Study Abroad Wins Excellence Award in Interdisciplinary Scholarship

a big group of people taking a photo

Jonathan Choti, Assistant Professor of African Languages in the Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African Languages, and two doctoral students, Pauline Wambua (Ph.D. in Educational Policy) and Ja’La Wourman (Ph.D. in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures), collectively received the 2020 Excellence Award in Interdisciplinary Scholarship (EAIS) for their 2019 study abroad project, Sustainable Community Development in Tanzania. Choti was the faculty leader of the program whose curriculum included teaching, research, and service.

“We program leaders, the students, and the host communities of Naitolia and Mswakini villages feel so proud to have our work earn such recognition,” Choti said. “Winning this award applauds our work and underlines the significance of multidisciplinary, global/local community-engaged learning in higher education.”  

three girls building a raised garden with sticks
Members of the Agriculture Team working on a garden frame in Naitolia Village.


The Sustainable Community Development in Tanzania 2019 program, offered by MSU’s College of Social Science, was composed of 10 MSU participants, including seven undergraduates across six different fields of study. A sub-project of the Tanzania Partnership ProgramSustainable Community Development in Tanzania was completed over a six-week period during the 2019 summer semester. The project focused on teaching students theories of development, as well as different approaches to development and issues, and the history of development within Tanzania.  

Winning this award applauds our work and underlines the significance of multidisciplinary, global/local community-engaged learning in higher education.

JONATHAN CHOTI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF AFRICAN LANGUAGES

Using community-based work and field experience projects, the study abroad students were responsible for finding solutions to pressing issues in two rural communities of Monduli District, northern Tanzania. Projects included the construction of a dining pavilion at Naitolia Primary School and finding solutions to the issues of food insecurity, energy, water, and education in Naitolia and Mswakini villages. 

a group of men digging a hole in the ground
Environment Team members and locals constructing a key-hole garden in Naitolia Village.

“I worked with the Maasai village of Naitolia on the Environment Team where we assessed the biogas digesters previously placed in two households,” said Holly Pummell, a junior Environmental Economics major who participated in the study abroad. “My team conducted interviews, focus groups, and surveyed the villagers to understand the communities’ knowledge of biogas technology. We organized the workshops on investing in biogas technology to help the community find a more sustainable way to cook their food.”  

Drew Frommelt, a junior Environmental Economics major, also was part of the study abroad and on the Environment Team with Pummell. “This work opened my eyes to an entirely new way of living that is very different to Western culture,” Frommelt said. “It broadened my perspective on the world and on people as a whole. I also learned important communication, teamwork, and analytical skills.” 

two women painting a picture
Members of the Education Team making teaching aids at Mswakini Primary School.

Presented annually by the MSU chapter of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, the Excellence Award in Interdisciplinary Scholarship celebrates interdisciplinary research and recognizes excellence in teaching, research, service, or a combination of these. It is one of the only university-wide awards that recognizes teams for their work across disciplinary boundaries. 

“Winning the EAIS award is an honor and huge accomplishment for my team and I,” Wourman said. “My hopes are that it will provide greater visibility for the program and encourage more students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to participate in future Tanzania Partnership Program study abroad trips.”  

Man in a tan suit smiling at the camera
Jonathan Choti, Assistant Professor of African Languages

The Sustainable Community Development in Tanzania project was done in conjunction with three Tanzanian university programs that are partnered with the Tanzania Partnership Program. They include the University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam University College of Education, and Sokoine University of Agriculture. From these institutions, 9 students and three faculty members contributed to the project. 

(Top photo shows the entire study abroad team with the guest speakers outside a classroom at the MSTC Development Center in Arusha, Tanzania.)