Science Education to Enhance Development (SEED) Institute

A couple paves the way for future high school teachers in Uganda, Africa to get critical science and technology education.

In 2009, we retired from our respective careers, Paul as a cancer researcher and Jessica as a social worker. We now had the time to fulfill a life-long dream: doing volunteer work in Africa. Looking online, we found the Uganda Development Initiative, which works to improve educational opportunities in the country’s remote southwest. The local people, mostly subsistence farmers, live on the mountainous edge of the Rift Valley, several hours’ drive from the nearest tarred road. These people are firm believers in the value of education, as are we.

Our work was at Great Lakes Regional College, which had been founded by our host organization. There, Paul met a young local man named Caleb, a junior lecturer in Agribusiness, who impressed Paul with his intelligence and his work ethic. Caleb dreamed of getting a degree in Agriculture and working with local farmers as a soil chemist. Paul challenged Caleb to find a suitable program and committed to helping him financially. Caleb soon learned that he couldn’t get a science-based agriculture degree anywhere in Uganda. He didn’t have the pre-requisites, because his high school hadn’t offered advanced science coursework.

The practical experience that SEED students can learn in these teaching labs ensures not only that they will learn scientific facts to pass tests, but also that they will be able to apply scientific concepts to the world around them.

Advanced science was not being taught, we were told, because there just weren’t enough well-trained science teachers. After further discussions with local leaders, we committed to establishing an institute on campus to train high-school science teachers. It will train about 60 students per year in invaluable pedagogic skills. These new teachers, spreading across the region’s schools, will affect the lives and careers of thousands of young people. This will mean more medical doctors (Kanungu has about three doctors for its 250,000 residents), more veterinarians (for healthier livestock), and more engineers (safer infrastructure).

Our next goal was to build the facility. Through a personal connection, our project was referred to the Boston office of Perkins+Will, and we were assigned Anthony Paprocki as our architect. He was wonderful, taking an extraordinary amount of time to learn our goals and understand the building’s cultural and physical environment.

Ground was broken in 2013. The project stimulated the local economy by employing local builders and their crews, a structural engineer, and students from the college’s metal and wood-working shop; local farmers sold us all materials, including bricks, lumber, and structural timbers. The building harvests rainwater for the labs and uses natural ventilation. Solar panels supply reliable local power. We soon learned that the builders were not accustomed to working from plans or specifications. They work from pictures and make things work using available techniques and materials. Thus, some aspects diverge from Perkins+Will’s original design. Anthony saw all this as a learning experience. He found it endlessly interesting to see how builders approached their work without the use of power equipment or structural steel.

In August 2015, the SEED Institute was officially opened by the Prime Minister of Uganda. Four months later, due in no small part to this building, Great Lakes was accredited as a university. A project of this quality and impact is far beyond the capability of anyone locally available. It would have been impossible without Perkins+Will. Now the university has become central to the community. Enterprises are springing up to support it: student housing, cafes and stationers now surround the campus. All this promotes local pride and hope for the future.

Most science facilities in Uganda do not have lab space of the kind that SEED offers. The practical experience gained here ensures that students can apply scientific concepts to the world around them. On our last visit to Kanungu, we met several new student-teachers at SEED. One, the only female in her high school to take the A level exams, told us she hopes to inspire more girls to pursue an education. Another had lost his father and turned destitute. He hopelessly signed up to be a soldier before learning of Great Lakes. Now, his hope has returned, and he is excited to influence younger generations.

But what of Caleb? He recently graduated, at the top of his class with honors, from a degree course in Sustainable Agriculture from a university near Kampala. Entertaining six job offers, he decided to move back to Kanungu District, where he works as a loan officer at the local bank. He assesses farmers’ loan applications and advises them on the fertilizers and techniques that will maximize their production and help pay off the loan more quickly. We look forward to the day that the wheel turns full circle, and Caleb comes back to teach at the place he helped to inspire.

Looking out over the Ugandan countryside from Great Lakes Regional College's new facility.
ORGANIZATION NAME

Science Education to Enhance Development (SEED) Institute

LOCATION

Kanungu, Uganda

MISSION

To enhance the local people’s ability to work for their own economic and community development by gaining an understanding of science and technology

COMPLETION DATE

August 2015

AUTHORS

Dr. Paul F. Schendel, International Director of the SEED Institute; Jessica Schendel, Board of Directors, Uganda Development Initiative

SEED