International Outreach

The Defining Humanitarian Challenge of our Time: The Suffering Caused by the Syrian Civil War

Over 110,000 people have been killed in the conflict and thousands have been kidnapped or disappeared. As the very fabric of Syrian society is torn apart, the war continues to harm the country’s highly developed system of higher education. To help address this element of the broader humanitarian crisis, UC Davis joined with several international higher education agencies and humanitarian organizations, including the Institute for International Education and its Scholar Rescue Fund, to undertake a Commitment to Action at this September’s Clinton Global Initiative to mobilize $7 million in emergency support through scholarships, fellowships, on-line courses, and policy-focused research to enable displaced Syrian students and scholars to continue their education and academic work in safety and security.

UC Davis’ role, primarily through the work of the university’s Human Rights Initiative, has been to conduct applied field research on the conditions facing refugee students and scholars. The first part of the project took place under the direction of Associate Professor and Director of the Human Rights Initiative, Keith David Watenpaugh. Last spring, he organized and led a multidisciplinary team to the Middle Eastern country of Jordan. The team met with urban refugee students in Amman and at the sprawling Za’atari Refugee camp, which is home to 140,000 people, UN representatives, and Jordanian higher education officials. It authored the report “Uncounted and Unacknowledged: Syria’s Refugee University Students and Academics in Jordan” (2013) Already a widely used policy tool, the report has informed ongoing relief efforts by the European Union, the Union for the Mediterranean and the Global Platform for Syrian Students.

Equally important, the UC Davis Human Rights Initiative’s work has been a key voice raising awareness of the problems facing refugee students and scholars, more broadly. Its work was profiled by Inside Higher Education, Foreign Policy, and BBC’s The World. Dr. Watenpaugh’s essay “Syria’s Lost Generation,” appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education and later in Arabic in al-Fanar, an independent publication covering higher education in the Arab region.

The Human Rights Initiative is planning to follow up on its initial report with research in Lebanon, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan. The hope is to identify regional solutions that can help as many students and academics as possible. “This research has been very rewarding and puts the problems we face in our own lives into perspective,” Dr. Watenpaugh observed. He added, “I have been deeply moved by the courage and resilience of Syrian students as they seek to continue their studies in the face of terrible conditions and horrible violence.”

Leveraging Information Technology to Improve Population Health in Africa

Julie Murugi, M.D., M.P.H., a 2013 graduate of the UC Davis Extension Health Informatics Certificate Program and a regional maternal and child health adviser from Nairobi, Kenya, combined her interest in public health informatics with the knowledge she gained in the program to found Altus Health Associates, a public health enterprise that leverages innovation in information technology for optimal health outcome.

Fueled by prevailing gaps in health care and IT in health care in Africa, Altus Health’s goal is to link to and synergize with health IT companies around the world for innovation and delivery of healthcare solutions. “I see Altus Health Associates becoming a global resource for health IT—for the developing world and beyond,” says Murugi. With a predominantly young African population that is highly receptive to emerging technologies, Altus Health has turned to social media for health promotion, including campaigns for breast cancer awareness and lifestyle and wellness.

“The impact of the [certificate] program has been profound,” explains Murugi, who has since been able to attend and fully engage in regional and international IT meetings. Looking ahead, Murugi also plans to complete a Ph.D. in health informatics. “My vision is to contribute to the improvement of the health status of vulnerable populations through research, programming, knowledge and skills transfer.”

One Health Halfway around the World: A Sri Lanka Summer Experience

Two months in Sri Lanka: Field work, lab work, home stays, bugs galore, world heritage sites, livestock pregnancy checks, elephant blood draws, elephant orphanages, shadowing wildlife veterinarians, One Health workshops, cultural parades, beaches, history, life long friend, esteemed colleagues, life changing moments. This was a dream come true for Ryen Morey, a veterinary student working with Dr. Woutrina Miller and supported by the Student Training in Advanced Research (STAR) Program through the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine to conduct summer research in Sri Lanka as part of a budding partnership between UC Davis and the University of Peradeniya in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Ryen’s summer research project was focused on such a One Health set of questions: Why is powdered milk preferred over fresh milk by the majority of Sri Lankans? Is milk quality or quantity driving that preference, or are there important cultural aspects that override the extra expense of importing large amounts of powdered milk? What are the human, animal, and environmental pieces of the milk preference puzzle and how do they fit together?

To answer these questions, Ryen worked closely together with students, staff, and faculty at the University of Peradeniya to conduct field surveys interviewing milk producers and consumers, as well as testing milk quality from cattle and bulk tanks. This pilot study has produced important preliminary data that will be published and can feed future grantwriting efforts by faculty and students at the two universities, facilitating future research projects and training exchanges that will breathe life into this academic twinning.

Ryen also joined up with veterinary students Rennie Putnam and Fiona Whitton and UC Davis Medical School Faculty member Michael Wilkes to present One Health topics to the faculty members at the University of Peradeniya as part of fostering cross-discipline dialogue and brainstorming to address complex One Health problems. This dialogue was continued during a recent visit by the University of Peradeniya Dean of Medicine to UC Davis, and has culminated in planning a joint One Health workshop to take place in Sri Lanka in fall 2014.

For more information, contact Woutrina Miller,SVM Associate Professor,

Improving Patient Care Quality and Safety across the World

Vincent Johnson, Chief Operating Officer of the UC Davis Medical Center, delivered the keynote speech to a group of more than 300 hospital CEOs at the 9th International Hospital CEO Forum, hosted by Shanghai Hospital Association in Shanghai, China.  He spoke about hospital management and what drives medical quality and safety at UC Davis Medical Center.

 The health-care managers and professionals in the audience said it was valuable for them to learn from a recognized expert at selecting and using the right benchmarks to improve healthcare quality.

In addition to his talk in Shanghai, Mr. Johnson traveled to Suzhou and Beijing, where he delivered several more presentations to more than 200 hospital CEOs and administrators at Soochow University, Peking University and the 2013 Beijing International Hospital Management Summit. Both Soochow University and Peking University have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UC Davis.

New Horticulture CRSP Center in Kenya Makes Three Hubs Worldwide

With the recent launch of the Horticulture CRSP Regional Center at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program—led by UC Davis—has successfully opened three centers worldwide dedicated to serving as hubs for horticulture-related activities in nearby developing countries.

“These three centers are critical components in strengthening our network throughout Central America, Southeast Asia and Africa,” said Elizabeth Mitcham, director of Horticulture CRSP at UC Davis. “They will share agricultural solutions with farmers, researchers and entrepreneurs in each region.”

At the event, visitors explored a technology fair and listened to presentations about horticultural research, including a talk by Dr. Kent Bradford, director of the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center. Bradford discussed his work with Horticulture CRSP using reusable drying beads to improve seed quality in Asian and African countries and introduced the concept of a “dry chain” for seed storage.

The center at KARI joins two other Horticulture CRSP Regional Centers—one at Kasetsart University in Thailand and the other at Zamorano University in Honduras.

The new centers bring together researchers, extension agents, entrepreneurs and business people to improve the livelihood of smallholder farmers and small businesses in the region.

“Now that we have the three centers, the next step is to plan trainings where smallholders—and people who train small-scale farmers—can come to the centers to learn about new horticultural technologies and how to apply the latest research results,” said Britta Hansen, center coordinator and junior specialist with Horticulture CRSP.

Horticulture CRSP and its centers are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide. Together with more than 200 organizations and 18 university partners, Horticulture CRSP builds international partnerships for horticultural research to improve livelihoods in developing countries.