College deans aren’t a species native to the African bush, but this month David Rowland is packing his knapsack and traveling to the home of elephants, wildebeests, zebras and other majestic breeds. The Graduate School dean will visit Kenya Feb. 5 to 15 with Valparaiso University alumnus and adjunct professor Jacob Sitati, a native of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

While sightseeing isn’t far from the top of their list, the pair’s main goal for traveling to Sitati’s homeland is to build and foster connections between VU and academic institutions in the region.

“We want to use Kenya as a starting point for [building relationships in] eastern central Africa,” said Sitati, who in addition to teaching at VU is also principal at Chicago-based public affairs and policy firm Maurice and Fischer.

To this end, Sitati and Rowland have scheduled meetings with five academic institutions as well as the country’s minister of education and the Kenyan ambassador to the United States. One goal of creating these academic partnerships is to provide an educational opportunity for Kenyan students by making it easier for them to transfer into graduate programs at VU, after completing core requirements at Kenyan universities.

“Students might start a degree in Kenya and then come here,” Rowland said. “It brings diversity to our campus and allows students in Kenya [to afford an American degree].”

Sitati, who earned a master’s degree in International Commerce and Policy at VU, also understands the importance of academic partnerships between VU and Kenyan universities.

“It’s not just important, it’s vital,” he said.

The increased diversity resulting from such cooperation would also deepen the experience of American students pursuing advanced degrees at VU.

“It’s a two-way street. … Americans also get exposed to people outside their country,” Sitati said.

Sitati, who remains directly connected to issues of his homeland as executive director of Vision for Kenya, a non-profit that supports sustainable healthcare in rural Kenya, said he is excited to introduce Dean Rowland to his homeland. Among items on the agenda are visits to the Great Rift Valley that divides the country and to a Maasai village.

“I want him to explore the Maasai — how they live, their culture — even though the country has gone beyond that way of living,” Sitati said.

The dean said he is also looking forward to experiencing a safari and exploring local markets in Nairobi if time allows.

Rowland, who has traveled to Nigeria on behalf of the university for a similar purpose, said he is optimistic about the potential bridges his trip to Kenya could build.

“Often it takes years to nurture these partnerships,” he admitted, “but unless you begin, you’ll never have one.”

Written by Derek Smith.