Exploring how math changes lives in Africa – a University of Michigan experience
Since he was a graduate student, Nkem Khumbah has been trying to think of ways to use his expertise in mathematics to serve Africa.
He considered teaching in Africa, but he figured he could only assist a few students. He wanted to make a bigger impact.
Nkem, who is from Cameroon, decided to try to organize a conference that would bring together professors with students and faculty from across Africa.
“I don’t want Cameroonian students to look at me as someone who can help them out let me bring 100 or more of my colleagues to Africa,” said Nkem, chair of the Comprehensive Studies Program at the University of Michigan.
“Africa’s problems are systemic problems that can’t be solved by one individual, one professor or one university,” he said.
The idea was quickly embraced by a wide-range of sponsors who helped make the conference happen. When first meeting was held in 2009 at the University of Buea in western Cameroon, 88 people registered to attend.
Four years later at the third edition of the conference, 260 people registered, including professors from Germany, Italy, Norway and the U.S.
Nkem said there are other similar events in Africa, but they tend to be regional.
“There are no other mathematical conferences like this, with such a global, all-encompassing reach.”