International Studies & Programs


Sisterhood and shared joys in the African Futures Research Leadership Program

Support ISP on Give Green Day, coming up on March 12, 2024

Back to News

Published: Friday, 01 Mar 2024 Author: Joy Shantz

International Studies and Programs (ISP) is the hub for international research, teaching and outreach at MSU. The areas of work in ISP span the globe, and the projects for this year’s Give Green Day funds do as well. For Give Green Day, coming up on March 12th, 2024, ISP is highlighting three different projects from three different offices. Each project focuses on supporting global learning and cultural exchange at MSU. Our first project is the African Futures Family Fund.

Hosted within the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP), the African Futures Research Leadership Program brings early career researchers from across Africa to East Lansing for one year of research, training and mentoring. The new African Futures Family Fund, a focus of this year's Give Green Day, will support participants who encounter unforeseen personal or family challenges during their time at MSU. 

About the African Futures Research Leadership Program

The African Futures Research Leadership Program was created to address the gender gap in scientists in Africa, where only 30% of active researchers are women. The participants represent 10 different universities, and are considered early career researchers, as they have all received a Ph.D. in the last decade.

In the past few years, almost 40 participants have come here as African Futures Scholars. During their time in East Lansing, they work as faculty, focusing on building research leadership skills. They receive mentoring and attend professional development workshops.

According to program manager Justin Rabineau, many scholars are professors with overwhelming teaching obligations back home -- classes of up to 1,000 students, leaving little time for research or publication.

"We give them a year to dial in and focus on this aspect of their career in a way they don't get to at home," said Rabineau. "When they return home, we intend for them to get promoted, become leaders in their research fields and continue to collaborate with MSU while they do that." 

Looking forward 

As of this spring, AAP has brought four cohorts of researchers to East Lansing through this program.  This coming year AAP will take a break to evaluate the program iin order to make some intentional changes to the structure of the program. These changes include a new timeline to fit in better with the academic year, and new supports in place, like the African Futures Family Fund. 

Dr. Mogale and her children with the Lansing Lugnuts mascot.
Dr. Nkhensani Mogale with her daughters at a Lansing Lugnuts baseball game.
Photo from Dr. Mogale

Participants receive funding to cover needs like housing and healthcare during the program. But other costs such as extra travel or financial support for family members who accompany participants in East Lansing, may fall outside of that funding. 

“The African Futures Family Fund will offer no-strings-attached help for emergencies or other needs,” said Justin Rabineau. “When scholars face family stress on top of the international stress they already experience, we need to provide nontraditional means of support.” 

Meet a program participant

Dr. Nkhensani Mogale, a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Anatomy at University of Pretoria in South Africa, was in the middle of a difficult season when she learned about the program. She was working from home due to COVID, going through a divorce, and had a small baby at home. When she learned she could bring her two children with her to East Lansing, she said “I’m in!” 

Mogale working on her imaging study ultrasound machine.
Dr. Mogale works on an ultrasound machine, part of her imaging study.
Photo from Dr. Mogale

The adjustment was tough at first, Mogale said. From using public transportation to getting her children placed in childcare, it was a lot of changes in a short time and the support of her fellow program participants was crucial. They bonded over homesickness, monthly meals together, and of course their academic and research efforts. 

“This collaborative program gave us a sense of sisterhood, that we’re all in this together,” Mogale said. “Our frustrations were shared frustrations, our joys were shared joys.” 

Even after the program, participants have stayed in touch and visited each other back at home. 

Since returning to South Africa, Mogale's work has continued and changed due to her time at MSU. She received a promotion and started supervising a master's student. Her scope of research has changed to a focus on using ultrasound imaging in studying anatomy.

 She even traveled back to East Lansing this spring to continue her work with Dr. Jill McMahon, an Associate Professor in the Division of Human Anatomy. Mogale says visiting East Lansing again has shown her that the people she met at MSU are always willing to help, in particular to collaborate on research proposals. 

“When you knock on a door, people do open it," Mogale said. 
Help open more doors for women researchers from Africa. Support the African Family Futures Fund on Give Green Day!