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ASU professor part of NSF study examining computer science development in Africa

December 02, 2013

A faculty member at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is part of a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded study examining how computer science is developing in sub-Saharan Africa and impacting innovation in the region.

Gregg Zachary, a professor of practice at the Cronkite School and the ASU Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes (CSPO), is part of a team studying the development of computer science in Kenya and Uganda. The interdisciplinary research team received an NSF grant this fall to launch the two-year study.

“This project is an example of how journalism knowledge can be transformed into scholarly knowledge,” Zachary said, “and how journalists can bring value and assistance – through their methods, sources and knowledge – to joint projects with scholars from fields who try to understand how the world really works and why.”

In the past decade, a growing computer science research community has fueled new innovation, reshaping life throughout Africa. The study will analyze the impact of African social and economic innovation by investigating the development of computer science programs at the University of Nairobi in Kenya and Makerere University in Uganda.

Zachary is one of three co-principal investigators. He is joined by Jameson Wetmore, an ASU associate professor from the CSPO and the School for Human Evolution and Social Change, and Matthew Harsh, an assistant professor at the Centre for Engineering in Society at Concordia University in Montreal.

“Most of the work on Africa in technology and innovation studies has focused on the region as a receiver of technology, not a producer,” Wetmore said. “We are looking forward to showing the variety of ways that African computer scientists are developing their own solutions. The only way to really do that is to have researchers in the field who can observe the developments firsthand. Gregg Zachary’s extensive experience reporting from the area has proven invaluable in this regard.”

As part of the study, Zachary will conduct structured field research in Uganda, interviewing computer science faculty and students, and observing students’ career trajectories. Harsh will perform similar research in Kenya to compare and contrast computer science capacity in the two countries.

“Journalism can be useful to scholarship and research,” said Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School. “This project is an excellent example of how our faculty can create new knowledge in the research community by collaborating with experts from other disciplines.”

The research team has significant experience working in sub-Saharan Africa. Harsh has studied agricultural biotechnology innovation in Kenya. Zachary has made numerous trips to sub-Saharan Africa, examining innovation as a scholar, as well as reporting on the topic as a journalist for publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy magazine, Spectrum and The Atlantic.

Zachary is the author of two books on the region, including “Married to Africa: A Love Story” and “Hotel Africa: The Politics of Escape.” He is also the author of “The Diversity Advantage,” on multiculturalism and economics, and a biography, “Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century."