College engages in (agri)cultural exchange with Senegal

Education abroad in Senegal – Virginia Tech from virginiatech on Vimeo.

By Amy Loeffler

“Ñit, nittay garabame” is a proverb in Wolof, a language spoken in Senegal that loosely translated means, “People are medicine for people.”

It couldn’t be more true of the cultural exchange between Virginia Tech and the West African nation of Senegal. Seven Senegalese graduate students now call Virginia Tech home, and 13 students from the college visited the country over winter break. The exchange is having profound impacts on students from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

“I’ve only spent three months here so far, but it’s already been very important for me professionally and as a scholar,” said Sekouna Diatta, a master’s student in the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences.

Virginia Tech students stand under a large baobab tree as they show off their Hokie pride.

Virginia Tech students stand under a large baobab tree as they show off their Hokie pride.

Diatta is one of six students conducting research in the department. Over the next two years, he will perform trials at research plots that will help farmers in Senegal grow crops like millet in the saline soil that has become a plague on farmland — an important task in a country where 50 percent of the population is involved in some type of agricultural activity.

Another graduate student is examining strategies to fight malnutrition with nutrient-dense beverages. They are all here through the Education and Research in Agriculture project in Senegal, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and led by Virginia Tech.

“The Senegalese students are finding out how the integration of learning, discovery, and outreach at a land-grant university can result in the whole being greater than the sum of the parts,” said Tom Thompson, department head of crop and soil environmental sciences.

Students from Virginia Tech say they have a lot to learn from Senegal, too.

They traveled to Africa for a 14-day program where they deployed a mango dehydrator and a silage compactor and demonstrated a water purifier, among other initiatives.

Aubrey Stephenson, a sophomore from Dumfries, Virginia, majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise, went on the trip to learn how to better manage global health.

“Going to Senegal totally changed my life,” said Stephenson. “I was nervous about what our host partners would think, but they were all very patient. I learned a lot about interacting with a completely different culture.”

Brent Ashley, a senior from Felton, Delaware, double majoring in dairy science and animal and poultry sciences, also felt empowered by putting his academic knowledge to practical use in a multicultural environment.

“Being able to take what I’ve learned over the last four years and use that knowledge to benefit others is a way to recognize that we may live in a small town in Southwestern Virginia, but we exist in a global community,” he said.