University News

Grant funds African recruitment, support

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brown’s Population Studies and Training Center, a research facility that studies demographics, has been awarded a half-million dollar Hewlett Foundation grant to recruit more graduate students from sub-Saharan Africa and provide more support to students and alumni.

The PSTC has received Hewlett Foundation funding since 1978, but the program directors are altering how the money will be allocated.

Daniel Smith, associate professor of anthropology and associate director of the center, said there will be three major shifts in how the grant is distributed in to address “inequalities in the field of demography itself,” he said.

Over the last 10 years, the PSTC has graduated 74 Ph.D. students, with almost half arriving from developing countries, according to a University press release. But the program plans to increase its emphasis on the recruitment of African graduate students, Smith said, adding that “population relation issues remain paramount challenges.”

Smith said there will also be an initiative to increase the number of its female graduate students, especially those from Africa. The PSTC wants to “recruit, retain and place female population scientists,” he said.

The grant will also enable the center to place more importance on supporting pre- and post- doctoral students, Smith said.

Scholars find it difficult to “forge successful population careers” after they have graduated and returned home because of a lack of financial support for research and “scholarly professional networks,” Smith said.

Students who have graduated from the program will now receive grants for research and travel to other academic institutions and professional and scholarly meetings.
This is “supporting regional networks,” Smith said. 

To gain new insight into how the center could better allocate its funding, 16 alums from Africa were invited back to Providence in May for a conference, Smith said. The meeting was set up to “hear directly from our alumni what obstacles and challenges they face,” he said, adding, “we want to understand better what those challenges are.”

The change represents “a collective commitment on the part of the faculty of the PSTC,” Smith said. Those involved in the program hope that “other people will learn from our model and adopt it,” he added.

Current students studying at the PSTC are happy about the changes.
“This is obviously a positive move,” said Roland Pongou GS, a fifth-year graduate student from Cameroon. “I see it as a huge contribution to the field. … It increases our visibility.”

“I think it is a great move,” said Salome Wawire GS, a Kenyan researcher who has studied at the PSTC for seven years.