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Press Release: Growing Uganda’s Next Generation of Technology Leaders: Applications Open for Cutting-Edge Student Training Program

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May 3, 2021—The Marconi Society today announced that applications are open for the Celestini Program, a workforce development and STEM education initiative that pairs underrepresented students with training, mentorship, funding, and meaningful opportunities to use new technologies to make a difference in their local communities. 

This project is a partnership with the Research Education Network for Uganda (RENU), a cooperative research and education network of Ugandan institutions, ResilientAfrica Network (RANLab), a research and innovation partnership of 23 African universities that nurtures and scales innovations from its member organizations, and Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC), a global leader in network technology and workforce development. 

“We envision a future where practitioners of communications technology are as diverse as the population they need to serve,” says Samantha Schartman-Cycyk, Executive Director of the Marconi Society. “Through this partnership, we bring together decades of experience in networks, mentorship, and workforce training to provide hands-on experience to students who will define the future of STEM.”

“Our vision is to create a national research and education environment in which Uganda’s researchers and scholars effectively contribute to knowledge creation, dissemination and application in solving society’s problems through local and international collaboration,” says Nicholas Mbonimpa, RENU’s Chief Executive Officer. “ This partnership provides a very good opportunity for students and researchers of our member institutions to acquire skills and develop their concepts and ideas into solutions for our community.”

“Our mission is to strengthen resilience in Africa through University-led local innovative solutions using evidenced-based approaches,” says Professor William Bazeyo, RAN Chief of Party/Lab Director. “This partnership is yet another opportunity for our students, innovators, and researchers to positively contribute to addressing diverse and complex challenges in the communities in which we live and serve. As we implement this project activities, we shall also largely leverage RAN’s innovation management expertise and experience to grow community members including ICT faculty and students’’, Prof. Bazeyo added.

The program consists of two tracks:

  • The eduroam: Expanding Remote Access to Information track will provide job training and opportunities in network services management while vastly expanding student and faculty access to university resources on- and off-campus. 
  • The LoRaWAN: Sensor Networks Solving Local Problems track offers students the chance to learn about and use the cutting-edge Long-Range Wide Area Network technology, exploring the solutions this network could offer to community problems. 

All student applicants must be enrolled at a RENU member university to be considered.

eduroam: Expanding Remote Access to Information 

Applications due May 28, 2021

This workforce development initiative is for undergraduate students entering their final year of university and provides the opportunity to gain skills in identity management and database administration, mentorship from global leaders in Information and Communications Technology (ICT), and post-program engagement managing their university’s rollout of eduroam.

By deploying and maintaining this technology across universities in Uganda, this project aims to develop a more robust infrastructure of interconnected higher education institutions by widening access to educational resources and communications. The program runs for eight weeks, after which students will be required to support the ICT team of their university during their final year to manage the ongoing administrative and technical responsibilities of the service, possibly leading to future jobs in these areas.

Students must be enrolled in and pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, software engineering, or telecommunications engineering at the time of application.

Applications open May 1 and are due by the end of the day, May 28, EAT. The program runs for eight weeks, from Monday, June 21 through Friday, August 20 . Participating students must attend an on-site training in Kampala at the RENU Secretariat.

LoRaWAN: Sensor Networks Solving Local Problems

Applications due June 18, 2021

This initiative is for graduate (Master’s or PhD) student proposals to use a LoRaWAN (Long-Range Wide Area Network) environment to create technology proofs of concept that address local community needs, with guidance from mentors who are global leaders in ICT, technical and equipment support from NSRC, and funding up to $5,000 per project from the Marconi Society. 

NSRC will partner with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Italy to provide technical support, training materials, and assist Ugandan faculty researchers and students with procuring sensors and LoRaWAN gateway equipment to enable sustainable deployments in the field.

The goal of this track is to allow students to get hands-on experience using new technology while partnering with the community and thinking creatively about user-focused applications. In order to ensure community input, each project should include collaboration with at least one community-based organization. 

Applications open May 1 and are due by the end of the day, June 18, EAT. The program runs through the 2021–2022 academic year, beginning August 1, 2021. It is designed to be compatible with a full course load. While student applicants are not required to be enrolled in technical programs, it is suggested that applicants outside of ICT-based fields enlist a collaborator with the skills to use LoRaWAN technology.

