Ties strengthen as Minnesota University team visits Kisii University, environs

Partnerships and research define Kisii University, which has constantly been exploring better opportunities to position itself to the current academic needs in research, technology, agriculture and innovation, among other sectors. It's over-a-decade-old partnership with the University of Minnesota has been a major forward push.

Dr. Beverly Durgan, the Dean of Extension at the University of Minnesota, with Prof. John Akama, Kisii University Vice Chancellor, during a courtesy call to the VC upon arrival on January 23, 2023, ahead of the one-week tour to Kisii and surrounding counties. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Dr. Beverly Durgan, the Dean of Extension at the University of Minnesota, with Prof. John Akama, Kisii University Vice Chancellor, during a courtesy call to the VC upon arrival on January 23, 2023, ahead of the one-week tour to Kisii and surrounding counties. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Kisii University, located in Kisii County, has continued to enjoy a fruitful partnership with the University of Minnesota for over a decade now.

A recent visit to the University by a team of three from the University of Minnesota saw the US-based scholars cement the already-fruitful partnership with Kisii University, making its path even brighter.

The visitors started the five-day tour on January 23, 2023, visiting different parts of Kisii County and the neighboring Nyamira county.

Upon arrival, the distinguished scholars paid a courtesy call to the Kisii University Vice Chancellor, Prof. John Akama, in his office.

Welcoming them to Kisii University, he underscored the value of the partnership between Kisii University and the University of Minnesota to the institution.

“This partnership with the University of Minnesota has existed for over a decade since its introduction by the Minnesota Kenyans International Development Agency (MKIDA), and the Kisii University management has fully supported the program,” Prof. Akama reiterated.

Dr. Meredith McQuaid, Assistant Vice President, and Dean, International Relations at the University of Minnesota, revealed that despite UOM being a very large University, they equally value the partnership, indicating that it has withstood the test of time.

“We traveled to Kenya to seek new areas of forging the partnership in the coming years,” she added, noting that a large number of Kenyans who hail from Kisii live in Minnesota.

Dr. McQuaid and Dr. Durgan with Kisii University team on visiting the institution's Nyosia Farm. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Dr. Meredith McQuaid, the Assistant Vice President and Dean, International Relations UoM, and Dr. Durgan with Kisii University team on visiting the institution’s Nyosia Farm. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Through their MKIDA, they have been a positive catalyst in ensuring the partnership remains active.
“We look forward to a productive week ahead in Kisii,” she anticipated.

Apart from Kisii University, they also visited the School of Health Sciences at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital, met the CEC Agriculture Nyamira County and the office of Nyamira County Governor Amos Nyaribo, among other places.

The team, together with Kisii University academic management team, held a networking luncheon meeting on January 25, 2023 at a Kisii hotel, to explore further partnership opportunities with the different schools through the Deans and other departments.

Attended by the Deputy Vice Chancellor Academics, Research and Student Affairs (ARSA), all Deans of Schools, Chairs of Departments, and other staff managing Kisii University’s academic, research and innovation programs, and The Scholar Media Africa representatives, the networking luncheon sought to cement the over-a-decade-old partnership between Kisii University and the Minnesota State University, Mankato, in the United States of America.

According to Prof. Anakalo Shitandi, the Ag. DVC ARSA, the program was initiated by scholars from the Kisii region who stay in Minnesota. 

The conversation was escalated to the Minnesota University researchers and management team, urging them to partner with the institution shortly before it became independent.

Dr. John Vreyens, the Director, Global Initiatives University of Minnesota, was part of the initial team which visited Kenya in 2011 during a familiarization visit at the Kisii University to explore further the possibilities of inking the partnership.

Kisii University was chartered in 2013, turning it into a full-fledged University, one of the thirty public universities in Kenya.

The Luncheon meeting setting, with Prof. Shitandi giving his input. PHOTO/Courtesy.
The Luncheon meeting setting, with Prof. Anakalo Shitandi, DVC Academics, Research and Student Affairs, giving his input. PHOTO/Courtesy.

“I thank our visitors for the support they have accorded us and for nurturing us in areas of research, innovation and other programs within the institution,” Prof. Shitandi appreciated, noting that the ripple effects of the partnership will outlive its initiators.

The University of Minnesota was established in 1851 and has five Campuses— Crookston, Duluth, Morris, Rochester, and Twin Cities—serving all the State’s regions. 

It boasts nearly 66,500 students and spends approximately USD 100 million on research annually. In 2020, it spent $1.04 billion in research works. 

