The Ties That Bind
Notre Dame official represents U.S. at Ugandan universities
Michael Pippenger was pleasantly surprised by the opportunity in September to represent the United States as a citizen diplomat building ties to universities in Uganda, where Notre Dame has a long history.
The State Department's U.S. Speaker Program recruited Pippenger, Notre Dame's vice president and associate provost for internationalization, to speak about a topic close to his heart: the importance of global partnerships in higher education.
“I got an email completely out of the blue in the middle of August,” Pippenger said. “In particular, they wanted me to deliver a keynote lecture, celebrating the centenary of Makerere University.”
Makerere University in the capital city of Kampala is one of the oldest universities in sub-Saharan Africa, predating even the independence of the nation of Uganda. Pippenger also spoke at Uganda Martyrs University, a Catholic institution in Nkozi, and the new Lira University in the north, where the Lord’s Resistance Army had terrorized the region.
“Dr. Pippenger engaged with senior Ugandan university administrators and faculty across the country to highlight the value of internationalization and share concrete strategies for developing global partnerships,” said U.S. Speaker Program Officer Sarah Boeving. “The program was a strong success and bolstered the United States’ image as a leading partner for higher education institutions in Uganda.”
Pippenger gave the inaugural Senteza Kajubi Fulbright Memorial Lecture to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Makerere University. Kajubi, one of the first Fulbright Scholars from sub-Saharan Africa in the 1950s when he received a master’s in geography from the University of Chicago, was vice rector at Makerere and a leading figure in Ugandan education. The Ugandan government promoted the event on Twitter.
The State Department chose Pippenger for a number of reasons. “I’m a Fulbright Scholar myself, to Australia back in 1997,” Pippenger said. “Also because Notre Dame is a top-producing and -hosting Fulbright institution.”
“So to be able to talk about global education through the lens of the Fulbright Program and international exchange, and to do it in a country where Notre Dame has deep roots because of the Congregation of Holy Cross — it all came together in this sort of perfect form.”
Holy Cross runs a number of parishes in Uganda, a country with a considerable Catholic population where English is the common language. Notre Dame colleges and institutes have historically been involved in research and outreach programs there, ranging from health programs in palliative care to malarial research and teacher education.
“International collaboration is essential to building bridges between nations, and we appreciate the University of Notre Dames longstanding engagement in Uganda and across the region,” Boeving said.
Pippenger said his goals as a citizen diplomat were to meet with the Ugandan university representatives about global partnerships, learn about their aspirations and work toward how to achieve those ambitions. He also encouraged students and faculty members there to apply for Fulbright grants.
“I felt really honored and humbled,” he said. “I was thrilled that Notre Dame’s work in East Africa was being recognized. And I also felt it was a great opportunity to showcase Notre Dame’s strengths and partnerships.”
One of those partnerships is with the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative. Since YALI was established in 2014, the Pulte Institute for Global Development has hosted 175 fellows from 38 countries for a six-week leadership training course, sponsored by the State Department.
“The goal was to hear their stories and to be able to move them back to a wider Notre Dame audience,” Pippenger said. “How has this transformed your life? And what are you doing now? To hear the growth these individuals have had as leaders and to hear how they have impacted their community was really heartening.”
Alex Kawooya, a 2016 YALI alumnus and tech entrepreneur, attended the event at his alma mater, Makerere University.
“Pippenger emphasized working together between universities for innovation,” Kawooya said. “I think his speech was great and emphasized the partnerships Makerere has created and can continue to create with other global institutions, and how much success that can create back home.”
Pippenger said it’s important to continue developing relationships among universities, students, countries and the State Department in order to increase the presence of Notre Dame in Uganda and Uganda at Notre Dame.
“How can Notre Dame help serve the interests of the country and serve in the interest of cross-cultural understanding, and increased mobility and new kinds of pipelines for scholars and for scholarship?” Pippenger said. “I feel very optimistic about being able to announce some substantive and tangible outcomes from it.”