One Day Trip to Zimbabwe

Dr. Bryan Rank

PHOTO | Liz Crisman | Arkansas Tech News

On Feb 9, Dr. Bryan Rank and eleven Arkansas Tech students participated in a one-day virtual experience. After a trip to Zimbabwe was canceled due to changes in COVID regulations, Dr. Rank arranged for students to have this experience virtually. 

Dr. Judy Cezeaux, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, was able to fund the program cost to free students to attend.

During the experience, students talked with Dr.  Matthew Mbanga about general Zimbabwean history and culture. Mbanga spoke to the students about his program Foundations for Farming and how they are using it to help people move away from the traditional agriculture that destroys soil fertility. He discussed how using their subsistence farming methods on small plots can grow enough food for families and have enough for them to sell. 

Mbanga is from Zimbabwe and holds a Ph.D. in Transformational Leadership from Texas A&M. His family was forced into exile due to their newspaper “The Zimbabwean,” which exposed corruption in the government. State actors bombed their printing presses to control the media. Once the political climate was more stable in Zimbabwe, he returned. He is now the Chairman of the Foundations for Farming Trust and a youth organization consultant and mentor. 

“Zimbabwe faced hyperinflation, which was to the point that they did not mark prices in the stores. If you picked up something off the shelf that was five dollars, it might be $20 by the time you got it to the register,” Rank said.  

Making a connection with the people in Zimbabwe doing these things helps us step out of our own experiences. We are all a product of our knowledge. 

“I grew up in a small town in Arizona and didn’t know much about the broader world until I stepped out and started doing things like this,” Rank said

EDU Africa was looking for ways to stay engaged with university faculty program partners and keep their group leaders employed during the catastrophic challenges they were facing during COVID. Rank was invited to be one of the professors to participate in pilots of their virtual exchange. The first two were to see how technology would work. One was about education in South Africa, and the other was about excellent white shark population monitoring. 

“I was able to provide feedback on the quality of education, and we helped grow that into these virtual exchanges,” Rank said. “This is never going to replace the in-person experience, but it is a good supplement that is accessible to students.”

Although EDU Africa has hosted several virtual exchanges, this is the first that Tech students have participated in. 

Rank is still planning to do a Zimbabwe exchange program once traveling restrictions are reduced, hopefully in the summer of 2023 or 2024 

“We will spend a full day with Foundations for Farming, and we will do some work in Hwange National Park, working with wildlife veterinarian and research teams,” Rank said. “The real focus of that trip will be human-wildlife conflict and how we can help communities that are neighboring these wildlife areas to be more resilient and protect their livelihoods while still protecting their animals.” 

This program will be open to any students on campus. Once dates have been set, more information will be available from the study abroad office and Rank.