It has numerous extension offices and research centers to facilitate research from all over the world.

“This partnership with Kisii University continues and remains as strong as it was when it started,” Dr. McQuaid confirmed.

In her regular engagements, Dr. McQuaid works with other staff in the University to push the concept of achieving and retaining it as an internationalized institution.

She also noted that Kisii University is one of the best and most consistent International Partners so far.

Internationalizing a University

In her presentation on the Role of the University of Minnesota in Global International Efforts, Dr. McQuaid noted that internationalizing a university involves changing the students’ and teachers’ mindsets and approaches from national settings and marrying them with diverse cultures, histories, and experiences as done in other countries.

Dr. Durgan giving her input to a query during the luncheon. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Dr. Durgan giving her input to a query during the luncheon. PHOTO/Courtesy.

To achieve this, the University of Minnesota sends at least 30% of its students abroad within their study period before they graduate to get encultured with life elsewhere. 

At the global institution, they also have an internationalized curriculum where some topics are taught with the infusion of different experiences rife in other countries to give the learners insights into what happens in the other world.

With funding and a vibrant research faculty attending to research-based concerns, “…we work very hard to help those doing research abroad,” Dr. McQuaid said.

To stay on top of its mandate, the University of Minnesota has set sufficient staff capacity and an entire faculty to enrich the international perspective.

They focus on strategic initiatives which add value to the institution and the local communities, especially through supporting Sustainable Development Goals through agriculture and other programs, and applying for cross-border international grants to boost the faculty’s financial strengths.


Dr. Beverly Durgan is the Dean of Extension at the University of Minnesota.

By utilizing its 15 regional offices and a whopping 87 county offices, “The teamworks with state’s citizens to solve the problems they are facing at the local levels,” she explained.

They currently have more than 1400 partnerships engaged in research, agriculture, engineering, and other sectors.

Kenya, Morocco, Somalia, and Mexico are some of the top international partners actively participating in the Extension Programs.

Extension seeks to tackle paramount issues to Minnesota State, including:

  • Strengthening families.
  • Growing leaders.
  • Enhancing rural economies.
  • Agricultural production and marketing.
  • Developing Minnesota’s future workforce through policy formulations for the Government, among others.

Funding the operations

Being a public university aimed at helping the country, the better part of the funding, which is 36.8% of its budget, comes from the Minnesota State (through taxes), 26.9% comes from grants, gifts, and income, 22.8% is the Local Government’s contribution and 13.6% budget funds comes from the Federal Government, according to Dr. Durgan.

Networking luncheon participants pose for a photo with the University of Minnesota team after the event. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Networking luncheon participants pose for a photo with the University of Minnesota team after the event. PHOTO/Courtesy.

The parents pay for their self-sponsored students’ tuition fees and support any student of choice.

Impacting locals

For instance, the team from the University of Minnesota helps and trains farmers to grow different food crops in their countries and helps the farmers market the food proceeds. 

“We help them in growing, marketing and selling of the food, and we also guide them meet the food standards required to sell food in the United States,” she explained.

The University engages young people and women in Minnesota and other countries, turning them into reliable leaders and enthusiastic farmers, among other change makers.

In Kisii, the training team from Minnesota has so far held a program with and trained numerous women to become farmers, equipping them with modern farming methods and food marketing skills.

The University’s razor-sharp focus on assisting locals in Minnesota and elsewhere, especially by training the youth, has turned the young people into change-makers in their communities and countries.

The programs are achieved through the employment of STEAM clubs, a learning style using Science, Technology, Arts, and Mathematics as access points to guide student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking. 

They also curate fresh content to reach and help wider audiences, with a popular focus on daily nutrition, home plants, growing fruits, garden insects, and other information they publish in their digital spaces.

Over time, students and communities have also benefitted from other programs whose major contributor has been the University of Minnesota.

According to Prof. Shitandi, such include student exchange programs (which have enabled students from Kisii University to go to the University of Minnesota and stay there for about six months, learning), helping researchers and students with Ph.D. research work, research funding, and book donations and e-books access.

Books of Africa recently furnished the Kisii University Library with numerous books as a literary donation to the institution.

The essence of research is helping solve society’s problems. 

Dr. Vreyens responding to a query. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Dr. John Vreyens, Director of Global Initiatives University of Minnesota (UoM), responding to a query. PHOTO/Courtesy.

“We will borrow and implement the myriad lessons from the presentations by the Minnesota-based visitors to improve our running of Kisii University,” Dr. Evans Okemwa, Registrar Research and Extension, Kisii University, noted, adding that research is vital in solving society’s problems.

