AFIT explores collaborations with CMU-Africa

  • Published
  • By Katie Scott
  • Air Force Institute of Technology

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio Air Force Institute of Technology professor Aihua Wood traveled to Kigali, Rwanda, in September to explore collaboration opportunities with Carnegie Mellon University-Africa.

Established in 2011, CMU-Africa provides full-time graduate engineering education programs to more than 290 students from 21 nationalities. Notably, more than 25 percent of CMU-Africa’s students are female.

The college offers Master of Science degrees in electrical and computer engineering, information technology and engineering artificial intelligence. CMU-Africa’s goal is to address the critical shortage of high-quality engineering talent required to accelerate development in Africa.

AFIT’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management is uniquely qualified to partner with CMU-Africa. As a nationally recognized Carnegie-classified high research activity doctoral institution, AFIT faculty teach and conduct research in the same science, technology, engineering and math fields as CMU-Africa.

As part of the visit, Wood toured the robotics and artificial intelligence laboratories, met with faculty and the Student Guild, attended a workshop on digital public infrastructure and talked with Rwanda Space Agency leadership.

“I was very impressed with the campus facilities and students,” Wood said. “Typically, when we think of Rwanda, we think of the genocide, but they have really moved beyond that and it is a very energetic place with many very forward-thinking people. I feel like there is a lot of opportunity for AFIT to be involved.”

While touring the robotics and artificial intelligence laboratories, Wood observed students reprograming robotic vacuums, developing new facial-recognition software and tinkering with other new applications.

“It’d be really beneficial for our students to be exposed to the types of research their civilian counterparts are working on and to gain an African perspective on technology,” she said.

Wood is investigating two opportunities to collaborate with CMU-Africa: the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Windows on the World and Window on Science programs.

The WOW program provides opportunities for Air Force scientists and engineers to conduct full-time research at a nongovernmental foreign laboratory, while WOS sponsors foreign scientists and engineers to visit Air Force scientists and engineers.

“I would love ultimately to have students from CMU-Africa attend AFIT because they have a really great talent pool there,” Wood said.

Heidi Ries, AFIT’s provost and chief academic officer, agrees with Wood’s assessment.

“(Her) initiative with CMU-Africa has excellent potential to expand AFIT’s technical and workforce-development collaborations,” Ries said.

Wood was also impressed with the activities sponsored by CMU-Africa’s Student Guild that focus on helping its students’ mental health and feeling of belonging. She noted an opportunity for AFIT to develop a comparable program.

“At AFIT, we talk about our students’ mental health and all the stress that they are under, and the CMU-Africa students face similar issues,” she said. “They have a Wellness Office that is staffed by two full-time practitioners. I think that is something we can learn from them.”

While in Rwanda, Wood served as a panel member during the MentorHer Africa event, discussing the topic of empowering girls and women in STEM with students from universities across the region. Through personalized mentorship, MentorHer strives to empower young girls to pursue careers in cybersecurity, governance, risk management and compliance.

“They offer 30 female college seniors an opportunity to work one-on-one with well-known international mentors and coaches for six-months,” Wood said. “I was very impressed with the students. They all speak perfect English, are very much abreast of the current technologies, and asked very coherent and intelligent questions. The young girls are very bright – you can see that they will become leaders in their fields.”