History of the Program

Celestini: Uganda is an extension of the Celestini Program, the Marconi Society’s experiential learning initiative developed by its Paul Baran Young Scholars. It aims to create a strong and diverse engineering profession by pairing students with resources to gain hands-on technical experience while pursuing projects that address community needs.

Past student-led projects include using sensing technology to monitor air quality in India, addressing water waste in Colombia using Internet of Things technology and machine learning, and increasing civic engagement in Rwanda through a mobile application.

The Celestini Program operates using a partnership model, wherein a local institution collaborates with leaders in the Marconi Society’s network to empower students to use new technologies to address local problems with guidance from leaders in ICT. 

About the Marconi Society

The Marconi Society envisions a world in which everyone can create opportunity through the benefits of connectivity. The organization celebrates, inspires, and connects individuals building tomorrow’s technologies in service of a digitally inclusive world.

About the Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC)

The Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC) works directly with the indigenous network engineers and operators who develop and maintain the Internet infrastructure in their respective countries and regions by providing technical information, engineering assistance, training, donations of networking books, equipment and other resources.

About Research Education Network for Uganda (RENU)

Research and Education Network for Uganda (RENU) is a nonprofit National Research and Education Network (NREN) that offers affordable services uniquely designed to enable collaboration among its member institutions and their global partners. The network is a cooperatively owned and community-driven service provider that helps to facilitate research and education networking among its member institutions.

About ResilientAfrica Network (RANLab)

The ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), funded by USAID, is a research and innovation partnership of 23 Universities across 16 African countries led by Makerere University. RAN strengthens and builds the resilience of African communities by identifying, nurturing and scaling cross disciplinary innovations to respond to community most pressing challenges.

Support

The Celestini Program is supported by the Thornton Tomasetti Foundation.

Contact:

Caroline Tuhwezeine
Communications Officer, RENU
communications[at]renu.ac.ug

Harriet Adong
Director of Communications, Learning & Knowledge, RANLab
hadong[at]ranlab.org

Taia Pandolfi
Marketing & Communications Manager, the Marconi Society
taia[at]marconisociety.org

Agriculture & Environment

Press Release: Twenty Two (22) winners of RUFORUM Young African Entrepreneurs Competition 2021 announced

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Delegates brainstorm during the 15th RUFORUM AGM held at the University of Cape Coast (UCC) in Ghana from 2-6 December, 2019. Photo credit: RUFORUM

The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) is pleased to announce the 22 winners of the 2021 RUFORUM Young African Entrepreneurs Competition. The competition attracted 340 applications from 26 countries in Africa namely Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Cote d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somali, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia.

The following three-stage process was undertaken to identify the top 22 winners:

  1. All 340 applications were reviewed for compliance to the call guidelines
  2. A total of 319 (93.9%) applications were compliant and were each evaluated by three independent assessors
  3. Top 22 applications were selected basing on mean scores from the three independent evaluators.

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MoES, Council Commend Progress on DARP Project

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A screenshot of the Chairperson of Council, Mrs. Lorna Magara delivering her remarks at DARP Phase 1 Dissemination Event on 1st September 2021.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) represented by the Director Education Standards, Dr. Kedrace Turyagyenda and the Chairperson of Council, Mrs. Lorna Magara have commended the progress made by the Digitalizing of Academic Records and Processes (DARP) project so far. DARP is a collaboration between the Department of the Academic Registrar (AR), the East African School of Library and Information Science (EASLIS), Directorate for ICT Support (DICTS), and School of Education.

Funded by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF), the ultimate goal of the DARP project is to improve the status of both undergraduate and graduate academic records by preserving them, converting them into digital form, and automating academic processes for e-service delivery.

In her remarks at the blended dissemination event held on 1st September 2021, Dr. Turyagyenda who was part of the virtual audience congratulated the Makerere University Management and the Department of Academic Registrar upon embracing the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) by using ICT to strengthen its document retrieval processes.

