ASC’s STEM-Africa held its 5th international conference, “Innovation and Appropriate Technology in Africa,” 18-20 October, 2019. The conference was a resounding success, bringing together scholars from across the University of Michigan, and from several African countries and universities. The conference delegates focused their discussions on the utilization of innovative and appropriate technologies to help establish positive change and development in Africa. The conference honored Dr. Moses Kizza Musaazi, and made specific mention of his legacy of utilizing technology and inclusive innovation to empower women and girls.
Provost Philbert gave the opening remarks at the start of the conference. His words highlighted the importance of working with various, diverse stakeholders to establish long-term partnerships through interdisciplinary approaches in academia and practice. He emphasized both U-M’s commitment to furthering future research on, and in, Africa, as well as the significance of the STEM-V conference in bringing people together. In the provost words, “it is face-to-face meetings that are what creates the lasting bonds and friendships, which sustain our projects and partnerships.”
The sustenance of U-M’s Africa-focused projects and partnerships is made possible by visits from, and collaborations with new, and returning scholars to the University of Michigan, including UMAPS scholars and alumni. For the STEM-V conference, UMAPS alumna Dr. Mariam Boakye-Gyasi (Department of Pharmaceutics, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana) returned to campus to present her research on the use of natural products as excipients to improve drug delivery. As a UMAPS scholar in 2014-15, Dr. Boakye-Gyasi worked with Dr. Steven Schwendeman (College of Pharmacy, U-M) and was able to access the U-M laboratories with the equipment needed to finish her PhD dissertation. After her UMAPS fellowship, she won a STEM-Africa collaborative faculty seed grant, which enabled her to continue the work in Ghana, as well as continuing the collaboration with U-M faculty. The recent STEM conference allowed the opportunity to meet with Dr. Schwendeman and continue their research collaboration that started when she was a UMAPS fellow.
At KNUST, Dr. Boakye-Gyasi leads a research team that seeks to find replacements for the expensive synthetic polymers that are currently used for controlled drug delivery. Polymers encapsulate the drug and allow for its sustained release, controlling the release of the drug over time. Dr Boakye-Gyasi is working towards the use of okra pectin as a replacement, which would reduce the cost of medicines, and also allow Ghanaian pharmaceutical manufacturers to use a crop that is widely grown across Ghana as part of their production process. Ghana has over 20 genotypes of okra, and Ghanaian farmers stand to potentially benefit from increased demand for it. Other potentially beneficial outcomes of the usage of okra include increased access to the drug because of its lower cost and local manufacturing.
The STEM conference at the University of Michigan produced robust academic discussion and debate across a range of diverse topics. Speakers interrogated diverse topics throughout the STEM conference, with major themes including the use of innovative, inclusive technological tools and methods in pursuit of sustainable solutions. It also allowed for the actualization, and continuation of what Provost Philbert called the “lasting bonds of friendship, which sustain our projects and partnerships.” Dr. Boakye-Gyasi emblematizes the importance of these opportunities, created and sustained by the University of Michigan through events like the STEM conference.