Soita Paschal arrived at West Virginia University this summer from Kyambogo University in Uganda with an ambitious plan to not only strengthen the ties between WVU and his university, but to increase the knowledge base of sport science and management worldwide.
It didn’t take long for Paschal to realize he had come to the right place.
“I’m really happy to be in the United States and very, very impressed with WVU,” said Paschal, a professor in the department of Sport Science at Kyambogo and first-time visitor to America. “I’m impressed with the facilities; I’m impressed with the management and maintenance of equipment and the programming is so exceptional. This is something we need.”
Paschal will spend at least nine months here as a visiting scholar in the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences. His title tells only a small piece of the story though: his trip is part of a broader plan that involves linkages between the U.S. and Africa with WVU as the launch point. More than a visiting scholar, CPASS’ first official visitor from Kyambogo is a pioneer and a game-changer.
His exit from Africa indicates as much. When recounting his trip to America, Paschal said his departure brought tears from the eyes of family members and colleagues. But the sorrow was mixed with other emotions.
“His family was sad, his colleagues at Kyambogo were sad to see him go but they know what he’s doing will serve the greater good, the needs of the African people,” said Floyd Jones, CPASS associate professor and Paschal’s host. “They’re sad but excited for him to have this opportunity.”
Paschal’s presence is another step in establishing a formal connection between WVU and Uganda in the form of a memo of understanding that will lead to research collaborations and faculty and student exchanges. He also hopes it will help him develop an international research journal that will feature studies from sport management and other scholars at Kyambogo and elsewhere in Africa that can be shared throughout the world.
Click to hear Soita Paschal, a visiting professor from Kyambogo University in Uganda, talk about his plans and his impressions of WVU.
“Research in Africa has always been kept under key and lock,” Paschal said. “But through this association (with WVU) we want to publish. If there are findings in U.S., or at WVU, let us share it. If there’s a finding in Africa, let us share it. We want to go beyond boundaries.”
The agreement between WVU and Kyambogo is a roadmap that will outline the goals of both institutions. Paschal said it will provide a key to talking with government officials and policy makers who can allocate resources and make other decisions that will benefit the proliferation of sport in Uganda and Africa.
“Once the MoU is signed, it’s the gateway,” Paschal said. “I know they will listen.”
Paschal’s broader objectives will be built through typical scholarly functions – he’ll be co-teaching a class with Jones, interacting daily with CPASS faculty and occasionally observing some of the training methods and outcomes of WVU athletes. Through these interactions, Paschal will learn more about WVU’s expertise and the feasibility of adopting similar programs at Kyambogo or elsewhere in Africa.
Athletic training and sport for the physically challenged are two areas in which WVU excels and could be adopted in Africa, he said. He also hopes to provide “best practices” insight that might boost performance in some sports, such as track and field, and perhaps revitalize a sport like gymnastics, which once flourished in Uganda but was significantly diminished when government leaders banned foreign coaches from the country.
“We participate in many of the same sports as you have in the U.S., but the performance and standard is what’s lacking (in Uganda),” Paschal said. “I’ll be looking at U.S. and WVU training models to see if we can use that to improve on our performance.”
Click to hear Floyd Jones, an associate professor in WVU's College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, explain the College's interest in collaborations with Africa, his vision for the future and the benefits of faculty exchanges like the one that brought Soita Paschal to WVU from Kyambogo University in Uganda.
Further networking opportunities will open by attending and presenting at national conferences and exploring grant proposals, Jones said. In November, WVU will host a meeting of institutions from the region known as the WVU International Sport Management Consortium. The group, which includes CPASS representatives, guests from around campus and other invited participants, will meet with several universities in Africa by teleconference to discuss mutual research interests and other opportunities.
Overall, Paschal’s efforts will be used to grow the business and education of sport in Uganda and Africa, both of which are rich in natural resources but lacking in infrastructure and technology.
Paschal said smart phones are readily available in Africa but have not traditionally been used to gather and disseminate information as much as in the U.S. Through phone apps, Paschal said, athletes training in remote locations could share performance data throughout the country.
“Most industrialized countries have this,” he said.
But given its diverse terrain and disparate governments, Africans shouldn’t expect their countries to suddenly be dotted with facilities like Milan Puskar Stadium or the WVU Coliseum, Paschal said. As a nation, though, its citizens can expect better access to existing sites and a boost to the training of coaches which will make expertise more widespread.
An organized approach is just beginning to take shape in Africa, which should help transform the continent into a global player. The inaugural meeting of the National Conference of the African Sport Management Association was held last year in Uganda with Jones serving as the keynote speaker.
“The people are absolutely amazing – warm hearts and excited about learning,” said Jones, who has made three visits to Africa. “The expertise we have needs to be shared with folks in Africa. The African folks that have learned in America are now the policy makers and experts that are moving up in their country.”
No longer lacking a national organization that will serve as a clearinghouse for ideas and administration, Africa now needs to maximize its resources and strategize about overcoming the barriers that have kept it stagnant.
“We’re interested in learning from the U.S. and doing things here,” Paschal said.
The exchange represents a significant opportunity for WVU too, says CPASS Dean Dana Brooks.
“We’re fortunate as a college and a University to have someone of the quality and international reputation as Dr. Paschal,” Brooks said. “I don’t see it as raising the bar for Africa or his country – we’re also raising our bar. His visit will be beneficial in terms of culture, values and knowledge base but, most importantly, he will give our students an opportunity at gaining a global perspective.”
That mindset is nothing new for CPASS or WVU. Through annual visits, WVU has built a solid base of students and alumni from Uganda and other African countries, said Tom Sloane, executive director of international and global relations. The effort also dovetails with the University’s Strategic Plan 2020, which calls for more global collaboration and engagement. CPASS began to formally seek international partnerships in the 1990s and targeted Africa as a nation ripe for collaboration.
“The enrollment numbers of African students from countries we’ve visited have increased significantly,” Sloane said. “It’s a great area to focus on for a number of reasons but, just for the diversity standpoint alone, we would like to see more Africans at WVU.”
By Dan Shrensky
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