“As you are aware, Makerere University is not only the mother University for Uganda but for East and Central Africa. It should always be ahead and set an example for the rest” noted Dr. Turyagyenda who added that the project was in line with the National e-Government Policy Framework.

She congratulated Makerere upon completing the first phase of the three-year project but nevertheless requested that the remaining phases be completed promptly so as to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.

“I am really delighted to join you on the occasion of presenting yet another digitisation initiative at Makerere University” admitted the Chairperson of Council as she began her remarks.

Mrs. Magara noted that the digitisation of all university processes is the core target of the Council. This is illustrated by the ongoing initiatives such as the e-Human Resource Management System (e-HRMS), Academic Records Information System (MakARIS), digitisation of Financial Management process among others. She added that the DARP project was in line with the second goal of the university strategic plan that focuses on fostering innovations in teaching and learning that respond to the changing environment.

“The sudden change of our work environment following the outbreak of COVID-19 almost two years ago demands that we fast track initiatives to deliver services with limited physical contact. I see the digitisation of our academic records as a crucial step in adapting to the new working environment” she explained.

The Chairperson of Council nevertheless urged the University to develop a risk profile and management plan for e-resources to guard against the challenges of digitisation such as system failures and data piracy. “We must ensure that university systems have the necessary protection against these risks.”

The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe
The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe

The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe noted that digitisation of student records has been of great concern to the University Council and Management, given the physical nature and age of some of the records. He therefore thanked the Government for providing funds to support the DARP project through Mak-RIF, and the commitment to continue providing resources for research and innovations at the institution.

Prof. Nawangwe equally thanked the Chairperson and Members of Council for their continual support to Management in the execution of various initiatives and institutional programmes. “The issue of digitisation has been one of the most important issues the Chairperson has been emphasisng to us and we thank Council for their leadership and support.”

The Vice Chancellor announced the University Management’s recommendation that part of the relief funding by the MasterCard Foundation to Makerere University following the fire that gutted the Main Building be allocated to support the DARP project to its conclusive end. The announcement was received with thunderous applause from the team and engagement participants.

The Academic Registrar, Mr. Alfred Masikye Namoah while inviting the Principal Investigator Mrs. Patience Mushengyezi to share project updates and achievements also thanked Government for supporting the non-funded priority areas in Makerere University. He additionally applauded Prof. William Bazeyo, the Head Grants Administration and Management Support Unit (GAMSU) and Chairperson Mak-RIF GMC for leading efforts on resource mobilization for the university noting that these resources have benefited university scholars, students and even partners outside the university. He emphasized the need to work even harder to accomplish already running projects including the DARP project.

Making a presentation on what had been achieved under Phase I of the DARP project, the Principal Investigator (PI), Mrs. Patience Mushengyezi thanked the Government, University Council, Management and the Mak-RIF Grants Management Committee (GMC) headed by Prof. William Bazeyo for the funding and support that had propelled the project to its present stage. She paid tribute to the Ag. Deputy Vice Chancellor (Finance and Administration), Dr. Josephine Nabukenya for the guidance during the grant preparation stage as well as the Academic Registrar, Mr. Alfred Masikye Namoah and Directorate of Research and Graduate Training (DRGT) leadership for supervising the project.

Mrs. Mushengyezi introduced members of her team who included; Archivist-Dr. David Luyombya, Project Coordinator/ Administration-Dr. Peace B. Tumuheki-Mukombe, ICT Specialist/Administrator Records-Ms. Ruth Iteu Eyoku, Database Managers-Mr. Tonny Oluka and Mr. Juma Katongole, Monitoring and Evaluation in-charge-Dr. Betty Akullu Ezati and Project Accountant-Mr. Gyaviira Lubowa.

