Baruch’s School of Public Affairs Hosts Two-Day Student Conference on Malnutrition in Africa, Mar. 28-29

--Students to Address Diplomats From Three African Nations--

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New York, NY—Graduate students in Baruch’s School of Public Affairs will have a rare opportunity to present their research on malnutrition in eight African countries to diplomats and policy leaders from the continent at Nutrition in Africa, a two-day conference at Baruch College beginning on Wednesday, March 28 and ending Thursday, March 29.

Seating is free and open to the public. The March 28 panel will be held in Room 306 of the Lawrence and Eris Field Building at 17 Lexington Avenue. The March 29 panel will take place in Room 301 of 135 East 22nd Street. Both sessions are scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm and continue until 8:30 pm.

Presented by student teams from Professor Sarah Ryan’s class on nonprofit communications strategies, the conference showcases the students’ findings on the challenges of disseminating nutritional information in several African nations, including Djibouti, Liberia, Kenya, Niger, Madagascar, Namibia, Mozambique, and Sudan.

Visiting dignitaries expected to attend the event include Boniface Chidyausiku, permanent representative of Zimbabwe to the United Nations; Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, permanent representative of Sudan to the UN; and Counselor Issa Konfourou of Mali’s permanent mission to the United Nations.

Inspired by a New York Times article on the plight of malnourished children in several African countries, Dr. Ryan asked students in her Communications and Public Settings (PAF 9103) class to develop real-world communications policies for combating malnutrition in an African nation of their choice. They were asked to delve into local politics, learning how the task of informing people on alleviating malnutrition might vary from country to country.

The students’ findings will also be published as an 11-chapter book edited by Ryan. Her hope is that her students’ work helps alleviate the problem of malnutrition in the continent's trouble spots, where more than 33 million children under the age of five are believed to be malnourished.

While the threat of starvation has typically received more attention from world media and donor agencies, malnourished children who survive often suffer from lifelong debilitating conditions, including stunted growth, lower IQs, and other chronic ailments. “I hope the strategies are taken to heart and implemented,” said Dr. Ryan, “and I hope that children in these countries will get better nutrition because of their work.”

To tackle the problem, Ryan prodded her students to explore the effects of everyday factors like religion and local culture on the success of large-scale communications campaigns. “We tried to determine what makes certain people more innovative than others,” said Ryan, using a framework developed by famed communications researcher E.M. Rogers in his seminal book, Diffusion of Innovations (Free Press, 2003).

The task of understanding how to publicize critical information about nutrition in African countries also highlighted communications deficiencies closer to home for the students. “The biggest thing that they’ve learned is how little information they can get about what goes on from day to day in Africa from the media.”

Annie Balocating, a student in the class whose group focused on the southeastern African nation of Mozambique, agreed that information campaigns require more than political backing to truly make an impact. “It’s been really eye-opening to find out about Mozambique’s approach to the problem of malnutrition,” she said. “The country’s in a situation where a lot of things are working and the government is committed, but half the population are children and grain is scarce in the region.”

Balocating hopes to combine her MPA from the School of Public Affairs with her undergraduate degree in anthropology to work for an international non-governmental organization. “I like the way that the course allows us to examine a real international issue and present our recommendations to people in positions of power here in New York City. It would be great to continue this in further coursework.”

Teammate Della Saju agreed. “We weren’t expecting this to become such a huge deal, but having this conference tells you that people out there are actually listening to you.” For Ryan, who says that she “knew nothing about Africa” before developing a passion for the continent’s issues as a student at the University of Ohio, the most important lesson she wants to impart to her students in that their classroom conjectures can provide solutions to real-world issues.

“I want them to know that if they do good work, they can change the world for the better,” said Ryan. “I hope that this book and this conference shows them that they can accomplish anything.”

About The School of Public Affairs

The School of Public Affairs, a flagship institution of the CUNY system, specializes in teaching, research, and service in the areas of municipal government, nonprofit administration, policy analysis and evaluation, health care policy and educational administration. The School offers graduate, undergraduate and executive degree programs. The School operates nationally recognized research centers, including: Center for Innovation and Leadership in Government, Center for Educational Leadership, and the Center on Equality, Pluralism and Policy.

About Baruch

Baruch College has over a 150-year history of excellence in public higher education with an emphasis on business. It is an award-winning, diverse institution and a senior college in the City University of New York, the nation's leading urban public university system. Baruch draws bright and ambitious students who are serious about preparing themselves to succeed.

Baruch offers undergraduate and graduate programs of study through its three schools: the Zicklin School of Business, the largest and one of the most respected accredited business schools in the nation; the Mildred and George Weissman School of Arts and Sciences; and the School of Public Affairs. The College also offers nondegree and certificate programs through its Division of Continuing and Professional Studies.

 

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