Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
The second in a series of conferences on the vital role of mathematics in professional research and society at large was held May 2-13, 2011, in Buea, Cameroon. Like the inaugural conference, held last year, this conference was hosted by the Mathematics department at the University of Buea (U-B) with generous support from U-M, through the ASC and the Mathematics department—including contributions from individual Mathematics professors—as well as the African Mathematics Millennium Science Initiative. The organizational and international scientific committees included U-M faculty members Nkem Khumbah (Comprehensive Studies Program and Mathematics) and Dan Burns (Mathematics).
The conference was held in conjunction with a summer school and a workshop on “Applications of Complex Analysis, ” which both were partly funded by the France-based Centre for Pure and Applied Mathematics and UNESCO. The combination of mathematics-related events drew 109 participants from nineteen—mainly African—countries, including numerous Cameroonian scholars in the Diaspora. The invited addresses were especially good, particularly that of professor Edward Lungu (University of Botswana) on the mathematical modeling of malaria parasites. In an equally compelling presentation, professor Charles Awono (Ecole Normale Supérieure in Yaounde) outlined the pressing need for computational mathematics in the Central and Great Lakes regions of Africa.
Conference participants with careers in the US, including U-M’s Khumbah, Burns, and grad student Brandon Steward, put a lot of emphasis on meeting with students who might be interested in pursuing graduate studies (or college) in the US, Canada or Europe. Together with the EducationUSA representative in the US Embassy, Ms. Fatimah Mateen—who drove five hours from Yaounde to Buea—they held study-abroad presentations for the U-B students. At these presentations, and similar ones in Yaounde and Douala, some students warned of brain drain, asking instead for raising the level of training provided in their own schools. U-M participants took this opportunity to explain the philosophy of the UMAPS program, which focuses on capacity building at African universities and is designed to address challenges such as brain drain. They also highlighted the role of U-M’s STEM-Africa initiative, and encouraged Ghanaian and South African participants to nominate future UMAPS candidates.
At a plenary session before closing the conference, all participants committed to two lines of further action. First, they agreed that the issue of computational mathematics would be the main theme of the next Buea meeting, to be held in 2013. Second, U-M faculty agreed to collaborate in organizing another meeting in May 2012 in Yaounde, at which mathematicians from Cameroon will inaugurate the newly created Cameroonian Mathematical Sciences Association. Other regional scientists will be invited to join the Cameroonian society, and encouraged to form their own organizations in their home countries. As part of an ongoing project within the STEM-Africa group, U-M participants also agreed to try and create networks between mathematicians in the Diaspora and the mathematical sciences communities on the continent.
Conference closing panel on “Mathematical Science Challenges and Prospects in Africa.” Panelists seated: Dan Burns (U-M), Aline Bonami (Orleans-France), Charles Awono (National Polytechnique-Cameroon); Edward Lungu (University of Botswana). Moderator: Nkem Khumbah (U-M). Courtesy of D. Burns.
Study Abroad session participants in Douala. Photo by D. Burns.