The DARP PI-Mrs. Patience Mushengyezi (2nd L) and the Academic Registrar-Mr. Alfred Masikye Namoah (L) give the Head GAMSU & Chairperson Mak-RIF GMC-Prof. William Bazeyo (2nd R) and Deputy Director DRGT-Dr. Robert Wamala (R) a guided tour of one of the storage rooms on 27th April 2021, Senate Building, Makerere University. Photo credit: Mak-RIF

The PI shared that DARP is a multiyear project made up of the following three phases;

Phase 1: Planning/preparation for system design

  • Identification and classification of records
  • Physical organisation of records (sorting, arranging, labelling, archiving)
  • Study visits

Phase 2: System Design and Implementation

  • Scanning, archiving, data entry
  • Digitizing records and automation of processes
  • Policy formulation and approval
  • Refurbishment of the Senate conference Hall for provision of ICT services

Phase 3: Implementation and Evaluation

  • Installation of Records Management System
  • Establishing a Records Verification and Certification Centre

Mrs. Mushengyezi shared that as a result of completion of Phase 1, the DARP project had; Sorted and cleaned at least 80% of undergraduate students’ results and files, Established 50% inventory of existing records, Recorded and labelled Senate minutes and records, Opened files for vital documents and closed redundant files, as well as Archived, labelled and systematically shelved boxes containing records.

Furthermore, the reorganisation had; Helped redeem space while creating a better working environment, Prepared records for digitisation under Phase 2, Facilitated easy retrieval of records, Conserved and preserved records – some over 50 years old, and Equipped 10 students of Bachelor of Records and Archives Management and Bachelor of Library and Information Science with hands-on experience.

The PI recommended that funds should be availed to help procure modern records storage facilities such as electronic rotating shelves, which help ensure efficient space utilisation. She further recommended that Makerere should identify land where an off-site record storage facility can be constructed and safely secured for university records. This, she added, could act as an income generating facility, whereby government and non-government entities could be allowed to store their records at a fee.

The DARP PI-Mrs. Patience Mushengyezi (L) and Head GAMSU & Chairperson Mak-RIF GMC-Prof. William Bazeyo (R) inspect one of the storage rooms on 27th April 2021, Senate Building, Makerere University

Appreciating the importance and long overdue implementation of the DARP project, Prof. William Bazeyo the Head Grants Administration and Management Support Unit (GAMSU) and Chairperson Mak-RIF GMC announced that funding had already been earmarked for Phases 2 and 3 of the project.

“I would like to affirm to the Academic Registrar that of the resources we received, one of the projects Makerere will be happy to support is DARP Phases 2 and 3. The GMC has approved these subsequent phases because this is something we think we ought to do” announced Prof. Bazeyo to yet more thunderous applause.

Prof. Bazeyo paid tribute to the Chairperson and Members of Council for their support to Management, which underlined their commitment to cause change through digitisation of processes. He equally paid tribute to the Vice Chancellor for his vision of unlocking the potential of Makerere University.

The concluding remarks at the dissemination were delivered by the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic Affairs), Dr. Umar Kakumba who was represented by the Deputy Director DRGT, Dr. Robert Wamala. He sincerely appreciated the Government for the first disbursement of funds to Mak-RIF for the current financial year despite the COVID-19 crisis and various commitments. He concluded by thanking the PI and her team for the commendable job done despite the enormity of the task, and the GMC for guaranteeing funding for the remaining phases of the project.

Rev. Can. Onesimus Asiimwe, the Chaplain St. Francis Chapel delivered the opening and closing prayers at the dissemination that was moderated by the Principal Public Relations Officer, Ms. Ritah Namisango as well as the Director Communications, Learning and Knowledge Management, ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) and PRO Mak-RIF, Ms. Harriet Adong.

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Innovation

Advances in Trustworthy AI

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IBM Research: Whats Next in AI - Africa Seminar Series

The first installment of the What’s Next in AI Seminar Series Africa, Advances in Trustworthy AI took place on Wednesday 18th August, 2021–a recording of the same is may be viewed by clicking the embedded video below



The second installment takes places tomorrow as per the details listed below.

Seminar 2: Advances in Learning, Reasoning & Language Understanding

Date: Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Time: 4:00 – 7:00 PM EAT

Topics:

  • IBM Project Debater
  • AI and NLP for Social Good 
  • NLP for African and Low Resource Languages
  • Neuro-Symbolic AI and Logical Neural Networks

Streaming Options:

  1. Crowdcast: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/whats-next-ai-africa
  2. YouTube: https://youtu.be/ncbcS8t1PTU

In the event that you may have any questions and/or comments, please send enquiries to ai.series.africa[at]ibm.com. 

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