With the partnership getting stronger and more established, the deans also sought a share of the benefits of the different programs and opportunities coming in handy with such a rare and highly-promising partnership.

The Dean School of Law, Dr. Charles Moitui, sought a student exchange program with the University of Minnesota Law School. 

Effecting this would expose the young Kisii University lawyers to a vast sea of valuable experience and a greater worldview.

Law students from the University of Minnesota would also gain from studying in Kenya, at Kisii University, which is their abroad, advancing the US-based institution’s internationalization efforts.

He also pursued the possibility of establishing a Regional Office at Kisii University, from which most of the Kenyan programs being implemented by the University of Minnesota’s invaluable input can be executed.

“What about establishing a common course in computing, for peer learning, where students from the two universities can unanimously attend an online class and peer-study?” enquired the Dean, School of Information Sciences, Dr. Awuor Mzee. 

According to him, this digital space would provide leeway for gaining computing skills from different perspectives on the part of the students.

Dr. Benard Maake, the Head of e-learning at Kisii University reminded the scholars that through digital platforms, interdisciplinary teaching, co-teaching, and access to online materials is possible, with today’s technology, urging them to leverage the possibility and tap its abilities.

Through the continued collaboration and partnership between the two institutions, there exist many opportunities for pairing faculties for mentoring sessions, for example, on grant writing, according to Dr. Durgan. 

She also floated the need to tap into a current program or learning strategy dubbed, Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL), which permits students from two different classes to share a certain topic and learn together, all from different parts.

From left: Dr. John Vreyens, Director of Global Initiatives University of Minnesota (UoM), Mr. Elijah Nyaanga. Founder and CEO Scholar Media Africa, Dr. Meredith McQuaid, Assistant Vice President and Dean, International Relations UoM, and Dr. Beverly Durgan, Dean of Extension, UoM, after a meeting. PHOTO/Courtesy.
From left: Dr. Vreyens, Mr. Elijah Nyaanga, Founder and CEO Scholar Media Group Africa, Dr. McQuaid, and Dr. Durgan, after the luncheon meeting. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Saving the bananas  

In that research breath, there lies a great need to conduct sufficient research on and avert the overhanging extinction of sweet bananas in Kisii, as advocated for by Dr. Simion Omasaki, the Dean School of Agriculture.

The School of Agriculture is also running a program to help youths get employment and it requested funding and better infrastructure to enable it to impact them. 

They also underlined the need for assistance in getting the right grant proposal to position them in a better place to benefit from available grants.

On the call for hastened research on the possible sweet banana extinction, Dr. Vreyens said that he, with the intervention of the Minnesota University, will invite two colleagues already partnering with Kenyan farmers in Minnesota to come to Kisii in March 2023 for mapping of the situation for further informed action. 

Going forward

“We will continue partnering and sharing potential partnership opportunities,” affirmed Dr. Vreyens.

Prof. Shitandi invited more vibrancy from the Kisii University team and further collaboration for the success of the partnerships, networks, and exchange programs and the benefitting of the entire University.

The holistic idea of internationalization, partnerships and exchange programs requires time, faculty interventions, exposure, and involvement of different stakeholders and think tanks. 

Kisii University is set to benefit more from its strong partnership with the University of Minnesota, which has proved fruitful since its inception.

On January 26, 2023, Dr. Durgan led the delegation for a courtesy call to the Nyamira Governor, Amos Nyaribo.

They aimed to highlight potential areas of opportunities that the two institutions would collaborate on and strengthen their relationship.

The University of Minnesota team pose for a photo with the Nyamira County Governor, Amos Nyaribo (front, right), and his team, after paying him a courtesy call. PHOTO/Courtesy.
The University of Minnesota team pose for a photo with the Nyamira County team, after the courtesy call on January 26, 2023. PHOTO/Courtesy.

“I’m proud to be associated with Minnesota; its our home because many people from this region live there, hence our partnership will strengthen our ties and create more opportunities for our county,” he appreciated.

YOU CAN ALSO READ: Kisii University’s long strides into the Academia

He also applauded the University of Minnesota for it’s great rating and expertise in different fields like Agriculture, Health, Education among others, noting that the partnership is an opportunity to uplift Nyamira County.

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Mr. Makau holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics, Media & Communication from Moi University, Kenya. He is a Columnist and Editor with Scholar Media Africa, with a keen interest in Education, Health, Climate Change, and Literature.


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